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About Burton Hanson. Burton Hanson is a graduate of Harvard Law School, admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Minnesota. He worked one year as Hennepin County District Court Special Term (Civil) Law Clerk, two years as law clerk for the late Justice C. Donald Peterson of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and over 26 years as Deputy Commissioner of the Minnesota Supreme Court. He was a nonpartisan candidate for Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in the general election in November 2000 and a liberal anti-war candidate for Congress in the Republican primary in the Minnesota Third District in September 2004. He was one of the first law bloggers (blawgers). He began planning his first blog, BurtLaw's Law And Everything Else in 1999 but delayed starting it until after the 2000 general election. His campaign website, the no-longer extant VoteHans.Com, contained a personal campaign weblog, possibly the first such use of a weblog or blog. In 2004 he also used the personal blog format in his primary campaign for Congress. That site, BurtonHanson.Com, has morphed into a personal political opinion blog and also contains the archives of his 2004 campaign web pages and blog postings.
Another Thomas to be judge. "Mr. Bernard's School of Hair Fashions Inc., 711 Lisbon St., announces that Patty Thomas of Oxford has been selected as a judge for the student competition being held at their annual celebration banquet. Students from Bernard's will be competing in four categories. The judging will be held Aug. 4...." More (Sun-Journal - ME 08.06.2007). Comment. The only advice we can give her is this: Never forget that while scientists seem to agree that hair is dead by the time it emerges from the skin, hair styling is not a dead art but a creative living art that, like all art, is capable of transforming the ordinary into something beautiful and alive, even permanent, and that it is not Clarence Thomas' or Nino Scalia's balding, crabbed "dead constitution" but the silver-locked, wonderfully-styled Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s "living constitution" of hair, in all its stylistic fullness and Olympian tonsorial glory, that you as judge -- as an honored 1977 graduate of Pierre's School of Cosmetology with years of experience in perming, coloring and styling -- are expounding. Pay attention to roots, by all means, but don't limit yourself thereby to the hair styles worn by Martha Washington and Abigail Adams. And whatever you do, don't applaud the hair styles of Nino Scalia or Clarence Thomas or Sam Alito. Holmes' style, even in hair, was better.
Annals of judicial hobbies, of gardening and collecting 'black Americana.'
a) Mississippi Circuit Judge Billy Joe Landrum, gardener. "His friend, John Parker, called him one day and asked if he wanted to ride to a Franklinton, LA nursery with him. Landrum, the 18th Judicial District's Circuit Judge for the past 21 years, checked his docket, saw a blank page and went with Parker. 'I saw all these beautiful nurseries and plants,' he said. He came back with crepe myrtles, and azaleas Mexican petunias." Since then -- for the past four-and-a-half years -- and under the tutelage of his friend, Landrum has been devoting his spare time off the bench to growing things in his four acre garden that is situated in the front and back and on the sides of his house -- innumerable flowers, shrubbery and fruit trees which bear plums, peaches, pears, cherries, apricots, nectarines, lemons, bananas,...about 200 stalks of sugar cane" and a half-acre devoted to vegetables. More (Laurel Leader-Call 08.06.2007). Comment. Among Robert Frost's poems that bear on the not uncommon creative judicial task of resolving antinomies is his much-loved Two Tramps in Mud Time, with the oft-quoted ending:
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.
b) Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan C. Page. "This couldn't be Kenwood, that bastion of stately gentility, could it? This living room strewn with Ku Klux Klan 'dolls' made by Dallas schoolchildren, slave chains and branding prods, a handheld fan for the Pickaninny Restaurant and a 'Coon-Jigger' toy from Alabama? Could these symbols of vile racism possibly have a place in polite society? You'd better believe it, Alan and Diane Sims Page insist, if only as a reminder of how impolitely American society has treated people of color over the centuries. 'It is our history. It is who we are,' said Alan Page, a former Minnesota Vikings star and a justice on the State Supreme Court...." More (Minneapolis Star-Tribune 08.05.2007). Comment. In my opinion and that of not a few other people, Justice Page, who was elected rather than appointed, is the best justice on the court, as currently constituted. True, the court has seen better days, but I think he'd hold his own with any of the many fine justices who've served on the court, with many of whom I was privileged to work for nearly 30 years. He's also, by far, the most popular public figure in MN. He could run for any public office and win handily.
Black people in (mostly) white Minnesota courts. "Arthur Guess, 39, a law clerk in the Ramsey County courthouse who is Black, says few of his peers are people of color. Guess has been a clerk to Judge George Stephenson, one of four Black judges in the county...for about a year and a half. In the judges' chambers, there happen to be several people of color employed (including Guess and a court reporter), which Guess has found to be otherwise abnormal. By contrast, the vast majority of those who arrive as customers to the St. Paul courthouse every day are minorities, he said...." More (Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder via Twin Cities Daily Planet 08.06.2007). Further reading. See, my comments at Thinking about mostly-white jury pools on a snowy white day in MN.
Ex-judge loses suit against accountant for bad advice in accepting judgeship. "The former District Court Judge Terry Christie has sued his former accountant, claiming that due to his bad advice he stopped practising as a barrister to become a judge and, as a result, lost more than a million dollars in income in the 10 years he was on the bench. In dismissing his case, the NSW Court of Appeal has concurred with an earlier ruling which found that due to 'Mr Christie's personality and character...he] would still have taken the appointment' regardless of what advice he had been given...." More (Sydney Morning Herald 08.06.2007). Comment. I'm thinking of suing one of my damned mentors for a) mentoring me and b) giving me a "Take this guy!" letter of recommendation. If he'd mentored someone else and given me a bad recommendation, I'd have taken a different career path and.... And after I win that suit, I may sue that woman who, if she hadn't smiled at me in a beguiling way all the time and....
'Is the fellow who did that fit to be a judge?' "Studies have found that, for some reason, an enormous mental gulf separates 'cold' emotional states from 'hot' emotional states. When we are not hungry or thirsty or sexually aroused, we find it difficult to understand what effects those factors can have on our behavior. Similarly, when we are excited or angry, it is difficult to think about the consequences of our behavior -- outcomes that are glaringly obvious when we are in a cold emotional state...." -- From a piece in the Washington Post by Shankar Vedantam that tries to shed light on questions such as "Why would Bill Clinton, a Rhodes scholar, six-time governor and president of the United States at 46, have an affair with an intern in the Oval Office?" More (Washington Post 08.06.2007). Comment. I've tried, in my cool unemotional blawg state, as observer of judicial conduct on and off the bench, to be a voice of calm reason and restraint, linking to stories about judges caught in embarrassing situations but generally recommending forgiveness and understanding, my eccentric, heretic thinking being that their troubles might even make them better judges. See, e.g., my comments on judges who've been caught viewing porn at a) Judge apologizes, gets reprimand for viewing porn on court computer and b) My eccentric views on putting a scarlet letter on judges who view porn. See, also, my comments at Commission seeks removal of judge ("Where is the perfect judge?...I doubt if many judges make it to the finish line without having done something that, if it had seen the light of day, might have caused the ethics folks to have conniptions."). One of my favorite quotes about judicial "goodness" and "badness" is this one by Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd: "Fill the seats of justice with good [people], not so absolute in goodness as to forget what human frailty is...." In my opinion, based on nearly 30 years of working with judges and many more years observing them, I've never seen any significant positive correlation between a judge's performance as judge and a judge's level of perfection in his personal life. In fact, I think a case can be made that "perfect" people don't make very good judges, that the better judges are those who have lived a little and learned from their mistakes. Indeed, some of the main mentors I had growing up were some old professional men who had failed in one way or another in their personal lives -- most typically as alcoholics -- but had thereby developed a genuine quiet humility about themselves and a deeper, richer understanding of human nature that allowed them to look at life with quiet eyes. See, Frances Shaw, Who Loves the Rain. They're the ones I'd choose to follow through any storm, and at their hearth fire keep myself warm. I'd rather be judged by any one or all of them than by some perfect man -- or, for that matter, by John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. Further reading. Norah Retracks, The Perfect Man ("My perfect man would encompass the following; a brain, eyes, mouth, ears, hands, a heart, buttocks, and a penis...Pretty simple right? Not so much; let me explain in detail what each of these mean.") (ThisIsByUs). The Perfect Man ("Jokes from Nashville, TN" About.Com). Burtlaw on Pied beauty, pied lawns, pied dogs, pied politics [and pied judges] (BurtonHanson.Com - entry dated Sunday, 05.08.2005 - scroll down).
Going back to go forward: saving an old courthouse. "In its 100-plus years, Wharton County's courthouse had been plastered over, added to, subtracted from, and reconfigured so extensively that many townsfolk thought the best thing to do was tear it down and start over. But there were some in the town, which traces its history to Stephen F. Austin's first settlements, who wouldn't let go of the past easily. Rather than letting the three-story, Second Empire/Italianate courthouse be reduced to rubble, they agitated, educated and finally enlisted the help of the Texas Historical Commission to give the old building new life. Now restored to its 1889 grandeur, but outfitted as a 21st century government center, the courthouse was rededicated in ceremonies Saturday morning on the courthouse square...." More (Houston Chronicle 08.04.2007). Comment. Justice Holmes, in one of his wonderful and wonderfully-brief speeches (his "occasional" speeches were as wonderful as they were relatively few, compared with those of some judges today, whose many speeches are as bad as they are frequent), said, "We do not save our traditions, in our country. The regiments whose battle-flags were not large enough to hold the names of the battles they had fought vanished with the surrender of Lee, although their memories inherited would have made heroes for a century." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Soldier's Faith (Memorial Day Speech to Graduating Class at Harvard College, May 30, 1895). Ever the lover of the competing idea or thought, he also wrote: "We must beware of the pitfall of antiquarianism, and must remember that for our purposes our only interest in the past is for the light it throws upon the present. I look forward to a time when the part played by history in the explanation of dogma shall be very small, and instead of ingenious research we shall spend our energy on a study of the ends sought to be attained and the reasons for desiring them." The Path of the Law, 10 Harv. L. Rev. 457 (1897) (Amazing speech delivered at dedication ceremony at Boston University Law School, 01.08.1897). We can revisit the past through books, through old speeches, etc. One of the ways legal scholars do that is to visit a place like the Manuscript Division of Langdell Library at Harvard Law School, my alma mater. When I was a student there, the curator was Erika Chadbourn, wife of James Chadbourn, the great Evidence professor whose standing-room-only classes I attended in addition to those taught by my assigned evidence teacher. Sheldon Novick, one of Holmes' biographers, who benefited greatly from her help in researching the biography, described her as "a gentle and determined representative of the visible past." Dartmouth Library Bulletin (Nov. 1990). Preserving/restoring our grand old county courthouses -- many built, like the Wharton Courthouse, circa 1889 -- is one great way that we make it possible for all of us, including our descendants, to revisit the physical past. Even better, when we are thus able to continue to use the courthouses as originally intended, and not just as museums, we at the same time are provided an opportunity to not only revisit the physical past but visit a place where history is living and ongoing. Texas has been at the forefront of preserving/restoring county courthouses. Other states have only to emulate Texas in this. Further reading and links to some of our relevant postings and comments. County board votes to demolish historic 1884 courthouse.
Minnesota is again asked to let the sun shine in on courtrooms, trials. "Media lawyer Mark Anfinson has petitioned the [Minnesota] Supreme Court for a rule change to allow video and photos to be taken in courtrooms. The court has sent the request to an advisory committee. Times have changed since the idea was shot down in the 1990s, Anfinson argues. For one thing, recording and photo technology is less obtrusive today. For another, other states have not experienced the problems that were foreseen here. And only a few states limit recording and photo devices as Minnesota does, Anfinson said...." More (Minneapolis Star-Tribune 08.05.2007). Comment. I hate to say it, because I love the institution of the Minnesota Supreme Court, which I served loyally as a trusted aide for nearly 30 years, but in recent years the ideas that have come out of the court (and in some cases followed by foolishly by courts in other states) haven't been ones we Minnesotans ought to be proud of, ideas that include:
a) faux openness in the form of "community outreach" programs (such as taking the court on the road, what one justice described after leaving the court as "a dog and pony show");
b) stifling the free speech of lawyers (like myself) who have had the audacity to do what the MN Constitution contemplates, run for judicial office (an anti-free-speech policy that SCOTUS decided was unconstitutional, a decision that in turn has met only grudging acceptance from the SCOMN);
c) enthusiastically approved, in a terribly flawed decision, mandatory retirement of judges at age 70, a policy I began publicly criticizing in an essay in 2000 (a policy that is increasingly being seen by enlightened reformers for what it is, unjustified, antidemocratic, invidious discrimination);
d) setting the national trend of requiring judges and lawyers to take, in partial fulfillment of their mandatory continuing education requirement, courses on eliminating gender, racial, and cultural bias/discrimination (but not age discrimination, see c), above) in the courtroom, a requirement that, although perhaps well-intended, in practice has had the effect of, as one commentator (Katherine Kersten) put it, "seek[ing] to dictate how lawyers think about complex political and moral questions" and has amounted to, as another commentator (Walter Olson) put it, instituting a "compulsory chapel" requirement;
e) directly or indirectly encouraging the movement to deprive voters of their historic right to directly elect judges (the tried-and-true Minnesota Plan) and replace it with the plan long favored mostly by college political science professors, the commission plan with its yes-or-no style retention elections (the so-called Missouri Plan, which many in Missouri, which doesn't have a judiciary with near as fine a history as Minnesota's, are now saying isn't working and ought to be replaced) (see, my comments and many embedded links on both the Minnesota Plan and the Missouri Plan at Annals of judicial selection);
f) spending taxpayer dollars to hire a court public information officer (a/k/a "p.r." person);
g) inaugurating the "tradition" of the annual "state of the judiciary" speech (one of the sadder of many primarily "p.r." developments in appellate courts in recent years);
h) shooting down ideas such as letting press cameras into the courtroom, ideas that would lead to greater real (as opposed to faux) openness and accountability.
Do we support cameras? Yes. It seems to us that surveillance cameras, in the name of security, are everywhere in courthouses except where they are most needed. Surveillance cameras are hidden all over our courthouses these days. But "surveillance" cameras are most needed in the courtrooms, cameras that specifically are needed so that the press, and the people, who own the courthouse, may "suveil" those who are ultimately accountable to the people in the people's pursuit of fair, even-handed, open justice. But we don't just want press cameras in the trial and appellate courtrooms. We want "people's surveillance" cameras. As a starter, we believe that the U.S. Supreme Court (and all state supreme courts and federal appellate courts) ought to allow videotaping and live but unobtrusive TV coverage of all oral appellate arguments. Indeed, we believe these courts need to provide Internet video and audio streaming of arguments, both "live" and in archived form. More. Gratifyingly, some courts, including the MN Supreme Court, have taken this first step. Eventually, as costs come down, stationary webcams could be placed in all public courtrooms with internet video and audio streaming of all trial court sessions.
Why do courts resist such ideas? Perhaps because it's human nature to resist changes. A great example of enlightened change in MN that at first was resisted took place back in 1994 when I was working at the supreme court. That was when the court, in the historic decision in State v. Scales, 518 N.W.2d 587 (Minn 1994), exercising its inherent judicial supervisory power, under the separation-of-powers doctrine, to insure the fair administration of the criminal justice system, prospectively ruled: a) that all custodial interrogation of a crime suspect -- including the giving of information about rights, the obtaining of any waiver of those rights, and all questioning -- must be electronically recorded when feasible or when the interrogation occurs at a so-called place of detention, and b) that suppression of statements made in response to interrogation is required if the violation of the recording rule is substantial under the surrounding circumstances. The Scales decision served three main purposes (as well as many other important ones). It served the prophylactic purpose of helping to ensure police comply with Miranda and other constitutional restrictions on police investigative techniques, thus benefiting at least arrestees. It also dramatically reduced the need for extensive pretrial evidentiary hearings to resolve suppression issues of a factual nature (and also provided an accurate record for appellate review), thus benefiting the entire court system. Finally, it gave prosecutors a persuasive record of defendants' confessions for use at trial, at least when the confessions were obtained during custodial interrogation. I've discussed this decision in great depth at BurtLaw's CaseLaw. Notably, for our purposes, when the court first released the decision, police officers and prosecutors literally howled like Chicken Little that the sky had fallen. Among the common fears was that police use of recorders would inhibit suspects and decrease the likelihood of obtaining statements. A year later these same officers were trumpeting the virtues of the case. Indeed, one St. Paul homicide detective has been quoted as saying, undoubtedly with some hyperbole, that the Scales decision is the best thing that ever happened to him. Not only were the officers trumpeting the virtues of the case, they found it was to their advantage to go beyond the requirements. Thus, now, many intelligently-run police departments in Minnesota routinely provide their officers with portable recorders for use in the field, thereby increasing the likelihood that in the future reasonable judges will be skeptical of any claim that recording of interrogation in the field was not feasible. Moreover, these same police departments have made it a practice to regularly record, often on videotape or on digital video media, all station house interrogations, custodial or not.
What the court did in Scales was make the sun shine in on police interrogations. Everyone benefited. What the court needs to realize is that our entire justice system will benefit if the sun is allowed to shine in on courts as well. Further reading. See, in general, my 2000 essay titled BurtLaw on Judicial Independence and Accountability. Update. "In a state that has long prided itself on openness in government, it is a sad comment that one branch of government, a branch that should be consumer-oriented, is not only fearful of scrutiny, but is able to insulate itself from public accountability...." - From a fine op/ed piece by Bryan Leary, a public defender and outstanding former law clerk at the MN Supreme Court. More (Star-Tribune 08.16.2007).
Anonymous judge in 'Chilli Hot Stuff' case, lambasts immigration courts. "When Judge J first began working in immigration more than two decades ago, she did so with a sense of pride. She wanted to be involved with a part of the law that really meant something to people's lives. 'I was excited,' she admits. 'It was important to people and it made a difference. It mattered.' Or so she thought. Now, she has reluctantly arrived at a very different point of view. After 20 years in immigration, Judge J has discovered nothing but chaos, confusion and a shambolic structure that doesn't work...." Indeed, she says the courts are "criminally unjust." This is a long, detailed article. More (This Is London 08.04.2007). Background. For background on Judge J's involvement in the "Chilli Hot Stuff" case, see, Annals of judicial internet dating, which includes links to earlier postings about this scandal (as well as to other postings on judicial romance, judicial dating, and judicial cyber-dating).
Judge agrees to suspension over tardiness, blaming others. "Northeast Valley Judge Jacqueline McVay has agreed to be suspended for two months without pay for habitual tardiness and a demeaning attitude toward staff... Clerks in the Northeast Regional Court Center said that McVay would blame them for her tardiness and rebuke them in public...." More (AZ Republic 08.04.2007).
President offers olive branch to judges -- in form of 25% pay hike. "Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has sanctioned a hefty 25 per cent increase in the salaries of superior court judges in an apparent attempt to win back judiciary which in recent times has given a string of verdicts against government in politically sensitive cases. The salary of Chief Justice Iftikhar M Chaudhry, reinstated last month by the Supreme Court after he was suspended by Musharraf in March, has been increased to Rs 133,250 per month...." More (The Hindu 08.04.2007).
Judge is admonished for vouching for character of defendant in another court. "A Seattle Municipal Court judge was admonished Friday for vouching for someone's good character to a judge who was going to pass sentence. Judge Fred Bonner acknowledged that he wrote a letter about the defendant on judicial letterhead and, when later told it may have been improper, 'openly acknowledged that the act occurred and recognized its impropriety,' according to the Commission on Judicial Conduct...." More (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 08.04.2007).
Judge says football is masculine sport, not one for homosexuals. "A Brazilian judge [Judge Manoel Maximiniano Junqueira Filho] faces [possible disciplinary] action for homophobia after giving a judgment in which he said football was a masculine sport, not a homosexual one. The judge is reported to have said no-one who had watched the golden era of Pele and others in the 1970s could ever consider having a homosexual idol...." More (BBC News 08.04.2007).
Annals of court watching -- 'Christian court watchers.' "John Becknell enters the courtroom and finds his usual spot in the front row, just behind the prosecutor's table. Becknell -- a devout Christian known to many as 'Brother John' -- pulls out a pen and...takes diligent notes...The purpose? To make sure drug offenders in eastern Kentucky are getting what they deserve...The Community Church of Manchester is leading the way through 'Court Watch,' a program in which volunteers attend court hearings to monitor judges overseeing drug-related cases...The Rev. Doug Abner...said the presence of Court Watch volunteers puts 'mild pressure' on judges 'to do the right thing.'" More (CNN 08.04.2007). Comments. a) There are some of us who read the New Testament differently than Rev. Abner & Co. See, the essay titled Crime and Punishment, which (unlike most candidates) I wrote myself and posted myself on my personally-created and personally-maintained website in my failed 2004 anti-war campaign for Congress in the GOP primary against MN Third District Congressman Jim Ramstad. b) Most court-watchers, thank God, don't have any agenda and are not out to put "mild pressure" on the judges. They tend to be retired people, mostly men. Visit any large urban courthouse and you'll find them. They often know as much about juries as so-called jury profilers and jury-selection consultants. Smart trial attorneys consult with them. We think it's a great way for retired people to keep active: walk to the bus stop, ride downtown, go to the clerk's office or the administrator's office and find where the juicy trials are, attend them, talk with fellow trial watchers, eat lunch, etc.
Annals of judicial 'signatures' -- herein of signature stamps. "A Northampton County probation officer resigned as the district attorney's office investigates the misuse of a judge's signature stamp. President Judge Robert A. Freedberg said County Court Administrator Jim Onembo approached him after Judge Anthony Beltrami reported someone used his signature stamp to alter a sentence involving Dennis Frey. Freedberg said he interviewed probation officer Joanne Phelan and directed her to submit her resignation. Phelan did, and Freedberg accepted it...." More (Express-Times - PA 08.04.2007). Comment. One way to end the use and misuse of signature stamps would be to make the judge responsible for any misuse of the stamp. Stated differently, we think judges should sign all orders and letters bearing their names and should do so only after reading and verifying everything in the order or letter.
Annals of judicial selection -- of screening commissions and judges appointing judges. "Former state District Judge Richard Brown has been appointed to a vacant district court judgeship in southern New Mexico. The appointment was made Friday by Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Chavez. It became the job of the chief justice to fill the vacancy after Gov. Bill Richardson refused to make an appointment because of a dispute with a judicial nominating commission. The group would only submit one candidate for the judgeship to Richardson and the governor wanted at least two nominees to consider...." More (KOAT TV 08.04.2007). Comment. As Hunter S. Thompson said in ending some of his gonzo journalistic pieces, 'Res ipsa loquitur.'
On a fallen bridge and the need for redundancy -- in bridges and in the criminal process. "The cause of malicious unlawful convictions doesn't rest solely in the imperfect workings of our criminal justice system -- if it did we might be able to remedy most of it. A crucial part of the problem rests in the hearts and souls of those whose job it is to uphold the law. That's why even the most careful strictures on death penalty cases could fail to prevent the execution of innocent people -- and why we would do well to be more vigilant and specific in articulating the causes for overturning an unlawful conviction." -- From an excellent piece on the NYT Op/Ed pages titled The Presence of Malice, by Richard Moran, who is a professor of sociology and criminology at Mount Holyoke College. Moran's "recently-completed study of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted not from good-faith mistakes or errors but from intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel." He argues that there are cases in which a police officer, prosecutor, or judge may be "dead set against" reopening a conviction even in the face of evidence exonerating the defendant because the officer, prosecutor or judge knows that his malicious actions or well-intentioned but wrongful manipulation of the case led to the conviction. Do you need what Moran is saying spelled out more clearly? "Since so many wrongful convictions result from official malicious behavior, prosecutors, policemen, witnesses or even jurors and judges could themselves face jail time for breaking the law in obtaining an unlawful conviction...." More (NYT 08.02.2007). Comment. Moran suggests that the persistence of "malicious or even well-intentioned manipulation of murder cases...underscores why it's important to discard, once and for all, the nonsense that so-called wrongful convictions can be eliminated by introducing better forensic science into the courtroom." I agree. But what else, in addition to introducing better forensic science into the courtroom, can we do to prevent unlawful convictions? a) One partial answer, never easy, is the carrot-and-stick approach: reward those in the system who do the right thing and sanction those (like Michael Nifong, the rogue prosecutor in the Duke Lacrosse prosecution) who don't. b) Another approach is suggested by the recent collapse of the freeway bridge over the Mississippi River in Mpls. Dr. Piotr Moncarz, a prominent forensic structural engineer, is quoted as saying that the bridge design was nonredundant in concept, leaving inadequate room for error. "This is a concept which is called no redundancy. Every member is needed for the entire structure to work." More (ABC7 08.02.2007). We who have worked in the field of criminal justice sometimes pride ourselves excessively on the number of well-known "redundancies" that are built into the process that leads from arrest to conviction to punishment. But more redundancies are needed. I have some fresh ideas, based on nearly 30 years' experience in reading transcripts of criminal trials in my role as criminal law specialist for SCOMN, and I'll be focusing on some of them in the months ahead.
Those early-retirement pension provisions for 'disabled' judges. "Judge Ernest B. Murphy, the superior court jurist who won a $2.01 million libel verdict against the Boston Herald, is seeking to retire early with a lucrative disability pension based on his assertion that he is suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of the drawn-out legal battle and the newspaper stories that sparked it. But Governor Deval Patrick yesterday immediately rejected the appeal from Murphy, who is facing judicial ethics charges because of letters he wrote [on court stationery] to Herald publisher Patrick J. Purcell after the verdict, demanding more money...." More (Boston Globe 08.03.2007). Further reading. "Thank you, Gov. Deval Patrick...for finally saying no to a Massachusetts judge looking to take early retirement with a big fat kiss in the mail...It's amazing, this judicial perk known as the 'involuntary disability provision'...Here's how [it] works: The governor decides that a judge can no longer continue his, ahem, arduous duties, and sends a petition to the Governor's Council, which rubberstamps it. Voila - early retirement! The black-robed gent or lady starts collecting at 75 percent of his last salary...If Ernie doesn't get the kiss...he will be three years short of vesting for his 50 percent pension, which by the way, you have to pay state taxes on, unlike the disability pension. And don't forget the free health insurance for life...." -- From Howie Carr, It's time to bench judges' cushy retirement program (Boston Herald - Op/Ed 08.03.2007). Comment. Carr says, "At least 14 jurists [in Massachusetts] have checked out this way since 1991," and he asks rhetorically, "[W]ould it shock you to learn that two of them were ex-state reps, one was the brother of a mayor, and yet another was a fund-raiser for a governor?" We don't know the merits of Judge Murphy's request or whether any of the earlier requests that were granted lacked merit. We have heard stories suggesting that some of the early retirements by judges under similar provisions in some other states are nothing less than a scandal waiting to be discovered. We don't know if this is true or not. That's what journalists are supposed to find out for us.
Slow judge is removed from motion docket, faces disciplinary complaint. "[Judge Deborah Thomas, a] Wayne County Circuit Court judge accused of working too slowly[,] no longer is allowed to handle pretrial motions and faces a complaint that could remove her from the bench...The state's Judicial Tenure Commission also is reviewing 27 cases in which Thomas was reversed by appeals courts in the past five years." More (MLive 08.03.2007).
Judge is preventatively suspended for ignorance of the law. "THE Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the preventive suspension of a Baguio City Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge who reversed the final ruling of a co-equal court regarding the custody of the famed 'Golden Buddha' that formed part of the so-called Yamashita treasure. In a resolution, the SC en banc found Judge Fernando Vil Pamintuan of the Baguio RTC Branch 3, guilty of gross ignorance of the law when he motu proprio reversed the decision of Judge Antonio Reyes who has original jurisdiction over the case...." More (Manila Sun-Star 08.03.2007).
Two flamenco dancers to shed dresses and put on judges' gowns. "We generally think of judges as being studious types from middle-class backgrounds, whose idea of fun might be to read obscure biographies or play the occasional game of bridge. But two women from Malaga have done a lot to change such perceptions. Their background is working class, where nobody in their families would ever have given a thought to a professional career of any kind, and moreover, they have been earning a living for many years as flamenco dancers. Their names are Fina [(Josefina) Oña] and Carmen [Castellanos], and they are now fully qualified judges, ready to wear a new kind of costume in a few month's time...." According to the story, "Access to the judicial circuit in Spain is by competitive examinations, both written and oral, and they are not easy. They are called 'oppositions,' taken as one written examination and two oral sessions. The difficulty of the oral exams is that each candidate must take a subject at random and speak on it for a period of exactly 75 minutes. It is known as the 'five balls,' because the five subjects one must choose from are decided by taking five balls out of a drum." -- From Montse Martín, Malaga's dancing judges (SUR - Southern Spain 08.03.2007). Comment. Fina and Carmen unknowingly are following in the somewhat different dance steps of that Tap Dancing Judge from Mt. Olympus, Mr. Justice Holmes. See, "The unknown Holmes - or tap dancing & the law," at BurtLaw's Law & Justice Holmes.
Ex-girlfriend of judge is charged over taping of judge at public beach. "A woman who Circuit Judge Richard Wennet once dated was arrested Thursday and charged with illegally videotaping and recording his comment about a topless sunbather and then posting it on the YouTube web site. Julie Ann Domotor, 41, of Delray Beach, was charged with one count of interception of oral communications, and two counts of publishing those communications. Both are felonies. The video captures Wennet on a weekend outing at Peanut Island...A woman is prompting Wennet to comment on a presumably topless woman not in the frame. In the four-and-a-half minute clip, Wennet comments on the 'nice breasticals' and how he appreciates the joys of reconstructive surgery...." More (Palm Beach Post 08.03.2007). Julie Domotor's Photos. Comment. The FLA law is ridiculously over-broad. One does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in what one says or does in a public place, such as a beach, and I hope that this prosecution of the very-attractive and bright and brave (she's a former Marine), Julie Ann Domoto, is dismissed, sooner rather than later. Update. "When it comes to women's breasts, the local go-to guy is Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Richard Wennet. I learned of Wennet's expertise on the subject 21 years ago during the then-infamous Dandy Doughboy Donuts case, a civil dispute sorting out whether topless waitresses serving coffee and doughnuts constituted adult entertainment. The judge took four hours with that hearing, which involved photographic exhibits and lots of guys talking about breasts. 'I know what nude means,' Wennet said before taking a stab at an acceptable attire for 'semi-nude' doughnut waitresses." -- From Frank Cerabino's column, When it comes to toplessness, justice is far from blind (Palm Beach Post 08.05.2007). Update. "Judge Wennet[, who says he is a 'victim,'] is a victim of being himself. The videotaping took place at the boozefest that happens every weekend at Peanut Island, near the Port of Palm Beach. In the shallow water, lots of people drink and generally carry on like aging Spring Breakers...[T]he laws Ms. Domotor is charged with violating are supposed to protect people when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The gatherings at Peanut Island are about as private as Mardi Gras." More (Palm Beach Post - Editorial 08.11.2007). Update. Judge denies bail; she's spent 41 days in jail (Palm Beach Post 09.20.2007). Update. Editorial: Free the Wennet 1 (Palm Beach Post 09.21.2007). Comment. The Palm Beach Post is doing a nice job covering this ongoing story.
Annals of problems at expensive courthouses.
a) That $89 million courthouse renovation. "The city spent $89 million on a lavish renovation of the Tweed Courthouse six years ago -- but somebody forgot the glue. Three marble blocks hanging near the historic building's roof were taken down this summer after inspectors discovered they had been installed without the proper epoxy, possibly endangering pedestrians below. The 150-pound ornaments, known as modillions, were hanging from the building's walls on steel rods, but were not tightly attached - and one of them was starting to wiggle...." More (N.Y. Daily News 08.05.2007).
b) New $50 million federal courthouse needs new roof. "The new $50 million federal courthouse in Cape Girardeau isn't even open, and already it needs a major repair. Officials with the General Services Administration said the roof of the new building doesn't meet government standards and needs to be replaced. The news Thursday came amid lingering delays in opening the four-story Rush H. Limbaugh Sr. U.S. Courthouse...." More (Kansas City Star 08.03.2007).
c) $130 million Boston courthouse springs leaks. "Boston's decade-old waterfront federal courthouse has sprung a number of leaks. Water has been leaking into the basement of the $130 million John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston since 2001 -- just three years after it opened...." More (WCVB-TV 08.06.2007).
d) The leaking rotunda. "Problems with the Northampton County Courthouse renovation and expansion project have included a leaking rotunda, swollen mahogany doors that wouldn't shut and employees developing cases of skin irritations. The most recent problem is a plaza fountain that has yet to spout...." More (Express-Times - PA 07.30.2007).
Bar chief says mandatory retirement of judges is anachronistic. "A day after Justice Ian Callinan graphically warned of the threat posed by terrorism in a landmark High Court ruling, the Victorian Bar Council chairman criticised the mandatory retirement age which will see the judge 'taken from the court' when he turns 70 next month. Michael Shand, QC, said Justice Callinan's retirement was a 'huge loss to the law' and the 'arbitrary' age limit gave 'pause to question its utility.' 'It has been described by Tom Hughes, QC, as the 'product of an anachronistic misconception that people who have led an active and useful life are over the hill at age 70...." More (The Age - Australia 08.03.2007). Further reading. BurtLaw on Mandatory Retirement of Judges.
Michigan Supremes are at it again -- guess the vote. The vote, once again, is 4-3, with the four "true" Republican justices, including Chief Justice Taylor, in the majority, and the two Democrat justices along with the "RINO" ("Republican In Name Only," as I was called when I ran an anti-war campaign for Congress in the MN Third District GOP primary in 2004) in dissent. And once again the majority is trying to suppress a dissent. This time the issue is whether Michigan has 14 or 15 judges too many, which is something Taylor advocated several months ago. Now, guess what, SCOMICH's "administrative arm" has issued its "biennial report" echoing Taylor's opinion that Michigan should cut, by attrition, ten trial judgeships and four intermediate appellate court judgeships. The three dissenters, led by RINO Justice Weaver, criticized the report as "analytically unsound." But, as Weaver said, the majority refused to include the dissenting opinions in the report sent to the Legislature, something Weaver called both "unprofessional" and "unfair." More (MLive 08.02.2007). Comments. a) One of the majority justices wrote that the "angry tone" of the dissenters illustrates "how difficult it is -- even in these tough budget times -- to save taxpayers the first nickel of their own money by shrinking an oversized branch of government." I'd generally be on the side of trying to reduce government expenses and I generally oppose proposals to increase the number of judges as the standard way to deal with increased filings. But this time I can't help siding with the dissenters. b) What's behind the proposal to reduce the number of judges? Who knows? Maybe the majority sincerely believes cutting the number of judges is good policy and maybe the administrative arm reached its conclusion independently, uninfluenced by Taylor and Co. Then again, one can't help noting that the current occupant of the governorship is a Democrat and reducing the number of judges by attrition, as proposed, would have the effect of reducing the number of appointments she could make. Who knew? c) Memo to Taylor & Co.: Suppressing dissents, like banning books, only calls attention to them and ensures they'll get read. Earlier. Latest on Michigan's fractured Supreme Court.
Annals of judicial selection processes. "[Israeli] Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch accused Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann yesterday of sowing "disharmony and strife" with his proposed reform of the selection process for court presidents and deputy presidents. 'It is clear that the proposals you are disseminating are another in a series of steps that sow strife and disharmony and are intended to crush the existing structure of the judicial system and demolish the institution of the Supreme Court president,' Beinisch wrote in a letter to Friedmann that she also distributed to the media...." More (Haaretz 08.02.2007). Comment. We've been big admirers of the Israel Supreme Court and its courageous decisions in recent years. We think that tampering with the method of judicial selection used there, which has worked well, makes as much sense -- none -- as tampering with the method of judicial selection used in Minnesota, which also has worked well. Update. "Spokesman for justice minister slams 'orchestrated' attacks from Supreme Court president, former justices. Former Justice Heshin calls on minister to resign, says 'I would tell Friedmann to go back from whence he came'" More (YNet 08.02.2007). Update. "Two former Supreme Court presidents, Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar, met with Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann last night at their own request to discuss the growing hostility between the minister and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch." They also reportedly told Friedmann they don't like some of his ideas for "reform." More (Haaretz 08.08.2007).
Judge cleared of 'flashing charge' won't be charged with more 'flashings.' "[Sir Stephen Richards, 56, of Wimbledon, south-west London, the] senior judge cleared of exposing himself to a woman on a train[,] will not be charged in relation to reports of similar incidents on the same line...." More (BBC News 08.02.2007).
Judge gives advice to actor. The other day Judge P. D. Kode sentenced a popular Bollywood film actor, 48-year-old Sanjay Dutt, to six years in prison following his conviction on 1993 weapons charges. Dutt then asked for time to surrender, saying, "Sir, I made a mistake 14 years ago. Please give me some time to surrender." The judge denied the request but spoke "informally" to Sanjay for about ten minutes, a) telling him "not to lose faith in himself as he was 'number one' in films," b) "'Act till the age of 100, I have only taken away six years,'" c) "'Don't get perturbed for you have many years to go and work like the Mackenna's Gold actor Gregory Peck.'" More (Electric 08.02.2007). Update. Sanjay to seek bail from Supreme Court pending appeal (NDTV 08.02.2007).
Should judge's widow continue living in an 'all judge neighborhood'? "Supreme Court Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday took suo motu action on Wednesday and suspended a notice of the Lahore High Court (LHC) registrar that asked the wife and children of the late Justice Muhammad Nawaz Bhatti of the LHC to vacate their government residence. Justice Nawaz Bhatti was killed in the Fokker air crash near Multan on July 10, 2006. Justice Ramday said, 'I am shocked at the treatment being meted out to the widow and orphans of a colleague....'" More (Daily Times - Pakistan 08.02.2007). Comment. Since judges here in the U.S. are paid "paltry" wages, perhaps the Government ought to build subsidized Melrose Place-style courtyard apartments for judges and their spouses, with the spouses having a right to continue living in the apartments at the reduced subsidized rate after the judge, in Tennyson's words, crosses the bar. Further reading. Of courtyard apartments & 'courtyards' (suggesting use of Melrose Place-style courtyard apartment designs in designing appellate courthouses).
Newest SCOWIS justice 'sweats' as she takes oath. "Wisconsin's most recent Supreme Court Justice could soon get a taste of how it feels to be on the other side of the bench. Annette Ziegler,...sworn in today at the Washington County courtroom she presided over until recently, is still awaiting the outcome of a protracted legal conduct inquiry. She faces punishment by her new Supreme Court colleagues if convicted...." Newest Wisc. SC Justice still sweating out March ethics charges (Legal Newsline 08.01.2007).
Annals of alternative sentencing -- Judge sentences man to memorize Koran. "A judge here [Jeddah] sentenced a Saudi man to memorize two chapters of the holy Qur'an as a punishment after he was found guilty of starting a physical altercation with another man...." More (Arab News 08.02.2007). Comment. The judge could have sentenced the man to jail but, not wanting to disrupt his plans to study abroad, gave him this sensible alternative -- sensible within the context of Saudi law and culture.
Will illness affect the Golden Boy? "Barely a month ago, he was presiding over the close of a dramatic Supreme Court term in which he and his ideological allies were clearly ascendant. At the top of his game, he promptly flew to Europe for lectures and meetings with the cream of the Continent's legal establishment. Then out of the blue, on a clear summer day, he became a middle-age man in need of emergency medical treatment, hospitalized and confronting the implications of a condition that could affect his life in big and small ways like requiring daily medication or making it inadvisable to drive a car. In October, when he returns to his seat at the center of the Supreme Court bench, will colleagues and courtroom spectators see the same golden youth whose trajectory was unmarked by setback or sorrow?" - From Linda Greenhouse, Uncertainty Now in a Golden Youth's Trajectory (NYT 08.01.2007). Comments. a) Greenhouse's reference to the "Golden Youth's trajectory" calls to mind i) the Icarus myth and ii) something Robert Bly, Minnesota's de facto poet laureate, wrote:
A man often follows or flies on an ascending arc, headed toward brilliance, inner power, authority, leadership in community, and that arc is very beautiful. But many ancient stories declare that in the midst of a man's beautiful ascending arc, the time will come naturally when he will find himself falling; he will find himself on the road of ashes, and discover at night that he is holding the ashy hand of the Lord of Death or the Lord of Divorce....
R. Bly, J. Hillman, M. Meade, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart 95 (1992). And as Bly says, a man's experience with illness or loss or failure or pain or suffering or death is sometimes associated with a development of soul, of a greater gravitas or, if you wish, wisdom. We say this without suggesting Justice Roberts is lacking in soul or gravitas or wisdom. b) By the way, the referenced Bly-Hillman-Meade book is one of my favorite books, an anthology of poetry for men that every man, every parent of a boy, every woman who wants to understand men -- and every judge, male or female -- should own. I've given copies to a number of judges over the years. The selections and the architecture of the book are superb, as are the essays at the start of each themed chapter. c) Related reading. Griefs vs. grievances - of poetry, politics, law, life.
Study: SCOTUS' judicial free speech ruling hasn't damaged image of courts. "[Minnesota v. White, the] 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision protecting the right of judicial candidates to speak freely about controversial issues...has not directly damaged the court system's legitimacy in the eyes of citizens, suggests a new study from Washington University in St. Louis...." James L. Gibson, Ph.D., author of the study, appearing in an upcoming issue of the American Political Science Review, says: "My analysis indicates that the alarmists are most likely wrong in their concern about perceived judicial impartiality being undermined. When citizens are exposed to issue-based speech from candidates for judicial office, court legitimacy does not suffer. Indeed, I can find no evidence whatsoever to vindicate the critics of [the case]. More (WUSTL.edu - Press Release 07.31.2007). Comment. We think the Court's decision in White was a good one and we like the "Minnesota Plan," Minnesota's system of direct election of judges. It's helped produce one of the better court systems in the country (one that still is in significant need of improvement) and one that ought not be tampered with by the power elite, who don't trust ordinary citizens as much as we do. While we like the Minnesota Plan, we don't like lawyers, especially lawyers from the big law firms, contributing to judicial candidates (invariably the incumbents), endorsing them, and serving as campaign managers and treasurers for them, nor do we like political interest groups doing so, which is why when we ran in the general election for statewide judicial office in 2000 we refused all contributions and endorsements and limited our expenditures to under $100. (We lost, big time.) But that is not to say we favor public financing of campaigns or legal limits on them. Perhaps some guidelines suggesting recusal of judges sitting in cases involving contributors to their campaign might help.
Rottweiler waits on courthouse steps for Quarterback Michael Vick to emerge. "Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has refused to leave the courthouse where he was indicted on July 17th for his alleged role in conducting a dog fighting venture on property he owns...The reason for Vick's fear, is a large, snarling Rottweiler that appears to be patiently waiting on the courthouse steps...for Vick to emerge...." More (Unconfirmed Sources - Satire 08.01.2007).
Judges who interfere in politics. "The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus threw its support yesterday behind President Chen Shui-bian for voicing concern on Monday about the judiciary intervening in next year's presidential election. Calling the president's remarks 'impartial' and 'objective,' DPP whip Wang Tuoh...[said,] 'After the DPP came to power [in 2000], Taiwan's judiciary has made major progress and become much more impartial and objective, but a few good-for-nothing prosecutors and judges still embrace very obvious ideology and party preference...They exploit their judicial authority to attack candidates from the political party they dislike while covering up for other candidates from the party they do like.'" More (Taipei Times 08.01.2007).
Bodies of four judges kidnapped and killed by Taliban are found. "The bodies of four Afghan judges who were kidnapped nearly a fortnight ago, have been found in Ghazni province, officials have said...." More (BBC News 08.01.2007).
Elite judicial strike team heads for riverside County. "Two Marin judges have been tapped by California's chief justice to serve on a judicial 'strike team' to reduce the backlog of cases in Riverside County. Terrence Boren and Stephen Graham will be among 27 judges deployed to Riverside from August to November to cut through 275 felony prosecutions, including eight capital cases...." More (Marin Independent Journal 08.01.2007). Comment. In the words of a song referring to lawyers in the delightful Harvard Law School Spring Musical in 1967, "If you cry out for Justice,/ They will appear...." Who are these fine judges headed for Riverside County in response to a cry for Justice? Well, you just might call them...Super Judges! Always on call, they never sleep. Given just a moment's notice, they swing into action, moving with the speed of lightning to impose order on chaos, to put out fast-spreading judicial brush fires, to quench the parched People's age-old thirst for Justice.
Court denies cancelling court sessions so staff could go 'welly wanging.' "The Crown Prosecution Service has 'categorically' denied reports it cancelled court sessions in Leeds so staff could take part in a sports day, which included a welly-throwing competition. Two courts at Leeds Magistrates' Court were cancelled on Friday -- the same day as hundreds of CPS staff from across the country gathered at South Leeds Sport Stadium for their annual sports day. A Courts Service official told a newspaper the courts were cancelled due to staff attending the event. But the CPS claims the cancellations were made to allow for reductions in staff during the summer holidays and did not affect the running of the courts." More (Driffield Today 08.01.2007). Comments. a) Wikipedia's entry, as of today, states, in relevant part: "Wellie [also spelled 'welly'] wanging, or wellie throwing, is a sport that originated in Britain, most likely in the county of Yorkshire. Competitors are required to hurl a Wellington boot as far as possible within boundary lines, from a standing or running start. A variation requires participants to launch the wellie from the end of their foot as if they were kicking off a pair of shoes." More (Wikipedia 08.01.2007). b) What is a "Wellington boot"? "The Wellington boot, also known as a wellie, a topboot, a gumboot, or a rubber boot, is a type of boot based upon Hessian boots. It was worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century." More (Wikipedia 08.01.2007). My uncle Melvin Larson, a farmer and husband of my mom's sister, Adeline Herfindahl, loved his "Wellies." I remember once Mom and Dad driving from store to store with him in Minneapolis to find the right pair of Wellies to replace his worn-out pair. Melvin was a gentle man, always kind to his nephews, my bro and me (he taught my bro how to "drive clutch"), and I'd wager big bucks he never tossed his wellies either in sport or in anger. c) Welly wanging is a British variant of "shoe tossing": "Shoe tossing (or shoe flinging), the act of using shoes as improvised projectiles or weapons, is a constituent of a number of folk sports and practices. Today, it is commonly the act of throwing a pair of shoes onto telephone wires, powerlines, or other raised wires." More (Wikipedia 08.01.2007). On my daily walks with Lady Jane, a devilishly-smart game(as in games played with balls)-loving border collie, I pass by a pair of old running shoes hanging from an electric wire leading to the lights that illuminate the outdoor hockey rink in a park next to Minnehaha Creek. I didn't know until just now that shoe tossing is an international "sport." Hmm, she likes tennis-ball soccer -- would she like shoe tossing? d) In some parts of the world, flinging one's shoes is a gesture of extreme disrespect. Id. See, e.g., Throwing slippers (chappals) at judges in India (Daily Judge 08.05.2006).
Lawyers' rankings of judges are released. "Local lawyers say Brevard County Judge Benjamin Garagozlo is the most courteous, Circuit Judge Jim Earp one of the most punctual and Judges John Dean Moxley and George Turner are great listeners, according to a new poll. The Brevard County Bar Association said the anonymous poll -- tabulated using the responses of 157 Brevard lawyers -- gives residents a snapshot of how their tax dollars are being utilized." County Judge A. B. Majeed got the lowest overall score among county judges, and Judge Meryl Allawas the lowest among circuit judges. More (Florida Today 08.01.2007). Comments. a) Based on my background in statistics, I tend in general to doubt the worth and reliability of polls like this. Without speaking to this specific poll, I'm curious, for example, whether irrelevant factors such as the race, ethnic background, religion, gender, age, physical attractiveness, etc., may play a significant role in the outcomes. b) Moreover, I question whether lawyers are very good at rating either other lawyers (as in the "Best Lawyers" issues of lawyer tabloids) or judges. I know some "best lawyers" who I don't think are very good.
Should Congress give judges a whopping 50% pay raise? "The American Bankruptcy Institute says it supports legislation that would give bankruptcy judges a 50 percent pay raise, in an attempt to reverse 14 years of salary stagnation. The new legislation would bring a bankruptcy judge's salary to $227,976 a year from the current $151,984. Federal district court judges, who are paid about 8 percent more, would get a raise to $247,800 a year, from $165,200...." More (Chicago Tribune 08.01.2007).
Prez wants 'harmonious' ties with Chief Justice. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who tried to fire Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, says he "accept[s] the judgment of the judiciary [reinstating Chaudry] and honour[s] it." He also says he believes in independence of the judiciary and hopes for "harmony" among the branches of government and with the Chief personally. More (Dawn 08.01.2007).
DA seeks special pros. to investigate her sorority sis, a gun-packing judge. "Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced today that she has requested the state Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor to consider a warrant request against Inkster District Judge Sylvia James, who was found with a handgun in her purse Saturday at a passenger security checkpoint at Detroit Metro Airport...." Worthy and James are sorority sisters. More (Detroit Free Press 08.01.2007). According to the Detroit News, the loaded (and registered) handun was found in a routine screening check of James' carry-on luggage. James, who was not arrested and was allowed to continue on her flight to Atlanta, has a concealed weapons permit. More (Detroit News 08.01.2007). Comment. Yet another reason not to carry or even own a handgun if you're a judge.
Have chief justices been violating the law? "In an action that could open a Pandora's box, the Supreme Court on Monday sought data from the Centre to scrutinise whether the Chief Justices of India have followed legal procedure in appointment of additional judges to various high courts since 1999 and their confirmation...." More (Times of India 07.31.2007). Comment. As long as no one gets hurt, it's always amusing when the pillars of the law misapply or break the law -- as when, for example, the MN State Bar Association violates a state's Fair Campaign Practices Act during a judicial election (MN Campaign Finance Bd. findings and order dated 02.23.2001).
GOP judicial appointees and sentencing discretion under the guidelines. That's the subject of a new study by Professor David Zlotnick of Roger Williams University Law School. It turns out that "Republican appointees share many of the same concerns as academics and criminal defense attorneys."
Judge against whom disciplinary proceedings were pending dies. "[Judge Jeanette O'Banner-Owens, 62, a] Detroit district judge who was facing professional misconduct charges died Friday in Atlanta...of respiratory problems. The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission filed a formal complaint against the judge in March, accusing her of displaying a harsh demeanor, excessively interrupting witnesses, making inappropriate and sarcastic remarks, and threatening to hold people in contempt without justification...." Her attorney believes the judge, who was on medical leave, would have been cleared of the charges if she had survived. More (Detroit Free Press 07.30.2007).
Chief Justice Roberts suffers another seizure, is hospitalized. "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was hospitalized Monday after suffering a seizure at his summer home in Maine, the Supreme Court announced. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. at Northwestern University in February. The chief justice, 52, had a seizure at his home in Maine. The episode, described as a 'benign idiopathic seizure,' was similar to one he suffered 14 years ago, according to the court's press release. Idiopathic means that the cause of the seizure remains unknown...." More (NYT 07.31.2007).
The law school as courthouse. "Joel and Adriana Cruz just wanted to get married after seven years together. So they skipped an expensive church wedding and filed for a civil marriage in the San Joaquin County Superior Court. Rather than the downtown Stockton courthouse, they were told to show up at the Humphreys College Laurence Drivon School of Law...[T]heir big day was also a first for the small private Stockton college. The [school] on Monday began allowing the Superior Court use of its campus courtroom for weddings, small claims and traffic cases. Normally used as a classroom, Carcione Courtroom will be utilized for about six months to relieve the cramped downtown Stockton courthouse until the old J.C. Penney building on the southwest corner of Main and American streets is converted into annex courtrooms...." More (Stockton Record 07.31.2007). Comments. a) Since I like to quote myself (perhaps I need to get out of my hovel and socialize more), I'll reprint here a relevant posting I made on 10.07.2005 titled "BurtLaw's 'Modest Proposal,'" about how we could save public money and teach law students and others and benefit the public by letting law schools run conciliation courts:
BurtLaw's 'Modest Proposal.' Here in the Twin Cities there are four law schools. Both as a cost-sharing/cost-saving measure and as a tool to improve legal education and the quality of justice administered by small-claims courts, we propose that maintaining metropolitan small claims courts here become a shared responsibility of the law schools and the court system, with students being encouraged to provide "representation" to low-income small claims litigants, other students being assigned to assist the small claims judges with research memos, and many of the contested hearings being held in the law school "courtrooms." Moreover, students in other disciplines could be part of the small-claims-court laboratory: a) students of TV production could videorecord the hearings, edit them and present them on cable TV and perhaps sell "best-of" compilations to commercial TV; b) students of computer science could help develop new software for use by the court system; c) students from paralegal training and court services programs could operate the filings and records aspect of the laboratory; d) students of business management and court management could work together to assist the program; e) students thinking of law as a career could get a taste of law-in-action. Finally, and this is the good part, Judge Judy, 63, who just signed on for another four years (at more than $25 million per year?!) after ten years presiding on the tube, could be invited to bring her production unit to town once or twice a year, perhaps make the schools some money, attract attention to the schools' unique program, and teach the students a few things (both by postive-example and by negative-example). For some thoughts on the risks of soliciting federal funds to fund such an experiment, click here.
BurtLaw's 'Modest Proposal.' b) Hey colleges and law schools, want more ideas? Try this one on for size: Start a summer employment program for your students based on the use of the campus for destination weddings in the summer, with students from the music department and theater arts department providing the music and dramatic readings, jocks supervising use of campus sports facilities, campus chaplains performing the ceremonies, culinary arts students doing the cake-baking and reception catering, video production students videotaping the wedding, business students doing their thing, etc.
Judge shortage but not for lack of applicants. "An acute shortage of judges is causing long delays in bringing criminal trials to court, putting more pressure on overcrowded prisons and delaying justice for victims of crime...Retired judges are being pressed into service, and part-time recorders are being repeatedly asked to serve for longer periods...A main cause of the delays in appointing judges has been the bungled handling of the process by the new Judicial Appointments Commission. Established in April 2006 to make the selection of judges more merito-cratic and representative, it has yet to complete the process of appointing a significant batch of circuit judges...." More (Times - UK 07.30.2007). Update. Ministry of Justice says 'all businesses have vacancies,' denies shortage is cause of delays (Guardian - UK 07.30.2007).
A warning to lazy judges. "[Ugandan] Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki has warned lazy judicial officers fond of delaying to deliver judgements. He said such officers have no place in today's Judiciary. [He] said the courts are not supposed to sit at the convenience of the judge or magistrate, but at the convenience of the matter before them. 'Be fast, sober and deliver timely judgements...I prefer instant judgements! Why should you delay a ruling or judgement? Write and deliver your decision when facts are still fresh in your mind. The moment you delay, work piles up and you bring yourself unnecessary pressure.'" More (The Monitor via AllAfrica 07.30.2007). Comment. Whenever he was assigned to write an opinion, Justice Holmes would sit down after conference and write it. No flies after sat on his noggin. Funny thing is: his opinions are not only generally better than those of his peers, many of them are classics. Of course, as Sen. Hruska of Nebraska once said, "We can't all be Holmses."
Quote-of-the-day. "On January 1, 2006...when the temperature was 45 degrees, I climbed up on a ladder in order to clear the garage of our holiday home from leaves...The bushfires were raging four or five kilometres away, so I did what every sensible home owner does, get up in the heat; and I fell and knocked myself unconscious and spent an evening in Gosford Hospital. I was unconscious for about 20 minutes and, when I came to my senses, the very first thought that crossed my mind was, can I remember anything about the C7 case?" -- Justice Ron Sackville musing over the possible ramifications to the parties in a mega-case, like "the C7 case," if the judge presiding over it dies or is otherwise disabled from continuing to preside. More (Sydney Morning Herald 07.30.2007). Comment. For some reason, the judge's touching conscientiousness calls to my mind the nerdy resident "house" (dorm) adviser/counsellor at Harvard College in the 1960s who said he slept with his door open so it would be easy for students to wake him if his advice or counsel were needed.
When judges flub the First Amendment. "It is no small thing that a federal judge [Frederick Scullin Jr. of U.S. District Court in Syracuse] had to tell the state's presiding administrative judges that they flubbed the First Amendment when drafting new rules about attorney advertising in the State of New York...The issue is lawyers advertising...[The] new rule stated that no attorney advertising could 'rely on techniques to obtain attention that demonstrate a clear and intentional lack of relevance to the selection of counsel.'" More (N.Y. Sun 07.30.2007). Comment. The rule is rather obviously void as being unconstitutionally vague and therefore overbroad in its potential application.
More on judges as fashion police. "Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen A. Cronin, who was a judge for 13 years before her retirement July 1, said there is no written dress code, noting that attorneys advise clients about 'appropriate dress.' What's 'appropriate' is the crux of the matter...Judge Cronin admitted men have an edge over women. 'A man can put on a golf shirt and khakis and look fine,' she said. 'A woman has more body parts to expose.' Unfortunately, sometimes those parts are out there. 'No stomach or breasts should be showing,' Judge Cronin said." -- From a detail-filled, amusing piece on one court's attempt to control how ordinary people dress when appearing in their (the people's) courtroom. More (Youngstown Vindicator - OH 07.30.2007). Comment. One judge, R. Scott Krichbaum, also of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, is quoted as saying that there is no formal policy but that he "expect[s] people to dress like they're going to church, a wedding or a funeral." Judge Krichbaum "said in some criminal cases when the defendant has been dressed inappropriately, he has had that person removed from the courtroom and dressed in orange jail coveralls provided by the county." Boy, it's just my opinion but I think the judges are playing a risky game. A few random thoughts. a) I don't believe it's ever appropriate for a defendant to be required to appear in court in an orange jail jumpsuit. b) When a judge tells a witness what to wear, the judge in effect is changing the way the witness presents herself in court and arguably influencing, directly or indirectly, how that witness is perceived and evaluated by a jury. c) I'm not sure judges as a class are qualified to serve as fashion mavens. I've known a lot of judges over the years. Let's just say on a few occasions if I had been Fashion Judge with the power to issue totally subjective Fashion Decrees I might have sent a few of them home to change clothes. d) I think my old teacher in the early 1960's, the late, great George B. Vold, internationally-renowned social-group-conflict theorist and professor of sociology at the U. of MN, might say in general that the attempts by judges to set courthouse dress codes are somewhat akin to the way dominant groups in society manage to get some of their own social mores converted into civil and criminal prohibitions. Query. Would Hillary Clinton be sent home if she appeared in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court wearing the cleavage-revealing outfit she wore on the Senate floor the other day? See, Hillary Clinton's Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory (Washington Post 07.20.2007). Further reading. Courthouse Fashion, part I: Another judge tries instituting courthouse dress code; Courthouse Fashion, part II: The Viking influence on judicial fashions; Courthouse Fashion, part III: Judges voice objection to some lawyers' attire; BurtLaw Super-Privacy Robes; BurtLaw Judge-Endorsed Bench Pants; BurtLaw Judicial Swimsuits; Judicial makeovers; BurtLaw Gravi-Tox; BurtLaw Judicial Extensions.
The ongoing judicial soap opera in Vegas. "[Judge Elizabeth] Halverson's bailiff, a black man, says he was ordered to rub her feet, give her back massages, put on her shoes, change her oxygen bottles and pick up papers, cookie crumbs and sunflower seed hulls strewn on the floor of her chambers. He eventually filed a claim for discrimination based on race, religion and sex. The bailiff, Johnny Jordan, was to be waiting for her each day at the building entrance at 7:30 a.m., though she often arrived at 8:30 or later. Halverson, the bailiff and other staffers alleged, would sometimes throw items on the floor and order Jordan to pick them up. When Halverson's mother visited in chambers, she asked her daughter, in the bailiff's presence: 'Is he your servant?'" -- From an entertaining detailed report titled You're NOT the Boss of Me! on the ongoing soap opera involving, inter alia, Judge Halverson and Chief Judge Kathy Hardcastle of the Eighth Judicial District in Nevada (ABAJournal - August 2007). Further reading. Also in the ABA Journal, novelist Scott Turow argues that the billable hour rewards inefficiency, makes clients suspicious, and may be unethical. More (ABAJournal August 2007). Update. "Two former employees of District Court Judge Elizabeth Halverson[, Law Clerk Sally Owen and Executive Assistant Linda John] are speaking out...[They] are now saying the judge is being unfairly targeted. Both of these employees were let go by court administrators last week when Judge Halverson was temporarily removed from the bench...All judges get to hire whomever they choose in these two positions. Both women say they feel unjustly terminated and believe they should have been re-assigned elsewhere in the courthouse...." More (KLAS-TV 07.30.2007).
Senator Charles Schumer claims Senate was duped by Roberts, Alito. "Senators were too quick to accept the...word [of nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito] that they would respect legal precedents, and 'too easily impressed with the charm of Roberts and the erudition of Alito,' Schumer said. 'There is no doubt that we were hoodwinked,' said Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee...." Schumer says that, absent extraordinary circumstances, the Senate ought not confirm another nominee by President Bush. More (Politico 07.27.2007).
Pilot project envisions more-interrogative Judge-Judy-like role for judges. "'Judge Judy' is getting a real courtroom. British Columbia is in the midst of a radical revamp of its Small Claims Court. And as part of its plan for offering faster and cheaper resolutions of legal complaints, the province intends to offer 'a speedy trial' for claims of under $5,000. The goal is to wrap up the trial within an hour. There will be no pre-trial hearings. Crucial to the pilot project's success when it starts this fall will be a new, interrogative role for judges...." More (Toronto Star 07.27.2007). Comment. I think one could make a fairly persuasive case that a system of quick one-day hearings on property division in divorce cases, held within one month after filing, would yield results that were as substantively fair and equitable to the parties and to basic principles of justice and fair process as the current lawyer-enriching, family-destroying system in which cases are dragged out for months and years, with hundreds of pages of filings, interminable discovery, and lots and lots of billable hours -- and, in many cases, the lives of husbands and wives and children left in near ruin.
The gems left behind by judge's slain mother. In February 2005 Judge Joan Lefkow discovered the bodies of her mother and husband, shot to death, in the basement of her Chicago home. The mother, 89-year-old Donna Humphrey, a farm girl who never graduated from high school, left behind some gems -- little poems, perfect in their own modest, quiet way, reflecting a lifetime of reflection on her own life. Now Judge Lefkow has made arrangements for the publication of some of the poems in a small run of 500 copies. More (Chicago Tribune 07.28.2007). Comment. When my mother's mother, Pauline Pederson Herfindahl, was in her prime, the newspaper she received in the daily mail typically published a poem a day. Grandma Pauline, who died of ALS in her early 60's, when I was a kid, clipped some of the ones she liked and kept them in a scrapbook. Who can not be touched by the picture of a modest farm woman like Pauline, leading a busy life tending to all the domestic duties set out by the expectations of society and family, seeking after the finer, more sublime things in life? The nicest thing my mother said of me in her decline was "He's a very good lawyer, but in his heart he's a poet." I have to believe that in some direct and indirect ways that I don't understand, I owe a good part of my love of poetry and poetic perception and imagination -- of Frost, Hardy, Dickinson, Stevens, Williams, Emerson, Thoreau, Cummings, Bly, Milosz, etc., etc. -- to Grandma Pauline and to all the farm girls like her, including Donna Humphrey, who in their hearts were poets.
Ex-judge is acquitted on retrial. "Former Española Municipal Judge Charles Maestas was cleared late Friday night of the rape and bribery charges against him. The eight-man, four-woman jury returned verdicts of acquittal on nine of the 10 counts against Maestas and was deadlocked -- with 11 votes to acquit -- on one bribery charge. State District Judge Michael Vigil declared a mistrial on that count...A jury convicted Maestas -- who served as municipal judge from 1998 to 2002 -- of similar charges in 2003, and he spent 2 1/2 years in prison. However, the state Supreme Court overturned the conviction in December." More (Santa Fe New Mexican 07.28.2007). Comment. All along we assumed he was innocent. Why? We always assume judges charged with crimes are innocent. How can we do that -- isn't that prejudging a case? Yes it is. It's prejudging based on law -- a little thing called the presumption of innocence.
Pontius-Pilate-style 'Justice by Applause-O-Meter? "Perhaps it's time we reverted to a more classic justice model -- Roman Coliseum style. Subiaco Oval could be converted into one big court of law...The jury would be compiled of 40,000 raucous Sandgropers who had either made at least one phone call to a talk-back radio program or had had a letter published in a newspaper (this being the criteria for 'jury' selection). Lawyers for the prosecution and defence would have to present tight and entertaining arguments in four quarters of no more than 10 minutes each. Referees, made up of former judges and QCs, would weigh the arguments based on the cheers of the spectators at the end of each quarter's summation....." -- From an amusing op/ed piece by Phil Haberland written after serving on a jury in a criminal prosecution. More (Perth Sunday Times - AU 07.28.2007). Comment. Haberland was disturbed that "more than one juror did not give a damn whether we found the defendant guilty or not guilty. They did not want to be there. It was Friday afternoon and they were heading to the pub. For them, any verdict would do." I served on a civil jury in a slip-and-fall case a few years ago. I was tempted to write an interesting mini-essay on the experience but thought it best not to do so. But nothing in that experience altered my view that going to trial by either judge or jury as determiner of fact is not that different from playing a game of chance. Our system, as good as it is, is not nearly as good as it could or should be.
Annals of judicial romance - judge, ex-fiancee drop petitions for protection. "A York County attorney and probate judge...and his ex-fiancee reached an agreement about their separation. Robert Nadeau and Lynann Frydrich, the one-time client who eventually became his fiancee, must stay away from each other under terms of the three-page agreement reached late Friday. They also agreed to not disparage one another and set a timetable for Frydrich and her school-age children to move out of Nadeau's house...In 2003, Frydrich made a complaint against Nadeau to the state Board of Overseers of the Bar, after he reconciled with his wife. She later withdrew her complaint when she and Nadeau reconciled. Last Friday, Frydrich said she filed a temporary restraining order against Nadeau...Nadeau counterfiled for a restraining order of his own...." More (Press-Herald - ME 07.28.2007).
The Path to the Judicial Heights. "In the first judicial appointment of his tenure, Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday nominated Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford to replace the late Martha Sosman on the Supreme Judicial Court...." More (Boston Herald 07.2.2007). Comment. Botsford, who appears on paper to be as well qualified as others whom the governor might have appointed, was first appointed to the bench in 1989 by Gov. Mike Dukakis, whom her lawyer husband, Stephen Rosenfeld, served as legal counsel and chief of staff (the latter according to Herald columnist Howie Carr). According to today's Herald, Rosenfeld last year gave the governor's campaign fund three times the maximum amount of money allowed by law. More and more (Boston Herald 07.27.2007). The Herald quotes a spokesperson for the governor as saying, apparently with a straight face, that the contributions played no role in the appointment and that there's no one more qualified. It's sheer coincidence, I guess, that all across the country those who make it through the screening processes and eventually get picked by the governor as "the best people for the job" so often turn out to have been friends and allies of the governor. Meanwhile....
Will Missouri voters get a chance to reject the sacred Missouri Plan? "Gov. Matt Blunt is aggravated at the way a nonpartisan commission selected the names of three judges to send him as final choices for a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court, a source close to the governor said Thursday...Some of Blunt's political advisers say Missouri's nonpartisan court plan has outlived its usefulness and they are pushing for the governor to seek a statewide referendum for a constitutional amendment to change the way it operates." More (St. Louis Post-Dispatch 07.27.2007). Further reading. Writes Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan: "The nonpartisan commission takes into consideration the governor's ideological preferences. It is not going to give a conservative Republican governor three liberal Democrats. That is what we said, and we said it with a certain smugness. The list came out Wednesday. Well, uh, you know, it's sort of like, well, uh." More (St. Louis Post-Dispatch 07.27.2007). Update. McClellan comments further today: "[T]here is one thing worse than giving a governor three people you know he won't like. That's giving him two you know he won't like. That's putting the fix in for the third." More (St. Louis Post-Dispatch 07.30.2007). Comment. And that, of course, is the sort of thing "nonpartisan" commissions often do. Read on: Editorial criticizing MO "nonpartisan" commission's failure to follow sunshine law (Springfield News-Leader 08.02.2007).
Will long-delayed paternity suit against high court judge finally be heard? "After five years, ministerial advisor Advocate Yolisa Maya's maintenance case against a high court judge is finally showing signs of being heard. Maya, a special legal advisor to Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has been engaged in a legal battle that has turned into a paternity dispute with Pretoria high court judge Ntsikelelo Poswa...." More (Independent Online - South Africa 07.27.2007).
Negros Oriental judge is assassinated. "A judge who was shot in an ambush in Negros Oriental succumbed to his injuries Friday morning, even as the police remain clueless as to who killed him. Supreme Court (SC) spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said Judge Orlando Velasco of the Bayawan City regional trial court died at 6 a.m. Friday. He was 57...." More (GMANews - Philippines 07.27.2007).
Latest on Michigan's fractured Supreme Court. "Cliff Taylor is the chief justice of Michigan's highest court. He's also a zealot operating under a tight deadline, which may explain the reckless haste with which Taylor and other members of the state Supreme Court's Republican majority are laying waste to decades of consumer-friendly legal precedent. Insurers and other deep-pocket defendants who bankrolled the current majority's rise to power could lose their vise-like grip on the court if Taylor fails to win re-election when his term runs out next year. He's the only justice whose seat is at stake in 2008...." -- Columnist Brian Dickerson, commenting on the Republican majority's latest 4-3 decision, this one expressly overruling a line of statute-of-limitations precedents going back to 1963. More (Detroit Free Press 07.27.2007).
Governor orders 'full-scale review' of judicial processes. "Gov. M. Jodi Rell today ordered a full-scale review of state judicial process to see whether any procedures need to be changed to ensure the public's safety following Monday's arrests of two career criminals accused of invading a Cheshire home and killing three people inside...." More (Hartford Courant 07.27.2007). Comment. It's just my opinion but this strikes me as nothing more or less than pandering to public hysteria. Justice Frankfurter said once (while vacationing in England), "There are, as you well know, periodic newspaper crime waves in the United States. Popular feeling is excited to fluctuate between being sentimental and being harsh." Our newspapers and TV stations and talk-radio blatherers and our cheap politicians are well-practiced in creating "newspaper crime waves" and in manipulating popular feeling, but we should expect more. Hard fact: events like this, like thunderstorms and blizzards sweeping across the prairie, have been going on since the beginning of time. In May of 1897, 110 years ago, my then-42-year-old great-grandmother, Britha Eriksdatter Hanson, who lived to 100 and whom I got to know well, boarded a train and traveled from Benson, MN to visit her sister, who lived on a farm near Larimore, North Dakota and who was in shock after an itinerant hired hand named August Normand went berserk and slit the throats of her four boys before forcing her to submit to him on the threat of also killing her little girls. See, Benson Times issues dated 05.11.1897, 05.18.1897, and 06.01.1897, on microfilm at Minnesota Historical Society. For my critical views on politicization of crime and of the courts' roles in the criminal process, see, the essay titled Crime and Punishment, which (unlike most candidates) I wrote myself and posted myself on my personally-created and personally-maintained website in my failed 2004 anti-war campaign for Congress in the GOP primary against MN Third District Congressman Jim Ramstad.
Judicial internet dating revisited. "Prosecutors on Friday dropped charges against a Brazilian woman who they had accused of blackmailing a female judge and stealing sexy videos from a male judge, saying the alleged victims were too ill to give testimony. The decision was announced two weeks before Roselane Driza was due to face a new trial. She had been sentenced to 33 months in prison on the charges last year, but her conviction was set aside by the Court of Appeal...." More (IHT 07.27.2007). Background. See, Annals of judicial internet dating, which includes links to earlier postings about this scandal (as well as to other postings on judicial romance, judicial dating, and judicial cyber-dating).
Are the feds at it again? "Federal authorities are investigating $67,255 in undisclosed payments to Clinch County employees ordered by the chief judge of Georgia's Alapaha Judicial Circuit, whose office was raided by FBI agents last month. Records show Superior Court Judge Brooks E. Blitch III, the circuit's chief judge, has ordered monthly payments to three employees since 2001. A report by the county auditor says the payments were kept off the court clerk's books and were not reported to state or federal tax collectors. According to an order Blitch signed Sept. 13, 2001, the money came from an extra $10 in court fees the judge ordered assessed for every criminal case in Superior Court and State Court...." More (Savannah Morning News 07.27.2007). Comment. This sounds like it's possibly yet another instance of the feds getting involved, improperly we think, in what is really a state matter. As anyone who regularly reads our postings over the last two years, the feds under Bush/Gonzales seem to feel they have a "roving commission," to use Justice Cardozo's phrase, to clean up state and local government. With respect to the feds' pursuit of state judges around the country, I guess I'm more of a states'-righter than I thought I was, because I think the feds' claims of jurisdiction to prosecute some of these cases are a little contrived. It all seems so un-Republican, even to this liberal Eisenhower/Rockefeller Republican. But wait! As I wrote in 2005, long before the revelations about Alberto Gonzales' politicization of the Justice Dept. hit the fan, although I might be wrong, I think the states where all or most of these investigations have occurred are historically Democratic, on the local level, at least. Hmmm...
Fed judge orders gov't to pay $102 million to four wrongly-convicted men. "A federal judge in Boston Thursday ordered the government to pay $101.7 million to four innocent men who spent decades in prison after corrupt FBI agents, in order to protect potential informants, helped concoct evidence that led to their wrongful convictions for a 1965 murder. Lawyers involved in the case said they believe U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner's judgment is the largest ever ordered in a wrongful imprisonment case...." Two of the men died in prison. More (Hartford Courant 07.27.2007). Further reading. Read on....
'After Innocence' -- and mandatory indoctrination of lawyers and judges. Yesterday my son and I watched a DVD of After Innocence, the 2005 documentary that follows exonerated men who at last, typically as a result of DNA evidence, are freed from prison after long confinement. Minnesota was one of the trendsetters in requiring judges and lawyers to take, in partial fulfillment of their mandatory continuing education requirement, courses on eliminating gender, racial, and cultural bias in the courtroom. While the requirement is perhaps well-intended, as Katherine Kersten noted in an op/ed piece in the Star-Tribune back on 12.12.2001, the requirement in effect "seeks to dictate how lawyers think about complex political and moral questions, like the causes of racial disparities and the morality of same-sex sexual behavior." Walter Olson of Overlawyered.Com has compared the requirement to "compulsory chapel." What Kersten observed in 2001 about the actual courses pretty much describes what I've experienced in attending one of them every three years: "Most folks nap through these seminars. They know that life is far more complex. They know, too, that the people who do diversity training are often ideologically motivated. They may use the language of diversity. Frequently, however, they seek to impose their own politically inspired views on everyone else." See, my comments at Requiring judges to attend cultural courses. Here's an idea for the people at CLE who approve diversity-training courses for lawyers and judges: Allow lawyers and judges to meet their diversity-training requirement and ethics requirement by attending a single course at which a) the movie "After Innocence" is shown and b) all of the issues raised either directly or indirectly by it are discussed by prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, and, perhaps, one of the fellows who spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. I will have more to say in the future as to what issues came to my mind in watching the movie, issues not even mentioned by those who wrote and directed it.
Court throws up its hands, asks legislature to solve church-state conflicts. Malaysia got its independence from Great Britain 50 years ago, the year Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock" and "All Shook Up" were the #1 and #2 songs. Malaysia had the good fortune of having a multi-cultural society. The ethnic Malay Muslims were in the majority, but there were significant minority populations of ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians with their Buddhist, Christian and Hindu religions. The Constitution inaugurated a dual court system, with Sharia courts handling domestic relations cases and personal disputes among Muslims and civil courts handling such matters for the others. Since then things have followed Elvis' lead and gotten "All Shook Up," with -- perish the thought -- intermarriage taking place, conversions occurring, etc. As a result, the neat little division doesn't work so well in some cases. Thus, in one case, a woman born Muslim converted to Christianity but the civil court system has refused to remove the "Islam" religious tag from her identity card, referring the matter to the Sharia courts. The minorities are upset because -- surprise! -- the Sharia courts have been siding with the Muslim majority in interreligious disputes. Now "Malaysia's highest civil court has urged lawmakers to resolve a conflict over jurisdiction between secular and religious courts, rather than leave the matter for judges to decide." More (IHT 07.26.2007). Comment. The similar issue of the jurisdiction and authority of rabbinal courts in Israel is a hot potato there. For example, women's groups have complained that the rabbinical courts favor men in divorce and related issues. The Israeli Supreme Court has been a bit bolder than Malaysia's top court. Ultimately, the solution is to convert Sharia court and rabbinical court judges into arbitrators/mediators, with their "jurisdiction" limited to civil cases in which both parties have voluntarily submitted to have their dispute resolved by the religious "judges." Civil courts, of course, ought to have the ultimate say as to whether any agreement to arbitrate is an agreement voluntarily entered into by both parties.
Annals of ex parte communications and recusals. "Lake County Board member Robert Sabonjian Jr. (D-Waukegan) identified himself Wednesday as the mystery caller who left a voice mail with a county judge that forced the sudden postponement of a child-pornography case involving former county Republican Chairman Tom Adams...Sabonjian said he was upset with courthouse speculation that Adams planned to plead guilty to the child-pornography charges in exchange for a lenient sentence...Judge Victoria Rossetti, a Republican, recused herself from the case Tuesday, saying she wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety...[The chief judge] said he would seek to have a judge from outside Lake County assigned to hear the case against Adams...." More (Chicago Tribune 07.26.2007). Comments. a) It wasn't smart or brave of the politician to make the call. b) If the judge wasn't obliged or inclined to recuse before the call, should she have recused as a result of the call? We're not sure she should have. Doing so in effect creates a precedent in a case like this that allows an outsider to force a change in judges and a delay simply by making an inappropriate call to the judge. Perhaps -- and this is just speculation -- the judge was glad to have an excuse to rid herself of a hot potato. Still....
Don't like a judge's decision? Impeach her? "A Maryland lawmaker[, Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican,] is seeking to remove [Circuit Court Judge Katherine D. Savage,] the judge who dismissed a Montgomery County case because of delays in securing an interpreter for the trial of a Liberian immigrant accused of raping and repeatedly molesting a 7-year-old girl...It would be the first time since the Civil War that the legislature removed a judge. The House of Delegates last year rejected a lawmaker's call to impeach a Baltimore circuit judge who ruled that the state's same-sex 'marriage' ban was unconstitutional...." More (Washington Times 07.26.2007). Comment. Mr. McDonough is quoted as saying that the judge's decision "set a dangerous precedent in Maryland." It shows how little he knows. A trial judge's decision is not much of a precedent except as between the parties and then only if final. The judge's decision is still subject to appeal. The "dangerous precedent" would be to impeach a judge for simply having decided a case contrary to how some politicians, who possibly haven't even read the record or the decision, think it ought to have been decided.
Want a taste of real bias? "Accusing them of class bias and human rights violation, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday came down heavily on the lower courts here for remanding to judicial custody accused belonging to the lower strata of society while granting bail to the rich and famous. Observing that most of the under-trials languishing in Tihar Central Jail here for petty offences were poor people, a Division Bench of the Court comprising Justice R. S. Sodhi and Justice H. R. Malhotra said: 'Show us a single case where a taxpayer is languishing in jail for petty offences. Most of them are poor people, and we are hurting them by imprisoning them.'" More (The Hindu 07.26.2007).
Who says 70 is too old? This judge is 100, still going strong. "Friends and associates of [Judge Max Reicher, who turns 100 on Saturday and is] the oldest judge in Connecticut[,] are hosting a birthday party for him this evening at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Kensington. Attorney Harry Mazadoorian, professor, author, community and political leader, calls Reicher 'an inspiration to us all.' 'How many people his age still drive to work every day?' asks New Britain attorney Steve Mangan, who has a tradition of eating with Reicher at the city's Capitol Lunch. Mangan says Reicher is partial to its hot dogs...." More (New Britain Herald - CT 07.26.2007). Comment. And the good judge still puts in a five-day work week, something some judges at 40 or 50 or 60 don't do, unless of course you count their community outreach on the taxpayer's dime, their time attending this or that conference or committee meeting on the taxpayer's dime, etc. :-) Update. The Hartford Courant has a nice report today on the judge's birthday party. The judge disspelled the rumors he's about to retire. And his grandson "Larry Langs, a practicing lawyer and investment banker from Los Angeles, called Reicher inspirational. Holding Reicher's 9-month-old great-grandson Max in his arms, Langs said when facing tough times in his work and life, he thinks as his grandfather does. 'I would put on my grandfather's glasses, have 100-year-old eyes,' Langs said. 'I feel younger, and what's in front of me feels like nothing.'" More (Hartford Courant 07.27.2007).
Courthouse commissioners want to destroy is 'heart of community.' "Retired Heidelberg College History Professor Kenneth Davison called Seneca County's 1884 courthouse 'the most important single building in the county' and said demolishing it would be a huge mistake. 'It's the very heart of the community. There's nothing else here that can match it and that is true in every county of the state,' Mr. Davison said while testifying in Seneca County Common Pleas Court yesterday morning. 'It's a cultural thing. It's not just political.'" More (Toledo Blade 07.26.2007). Comment. See, my extensive comments at an earlier posting on the commissioners' plan titled County board votes to demolish historic 1884 courthouse.
New judge is 23 years old! "A 23-year-old sheep breeder from Carmarthenshire has been chosen as one of the youngest stock judges ever at the Royal Welsh Show. John Price, who works for the Farmers' Union of Wales, started showing sheep when he was 13. After 10 years of breeding and showing the animals, and winning awards, he is considered experienced enough to judge at the agricultural showpiece...." More (BBC News 07.25.2007). Comment. If Young Price were an American, a lawyer and a member of the Federalist Society, the right-wing GOP-machine might be interested in sending him to their judge-grooming prep school -- where is it now? West Coast? But we think Price is too good for them. Their machine's goals seem to be a) to train the young recruits in right-thinking (a/k/a narrow-minded fundamentalist literal toeing of the party line) and b) to appoint 'em federal judges when they're young so that they can carry on the machine's goals for as many years as possible. Those who know us know that we're not fans of Judicial Fundamentalism or any other kind of fundamentalism, we believe generally life is best lived near the Golden Middle, we believe in Youth but we also believe in Experience, and we'd rather be judged by a judge who's 80 years young (and free in his thinking as the ever-young Holmes) than one who's 40 years old (and rigid in his thinking as a rule-obsessed trained dog).
The troubles a judge has encountered defending Harriet Miers' appointment. Justice Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court, a friend of Harriet Miers, got into trouble with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which argued he acted improperly in standing up for her when President Bush did her no favor by nominating her to SCOTUS. Hecht was merely exercising his First Amendment rights, as we argued all along, and eventually was successful in defending his actions. Now Texas Watch, a watchdog organization, has complained he got a cut rate from the law firm that represented him and that it amounted to an illegal campaign contribution. More (Houston Chronicle 07.25.2007). Comment. We're with Hecht on this. The law firm says neither it nor Hecht did anything wrong and, without more, we're inclined to agree. Texas Watch seems to think fees are writ in stone. But fees are always subject to negotiation -- before, during and at the close of representation.
Who should be sent to the asylum -- lawyer or judge who sent him there? "A Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Monday night stayed an unusual order by a judge directing the CBI to admit a local advocate to Agra mental hospital. Earlier on Monday, Justice Uma Nath Singh took suo motu notice [took notice on his own initiative] of an FIR filed with the Chandigarh police against advocate Tahar Singh by his wife, alleging that he tortured her...[T]he party had reached Kurukshetra en-route to Agra when the single-judge order was stayed. The lawyer lobby [responded by making] four major decisions [including a]ll lawyers will boycott Justice Uma Nath Singh's court...They say the judge requires treatment himself for having passed the obscure order...." More (CNN-IBN 07.24.2007).
Fifty-year-old judge collapses while on bench, dies. "A Weld County [Colorado] district judge collapsed while on the bench in court Monday and died. Judge Frank G. Henderson, 50, apparently suffered a heart attack, state court administrator Rob McCallum said in a statement...." More (Boston Globe 07.24.2007).
Three-judge panel overturns order sparing life of sacred bull. "Shambo the 'sacred' temple bull, which last week got a reprieve on his death sentence, is likely to be slaughtered after all following a hearing in the Court of Appeal...The court ruled that the decision to kill the animal was justified after it tested positive for bovine tuberculosis (BTB). The six-year-old bull is revered by Hindu monks at the Skanda Vale Community in Llanpumsaint, west Wales. Following last week's High Court decision to spare the animal, the Welsh Assembly, which served the slaughter order in May, decided to appeal...." More (Telegraph 07.24.2007). Comment. Today's text is from H. D. Thoreau, Walden; or Life in the Woods (1854):
I had gone down to the woods for other purposes. But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run 'amok' against society; but I preferred that society should run 'amok' against me, it being the desperate party.
And this is even truer today, not just for a man but for a sacred bull, too. Even if a sacred bull seeks and finds seeming refuge in a community of Hindu monks, he may find himself pursued and pawed by men with their "dirty institutions."
Judge finds herself ranked lowest. "Ex-Superior Court Judge Maria Lopez's courtroom act fizzled in Boston, but her dreams of television stardom are failing even worse, with her new syndicated show drawing the lowest ratings of any TV judge in America. Judge Maria Lopez (WSBK-TV Ch. 38) finished dead last among the nine syndicated judge shows during its first year on the air, ending the season with a dismal 1.0 household rating, averaging a litte more than 1 million households nationwide. Judge Judy (WBZ-TV Ch. 4) once again claimed the top spot in the crowded courtroom TV show arena with a 4.6 rating, averaging 5,165,000 households, according to Nielsen...." More (Boston Herald 07.24.2007).
A nation of puisne judges, quick to judgment? "In some ways our society seems like a fresh reminder of high school. We all hear something juicy about a stranger and jump on the Judgin' Wagon, hailing our mass of opinions as almighty and exclaiming, 'I would have done this instead,' or 'I can't believe he/she did that.'" -- From Tiffany Breyne, Shifting out of judge gear - Y Generation - We zing the ethics and actions of others, but are we society's hall monitors? (Chicago Sun-Times - Op/Ed 07.24.2007). Comment. A nation of Pharisees, one might say, not only quick to judgment but exceedingly prone to harshness of punishment of "others"...but not, of course, when "we" have done something wrong. Then we gnash our teeth and wail for understanding and forgiveness.
Judge faces disciplinary inquiry following 'homophobic' ruling. "A judge in Spain who stripped a mother of custody of her two daughters because she is a lesbian is having disciplinary action brought against him...." More (TV3.Co.NZ 07.24.2007).
Judge tells man with horrible driving record to walk, ride a horse. "A judge suggested that a man with more than 80 driving violations on his record try riding a horse to work and then sentenced him for two more traffic-related offenses. District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh made the comments in court on Monday before sentencing Michael John Cristan for felony criminal endangerment and driving with an expired license, a misdemeanor...'If I were you, I wouldn't plan on driving any time, anywhere, under any circumstances' during the next three years, the judge said...Baugh told Cristan to get used to walking, taking the bus, riding a bicycle or using any means of transportation that does not involve a motor vehicle. 'Ride a horse, I don't care,' Baugh said...." More (Billings Gazette 07.24.2007). Comments. a) Is it okay to ride a horse on a public way in Montana while intoxicated? b) Not under any court directive, fully capable of driving anywhere I want, I nonetheless, of my own free will, have been walking most places for nigh on two years. It's what I call "Sir Burton's Walk-the-Dog-and-Walk-to-the-Grocery-Store Diet Plan." It's the easiest way I've found to stay fit and keep my weight where it was when I was captain of the track team in high school. (Funny thing is, I didn't know I was "captain" at the time. I learned of it at the awards ceremony in the spring of my senior year, when my coach/mentor, the great Leon "Brock" Brockmeyer, presenting the track "letters," called off my name, saying, "Four bars [i.e., four "letters"] and a captain's star."
Have you ever been tempted to kiss a judicial opinion? "A woman who says she was so overcome with passion for a valuable painting on display in France, has been charged with criminal damage after kissing it. The immaculate white canvas so attracted Sam Rindy she smudged it with her lipstick, saying later she had wanted to make it even more beautiful. The 3x2m (9x6-foot) painting by US artist Cy Twombly is valued at more than $2m (£970,000)...." More (BBC News 07.22.2007). Comment. We know of people who have been tempted to stomp on a copy of a judicial opinion, and we also know of people who have been seduced by an opinion. But we've never suspected anyone, other than the author of an opinion, of wanting to kiss one.
On the way we treat the 'mentally ill' in prisons. "Timothy Souders wanted to die. 'Go ahead, kill me,' he told a police officer after being caught shoplifting paintball guns at a Meijer store in Adrian. In jail, Souders -- who suffered from bipolar disorder -- stabbed himself seven times with a knife and, two weeks later, tried to hang himself with jail coveralls. That didn't keep him from being sent to a Jackson prison, where the 21-year-old died from dehydration and hyperthermia last August after being kept in solitary confinement for disobedience. In reviewing Souders' death, U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen attributed much of his defiance and self-destructive behavior to untreated mental illness...." More (WOOD-TV 07.22.2007). Comment. Some are saying 'mentally ill' people don't belong in prison. Why limit it to that? For my views, see, my 2004 position paper (which I wrote, not some aide) on Crime and Punishment (Burton Hanson for Congress - GOP Primary - MN 3rd District - "Strength and Prosperity Through Peace").
When a judge is a virtual prisoner. " [P]residing over the Tada court and Asia's longest-running trial, the 1993 serial blasts case, Judge [Pramod Dattaram] Kode moves around in a bullet-proof Ambassador, shrouded in Z-plus security. When he took charge of the highly-sensitive trial in 1996, the simple and carefree life of the unassuming former Thane resident, became the first casualty. Under 24-hour surveillance by gun-toting policemen, the 54-year-old judge doesn't move out of his New Marine Lines home except to go to court and his annual Shirdi pilgrimage...Wrapping up the mammoth trial, Judge Kode has convicted 100 accused for the blasts, which killed 257 people 14 years ago. So far, seven convicts have been sentenced to death and 16 to life imprisonment...." More (DNAIndia 07.22.2007). Comment. We would have thought India, with dominant Hinduism's great reverence for life, would have abolished the death penalty.
Those unpaid library fines? "A massive £26 million in fines has not been paid by offenders despite a high-profile campaign by the Government to combat the problem. Information from the Justice Ministry shows that the total amount owed in the North for the financial year ending on March 31 is £25,705,785...a huge £652,998 rise on the previous 12 months...." More (ICNewcastle 07.22.2007). Comment. Only one in twenty pays up on the day of sentencing. With a collection record like this, one doesn't doubt that some who could pay right away, don't.
The smell of Justice -- bacon and eggs? "The Lawrence County Commission is advertising for a person to operate the courthouse snack bar that is in one corner of the second floor. Kathleen Pemberton, who has operated the snack bar for the last six years, has filled a vacancy the Lawrence County Treasurer's Office, commissioners said Thursday...Typical snack bar hours are 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday. The smell of bacon and sausage was a familiar aroma that greeted courthouse patrons in the morning during Pemberton's tenure...." More (Ironton Tribune - Ohio 07.21.2007).
Fired clerk who blew whistle, alleging time card fraud, settles with county. "Rockwall County has agreed to pay $23,500 to settle a lawsuit in which a woman alleged that she was fired for blowing the whistle on time card fraud. Charlotte Smith contended that Justice of the Peace Larry Holloway fired her as his chief clerk in 2004 in retaliation for her reporting that another clerk was repeatedly falsifying time cards...Judge Holloway contended that he fired Ms. Smith for insubordination. A confidentiality clause barred Ms. Smith from commenting on the settlement, but she did want to give a message to Rockwall County employees: 'If you know of an elected official or any employee or co-worker who is committing an illegal act, or you know of the wrongdoing, do not report it, as you will be fired. Take your company policy manual and throw it in the trash. It is not worth the paper it is written on.'" More (Dallas Morning News 07.22.2007). Comment. In some jurisdictions some employees who are aware of time card fraud in the courthouse have tipped off "I-Team" reporters, who like catching government employees on video, especially judges, playing hooky without reporting the time off as vacation time. The videos make for good TV during "sweeps."
Is there a case for impeaching chief justice? "Three wise men of the law -- one British, the others nationals of our Caribbean Community -- will journey to Trinidad and Tobago this week to constitute a tribunal appointed to determine whether a case exists to impeach the country's chief justice, Satnarine Sharma, for alleged criminal misconduct in office...." More (Jamaica Observer 07.22.2007).
What he found on a visit to Jeddah's general court. "Two weeks ago, I visited Jeddah's general court for two consecutive days -- Tuesday and Wednesday. The visits were part of the 'nosy' field trips I got used to performing long time ago...." Amr Al-Faisal, in a piece titled The Hospitality of Justice, reports that on his two visits to the court, which has a roster of 23 judges, he found that only nine of the judges showed up the first day, eight the second. Cases are scheduled for 8:00 a.m. but the first judge of the nine who arrived didn't arrive until 8:15. He asked someone why the judges didn't arrive on time and was told that, as he paraphrased that someone's response, "a judge must be in a very comfortable and stable psychological state and must have a good night's sleep so he could take his decisions deliberately and calmly." One of the "nice" things he found about "all this" is that "if a judge is late or absent it means that the case has to be delayed a month, months or perhaps years" but if the plaintiffs are ever late "their case will be thrown out even if everyone in the court knew that the judge wouldn't show up before 9:30 or 10 a.m." More (Arab News 07.21.2007). Comment. This problem is not unique to Saudi Arabia. See, Another I-Team-type report: Judge caught on tape away from bench!; More on the judge caught playing hooky, and Annals of TV 'sweeps' and judges 'caught on camera.'
We have no way of knowing whether the report on the court in Jeddah was fair, but we do know that many, many courts throughout America are scandals "waiting to happen." All it takes in an individual case is a tip from an insider and a little footwork by an I-Team reporter. They're scandals waiting to happen because the courts don't have policies in place designed to prevent them from happening. The simple preventative for this type of scandal? Require all judges to fill out timesheets in the same way as other court employees and report as "vacation time" or "sick leave," to be subtracted from allotted vacation and sick leave, all unofficial time away from the court during their regular work hours. Judges who properly think of themselves as "professionals" and who regularly take work home at night and otherwise give the public good weight -- and they are in the majority -- don't like the idea of such a requirement. But they're foolish not to insist on such a requirement. This kind of exposé is nothing new. To take just one of many examples, back in 1998 a San Jose Mercury News investigation "revealed a group of jurists routinely took off Fridays to hit the links -- with little evidence they were doing so on vacation time...." (San Jose Mercury News 07.24.2005). The key words there are "evidence" and "vacation time." It's all right for a judge to go shopping or play golf during normal working hours so long as she does it in the right way, reporting it on a timesheet and subtracting it from allotted vacation time. A judge who does it in the wrong way is playing Russian roulette with her own career. Related reading. Since 2000 I've been publicly advocating that courts ought to post judges' trips, their expense account reimbursement requests, their timesheets, etc., on court websites. See, my 2000 essay Judicial Independence and Accountability.
Ham judging. "The glistening hocks are judged on eight essential attributes, the most important of which are meatiness and aroma. Besides that, the winning ham should be firm, trim and, well, beautiful. Judges don't taste the ham...." -- From a report on the judging of country cured hams competition that is the "traditional prelude" to the Boone County (Missouri) Fair. This year there were more than 250 entrants. What's the secret to a "good-lookin' ham'? "[Virgil] Gardner [says] the secret...is cooking oil. 'You gotta polish 'em up. Rub in some cooking oil until your hands are sore. Then, come back and do 'er again...And don't lay the ham on the meaty side. You'll put a dent in it. Lay it on the bone side.'" How much preparation goes into a case -- err, ham? "The process begins in late November or early December, when the ham is salted, wrapped and hung up to cure in the cold. In the spring, the salt is rubbed off and the ham is re-wrapped and allowed to age. If all goes as planned, the ham should be ready for judging by the end of July." More (Columbia Tribune 07.20.2007).
Words & Phrases. Two W&P's in the news: "No-nonsense judge" and "rocket-docket." I saw both phrases in a USA Today headline reporting that NFL quarterback Michael "Vick [is] to face no-nonsense judge in 'rocket-docket' court." a) "No-nonsense judge." Here's a link to the results of a Google search for web pages and pre-Vick news stories containing the phrase "no-nonsense judge." As you'll see, it's become one of the sorriest clichés used when one wants to say one likes a judge, which means it's often used by judges to describe themselves in their campaign literature, on their puffed-up resumés, etc. One place you invariably see it is on TV station websites describing so-called TV judges like "Judge Judy." It is usually accompanied by other sorry clichés such as "tough-but-fair" and "common-sensical." It's become a sort of code-word for the kind of judge "law-and-order types," who themselves are walking clichés, tend to like (except when one of their own, as in "Scooter" Libby faces such a judge). I've gotten so tired of it that when I hear it I can't help thinking of the famous judicial-vacuum-cleaner retort by Judge Learned Hand's cousin, the tough-but-fair, no-nonsense Judge Augustus Noble Hand: "[A] judge..., without any plan in mind, announced to a press conference that he was about to clean up the courts in his circuit. 'With what?' asked Judge Hand, 'The vacuum in his head!'" Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr., "Augustus Noble Hand," 61 Harv.L.Rev. 573, 581 (1948). Get out the vacuum cleaner next time you hear me use it without winking. b) "Rocket-docket." From a 10.03.2004 story in the Washington Post: "About 40 years ago, the judge who ran the federal courthouse in Alexandria decided that justice was being dispensed too slowly for his liking. He vowed to speed things up. Next thing most lawyers knew, their cases were flying through the docket. The judge, Albert V. Bryan Jr., would rule on the spot when motions were argued and, the story goes, could try an entire case in an afternoon. 'The old joke used to be that in front of Judge Bryan, the only grounds for a delay were a death in the family -- your own,'' said defense lawyer Edward B. MacMahon Jr. The courthouse today reflects the influence of Bryan, whose legacy gave Alexandria national fame as the 'rocket docket.'" I'm as wary of judges who are overly proud of the speed with which they "dispatch" cases as I am of lame judges who sit on their fannies and take forever deciding cases, ruining people's lives in the process.
'L' is for literal in the S. Ct. of Justices-Who-Can't-Stand-Each-Other. "L is for literal. See the justices. How distinguished they look in their long, black robes! The justices are very serious. They also are very polite. Spot would never guess they can hardly stand to be in the same room with one another. Together, the seven justices make up the highest court in Michigan. The court's job is to decide what the law says about Springdale Park." From another good piece by Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press on Michigan's troubled supreme court, this as five of the seven take the absurdly literal (no-nonsense?) approach and hold that a park set aside in real estate documents for "residential" purposes is not a park in which mammals named Spot may run free. More (Detroit Free Press 07.20.2007). Comment. Anyone who believes squirrels ought to have more rights than dogs -- which is the practical effect of the court's strict interpretation -- ain't my kinda person. As my canine babe-friends, Jane and Alice, said to me after I explained the court's decision, "We wouldn't want to live with a 'strict constructionist.'" Nor would I. Justice Holmes famously said that dogs "know the difference between being kicked and being tripped over." A "strict constructionist," one might say, is someone who doesn't know the difference. Further reading. Lady Mathilda's Law and Dogs, BurtLaw's Swimsuits and the Law, BurtLaw's Law and Animals.
Pak court reinstates Chief suspended by Prez. "The Supreme Court on Friday reinstated Pakistan's top judge, ruling that his suspension by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf was 'illegal.' Presiding Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday said Musharraf's order suspending Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was 'set aside as being illegal.'" More (Guardian UK 07.20.2007).
Quote-of-the-day. "Judges serve up curly questions in court and let slip withering remarks for all manner of reasons. They may be deadly serious -- or playing devil's advocate. They may be toying with an argument soon to be tossed aside like an unloved teddybear. They may be indulging the harmless sport of barrister-baiting. Only a reckless litigant would mistake an encouraging line in judicial banter with a decision in the case." Bernard Lane, Judge finds QUT case remarkable (The Australian 07.20.2007). Comment. But, as Lane's story suggests, only a reckless litigant would ignore a line in judicial banter that is seemingly encouraging to the other side.
Which side has more friends and who are the friends? "A lawsuit that began in the political backrooms of Brooklyn will be reviewed by the highest court in the nation this fall and seems likely to transform the way judges are selected in New York State. The plaintiffs filed their response brief on Friday, July 13, with a flurry of amici or 'friend of court' briefs from widely divergent political groups. The case of Lopez Torres v. New York State Board of Elections is tentantively scheduled for oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court in the first week of October. More than a dozen legal agencies and bar associations have filed amicus briefs for both sides in an attempt to sway the Court...." More (Brooklyn Eagle 07.20.2007). Comments. a) I wouldn't say it's "likely" the Court's decision will transform the way judges have been selected in NYS. b) It's my opinion that organizations often waste their money in filing amicus briefs. Too often, amicus briefs do little more than say "We're with the side that we want you to know we think are the good guys." They amount to cheerleading. I've read many in my life and rarely found any of them helpful.
Judge warns of 'terrible dangers' of pot. "A judge has warned of the 'terrible' dangers of cannabis, as he jailed a drug dealer for three-and-a-half years. Sitting at Mold Crown Court, [J]udge Michael Farmer QC said he had dealt with many cases where users had ended up as patients in mental hospitals...." More (BBC News 07.20.2007). Comment. I may be one of the only people in my age cohort (I went to college and law school in the '60's) who has never tried marijuana (or any other drug-subculture drug). But after working in the judicial system for nearly thirty years, I am of the firm conclusion that our overly harsh and punitive drug laws are counterproductive and represent a far greater and more "terrible" danger to individuals, society, our institutions, and our economy than most of the drugs themselves.
Court al fresco. "A small claims defendant couldn't get to the courtroom in Milwaukee County because of her fear of elevators, stairwells and high ceilings. So the court went to her. Small claims court is on the fourth floor of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Pamela Ray told the court commissioner she couldn't possibly make it to the courtroom because of her anxiety attacks. So, Commissioner Rebecca Dallet held court yesterday at a picnic table outside the courthouse...." More (WKBT - LaCrosse 07.20.2007). Comment. Want more instances of flexible and accommodating judges? a) "Mary was responsive and incredibly flexible accommodating our every want and need with cheerfulness and a professionalism that is assuredly unrivaled." -- From a testimonial at the matrimonial services website of Connecticut Justice of the Peace Mary Pugh.
b) "He was very flexible, accommodating, and very, very witty." - An impression of North Korea's Kim Jong Il by an adviser who accompanied South Korea's Kim Dae Jung on a visit. More (CNN Transcript of "Thawing Relations on the Korean Peninsula" 12.25.2000). c) A randomly-found website distinguishes communication styles of "judgers" and "perceivers," listing the "sunny" side and "shadow" side of each type. A "shadow" trait associated with "judgers" is their tendency to be "rigid, inflexible, constricting, lacking in spontaneity," whereas a "sunny" trait of "perceivers" is their tendency to be "flexible, accommodating."
Lei-wearing Stevens tells judicial junketeers he's not thinking of retiring. "John Paul Stevens, at 87 the oldest and longest-serving member of the Supreme Court, signaled Thursday that he doesn't plan to retire from his 'very wonderful job' soon. 'I'm blessed by a job where there's no set retirement age. There's no set term limit. I happen to enjoy the job,' Stevens told an audience at the [four-day] 9th Circuit Judicial Conference [held at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel]. 'I'm still performing in an acceptable manner.'" More (L.A. Times 07.20.2007). Comment. The news report says Stevens was wearing "a white lei over a pink-collared shirt" and quoted him as saying he "remain[s] physically and mentally healthy, playing tennis, golf, bridge and sudoku." In his summers at Beverly, Massachusetts, on the lovely north shore, the much-brighter and more verbally-deft but less institutionally-crafty Holmes liked riding his bicycle, walking, taking drives, being visited by female admirers, being read to by Amelia, and playing solitaire.
Judge wins praise for fashion do-over of alleged mob boss during trial. "He's known as Vinny Gorgeous, so an accused mob boss [and former owner of the 'Hello Gorgeous' salon] was understandably ruffled when he ran out of fresh dress shirts to wear during his [retrial on murder charges in federal court in Brooklyn]...The defendant, whose real name is Vincent Basciano, was forced to pair his gray suit jacket with a T-shirt Thursday, after a jail dress-shirt drop-off went awry. He told Judge Nicholas Garaufis the informal ensemble made him feel 'uncomfortable'...After inquiring about Basciano's size, the judge lent him a spare blue shirt and yellow tie he said he kept for such situations...Basciano gave the get-up high praise. 'I would do my shopping here,' said Basciano...." More (IHT 07.20.2007).
Did Bush do man a favor in nominating him to circuit court? "New Jersey's U.S. senators[, both Democrats,] say they were not consulted before President Bush selected lawyer Shalom Stone[, 43,] for a seat on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week. The senators could block the nomination, which was announced on Tuesday...[C]ontrary to the usual way of doing things, the senators did not get a chance to give input to Bush about Stone. 'For whatever reason, President Bush has decided to break from our cooperative approach and has veered toward a partisan political exercise,' said Dan Katz, Launteberg's chief of staff...." More (Newsday 07.18.2007). Comment. Given "senatorial courtesy" and with the Democrats in control of the Senate, did Bush do Mr. Stone a favor in nominating him without bothering to consult with the senators? Or was he just using the young man to make some sort of political point to his base, knowing or suspecting the nomination will never fly? Or...? We don't know the answers. We just ask dumb questions.
Judge found dead in swimming pool. "Fresno police responded to a northeast Fresno home on Wednesday, where they discovered a drowning victim in a swimming pool. Police tell us that a pool maintenance man found the man's body in his backyard pool around 8:00 am, Wednesday morning. Those who lived near him say he was a judge, and a very friendly neighbor...." More (ABC30 07.18.2007). Comment. The story doesn't contain the judge's name because the judge's wife was out of town and had not been notified as of the story's airing.
Judge resigns to settle sexual harassment allegation. "A Whitewater municipal judge has resigned his seat to settle a sexual harassment allegation against him. Thirty-eight-year-old Steven Spear was accused of making sexual advances toward a woman at his private law firm, Soffa and Devitt in Whitewater...." More (WBAY-TV - Green Bay 07.19.2007).
A philosophical argument against the whole business of judging others? "Fellow pop singer and soon-to-be mom Christina Aguilera has come out swinging in defense of her old Mouseketeer pal, Britney Spears...." More (Post Chronicle 07.19.2006). Comment. All we'll say is Christina (not surprisingly, given her name) urges others not to judge Britney. If we went beyond this, into the philosophical views that we believe underlie her articulation of this plea, we fear we might prompt many a judge, underpaid and underappreciated and perhaps wavering in his commitment to the sacrificial enterprise of judging, to up and resign.
Was Justice Coyne right about that 'wise old woman' sitting as judge? My brilliant and great friend, the late Justice Mary Jeanne Coyne, possibly the smartest justice in Minnesota Supreme Court history, famously said, "A wise old woman will make decisions in about the same way as a wise old man." The quote is "famous" thanks primarily to its being frequently repeated in speeches by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But was Justice Coyne right? Now comes a study out of Canada that "shows that judges...will rule differently in certain types of cases," notably criminal law and family law, "depending on which party appointed them and whether they're male or female." James Stribopoulos, a law prof who is co-author of the study, is reported as saying, "The assumption that this study challenges is one of the bedrock assumptions in our legal system...I think most lawyers would tell you that 'it depends on the judge.' But this proves that it definitely does." Interestingly, the two factors, political background and gender, appear to have "a greater impact" when the three-judge appeals panels studied were homogenous. More (Toronto Star 07.19.2007). Comment. Channeling Justice Coyne, I would reply by emphasizing the words "wise" and "old" in the statement that "A wise old woman will make decisions in about the same way as a wise old man." There is nothing to indicate that the male and female judges who were studied were either "wise" or "old." As I like to imagine "the Coyner" might say, "Gottcha."
Broward County Courthouse Follies Revisited. "The Broward County judge who presides as chairman of the court's fledgling diversity board has resigned from his post, incensed by what he calls the acting chief judge's interference in the board's work. In a fiery two-page memo dated Tuesday and addressed to acting chief judge Mel Grossman, Circuit Judge Elijah Williams[, who is a black man,] said: 'Prior to accepting this appointment, I made it clear to Chief Judge [Dale] Ross that I would not be 'carrying the white man's water'... He agreed not to control, hinder or influence me in any manner.'" More (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 07.19.2007).
Another life saved at the county courthouse. "Hontz family members say they are thankful Jimmie [Hontz] was at the courthouse [at a probate hearing] when he went into cardiac arrest. 'The doctor told us if he had been at home when it happened, he probably would have died,' Roger Hontz said. 'It's all just unbelievable. But it's real life and real love.'" More (Kansas City Star 07.19.2007).
Comment. According to The Star, "Since 2004, Johnson County has placed 59 automated external defibrillators in county facilities, including the courthouse, libraries and multiservice centers. The county has trained more than 500 employees on how to use the devices along with providing CPR training." We think that, from a cost-benefit perspective, money spent in furnishing courthouses with external defibrillators will save more lives than an equivalent amount spent on metal detectors, hiring extra officers to make the people who own the courthouse (all of us) stand in line, etc. For more of my contrarian views on what I see as judicial paranoia over courthouse security, see, my mini-essays titled Stealing the courthouse hostas; Prayer Day at the county courthouse; Building courthouses with security in mind; BurtLaw and Montaigne on courthouse security; How about a courthouse surrounded by and filled with flowers? Latest courthouse threat - students who want pop; Judge receives 'contagious' letter.
'Energizer Judge' at 89 keeps on ticking. "His hearing isn't as sharp as it used to be, and he hobbles the corridors of the U.S. Courthouse in Detroit with the help of two canes. But U.S. District Judge John Feikens, 89, the de facto czar of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for three decades, said he has no intention of hanging up his judicial robe -- not until he brokers peace between Detroit and the suburbs over the water system...." More (Detroit Free Press 07.18.2007). Comment. This fine federal judge's example serves as yet another argument for abolishing discriminatory and unwise mandatory retirement of state judges. Further reading. BurtLaw on Mandatory Retirement of Judges.
Barak Obama holds forth on judicial review and interpretation. "'The Constitution can be interpreted in so many ways, and one way is a cramped and narrow way in which the Constitution and the courts essentially become rubber stamps for the powerful in society. And then there is another vision of the court that says that the courts are the refuge of the powerless because often times they may lose in the democratic back and forth; they may be locked out, prevented from fully participating in the democratic process.'" More (Chicago Sun-Times 07.18.2007). Compare and contrast. Rudy G. promises right wingers he'd appoint 'strict constructionists.' (Newsday 07.18.2007). Comment. Obama says he'd appoint Supreme Court justices who favor his vision of the role of judge, and Rudy says he'd appoint ones who favor his vision.
Law school ethics question asks students to assume ex-judge is guilty. "Perhaps the principle of the presumption of innocence is yet to feature in the Applied Legal Ethics course undertaken by law students at the University of NSW. A recent exam question for the 'law, lawyers and society' section of the course required students to assume that the former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld, QC, had been jailed over his $77 speeding offence...." More (Sydney Morning Herald 07.18.2007). Earlier. Judge's wild goose chase.
Can the Internet help protect, foster judicial independence in Africa? "When Tererai Mafukidze travels on his missions to extend the rule of law in Africa, he has one trusted weapon: that little gizmo you use to pick out staples. Mr. Mafukidze, a Zimbabwean lawyer, is part of a new team working to collect the judgments of Africa's superior courts and put them on the Internet so they are available to everyone. He makes his way between countries -- with a portable scanner packed in his luggage -- visiting courthouses and libraries, trying to collect a scattered history of jurisprudence. Sometimes he is met by a care-worn librarian who gestures vaguely at some mouldering stacks and says, 'Well, there are the files.' Other times he must knock on the doors of judges -- and retired court officers -- to see what they have kept in their cabinets...." More (Globe and Mail 07.18.2007). Comment. A terrific project. Yet another example of how the internet can held foster both judicial independence and its equally important twin sister, judicial accountability/transparency. For an introduction to my views on the subject, see, BurtLaw on Judicial Independence and Accountability. Contributions to a project like this make more sense than contributions to Presidential campaigns. About the only thing that can be said for the big-bucks campaigns is that they often show rather starkly how bad the candidates are at managing money and how prone they are to wasting it on silly ads, unneeded and unproven consultants, polls to help them decide what position to take on issues, flying around from city to city pointlessly, etc. I long for a candidate confident enough to conduct a back-porch campaign and an electorate astute enough to value such a campaign.
Judge says immigration officials' test of 'character' is so vague he'd fail it. "A Federal Court judge has questioned Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews' decision to cancel the visa of terror suspect Mohamed Haneef. Justice Jeffery Spender, who is hearing the appeal against Mr Andrews' decision, today told a court he too would fail the character test used to justify the minister's decision to cancel the Indian national's visa...." More (The West Australian 07.18.2007). Comment. Commenting on the "character test" of having "associated" with persons suspected of criminal activity, the judge said, "Unfortunately, I would fail the character test on your statement because I have been associated with persons suspected of criminal conduct" (translated: he'd represented criminal suspects and defendants as an attorney).
Judging Chinese classical dance. "The first 'International Chinese Classical Dance Competition,' hosted by New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV), closed with great success in New York on July 8, 2007. The participants and the audience gained a deeper understanding of true Chinese classical dance while being awed by its divine beauty...." More (Epoch Times 07.17.2007). Comment. My only suggestion is that the "judges' committee" diversify its membership, as by selecting a neato Minnesotan of Norwegian ancestry, whose love of "the dance" is "Holmesean," to give the panel of judges a more international, representative flavor next time around. Assuming proper compensation and reimbursement of expenses (airfare, hotel, meals, other gratuities), we believe he'll be happy to serve. Further reading. The unknown Holmes - or tap dancing & the law, at BurtLaw's Law & Justice Holmes; Dog Judging, Jam&Jelly Judging, Etc.
The Irish go digital. "Digital recording is to be introduced in all courts, the Irish Independent has learned. The 16m digital audio recording system (DAR) -- including installation, operation and provision of written transcripts -- will commence in September. The new All-Ireland digital system will cost 16m over five years, compared to stenography fees of 10m for the Central and Criminal Courts over the same period...." More (The Independent 07.18.2007).
Did parade judges err in choice of most-patriotic float? "I read with interest on how the 4th of July parade was judged in Harrisonburg. I begin to wonder if these judges saw the same parade my family and I saw? The float they voted Most Patriotic was just an antique war vehicle! Anyone who was there, knows the float with the dog, I believe a Basset Hound, was the most patriotic...." -- From a letter to the editor of the Harrisonburg Daily News Record (07.18.2007). Comment. It seems my appreciation of the annual Fourth of July Parade is often marred by the judging of the floats. The judges seem so, oh how should I put it, Scalitsean (like Scalia, Alito and Roberts) in their literal, stodgy approach to float-judging, when to my way of thinking the correct approach is a joyful combination of the Frankfurterian and the Beansean.
Confidence in Dutch jurisprudence has eroded! "Public confidence in jurisprudence in the Netherlands weakened sharply between 1990 and 1999, according to Social and Cultural Planning Bureau (SCP) data. Nonetheless, SCP declined to acknowledge this decline in its report published yesterday...." More (NIS News Bulletin 07.17.2007). Comment. Oh, dear.
Judge resigns in face of ethics charges. "The State Commission on Judicial Conduct said yesterday that a Westchester County judge[, Lawrence I. Horowitz, 56,] had resigned after being accused of intervening on behalf of a 'close personal friend' who had been arrested. According to the commission, the judge then tried to get prosecutors to investigate the friend's estranged husband...[The judge] was also accused of using the prestige of his office for private matters. The commission said that he used his judicial stationery at least 38 times over 15 months for personal correspondence unrelated to his official duties, including a dispute with Verizon over an unpaid phone bill of $14,707 associated with his former law practice...." More (NYT 07.18.2007). Comment. We wonder how many common law judges in American history -- perhaps ones you know who are sitting proudly on the benches in your neighborhood courts -- have used court stationery for personal matters or put in a good word for a friend in trouble. What often happens is a judge gets "caught" doing something minor and then other people, perhaps out of spite, "pile on" with more allegations of past petty misdeeds -- and all the petty misdeeds add up to what is made to seem like major misconduct. Is "piling on" fast becoming America's favorite pasttime?
Judging -- the desire, the ability, the will to take on the government. "'This case has real implications for the government, it could be a watershed,' said Ronald J. Nessim, a lawyer who is co-chairman of the White Collar Crime Committee of the American Bar Association. 'Most federal judges don't have the desire or the ability or the will to take on the government, and Kaplan was willing to do that.'" From Judge rejects charges for 13 on tax shelter (NYT 07.17.2007). Comments. a) According to the Times' report, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of the federal district court in Manhattan, "ruled that he had no choice but to dismiss the charges because the government had strong-armed KPMG into not paying the legal fees of defendants and had violated their rights." Not sure why, but I find myself recalling a great administrative law professor of mine at HLS, the late Paul M. Bator, in the fall of 1965, quoting from an immigration decision that contained a line to the effect that it is the highest function of a judge to protect an individual from arbitrary government action. b) I like Mr. Nessim's recognition that it takes more than desire or ability or will to be a good judge. It takes all three. While others are yammering that judicial independence may depend on judges' salaries' being in the top 1% rather than the top 5%, Judge Kaplan demonstrated, by his calm example, just what judicial independence is all about. c) This case is yet another sad example of seeming and unseemly overreaching by federal prosecutors. We see it time and again, in the farcical investigation that led to the prosecution of Scooter Libby, in the piling on of charges in prosecutions of big names like Conrad Black (making it too easy for a split jury to "compromise" by finding the defendant guilty of something), in the prosecution and ludicrous confinement of Martha Stewart, in the multiple often-politicized prosecutions the last few years of state judges and other local officials over alleged misconduct best left to state prosecutors to prosecute or not, etc., etc. Had enough?
Annals of judicial discretion. "A Spanish judge has taken away a man's rights to visit his ten-year-old son after he took him to the Pamplona bull run. The boy's mother complained to police after seeing a newspaper photograph of her ex-husband leading their son by the arm just a few feet in front of the bulls...." More (ITV 07.17.2007). Comment. Where one stands on an issue depends, in many instances, on where one sits. I imagine Ernie Hemingway, sitting at his computer desk blogging away down at his retreat in Cuba, might question the judge's decision. And Thomas Wolfe wrote lovingly in Look Homeward, Angel about the time old Gant, the stonecutter, took young Eugene Gant, the hero, to the local madame and had her have one of her "best girls" initiate him into the wonders of heterosexual intercourse. Sitting here in the comfort of my creekside home in the Great American Suburb blogging away, I can't say the judge abused his discretion (although I guess I'd have just suspended visitation, then regulated it a bit more), but don't be surprised if some day the boy looks back with great fondness on his father's act of father-son bonding.
Felony charges dropped, judge pleads to minor offense, returns to bench. "A judge from Eagle Pass who was indicted but never convicted of felony charges related to alleged improper campaign contributions will return to the bench after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. State District Judge Amado Abascal III pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor charge of tampering with a government record...." More (Houston Chronicle 07.17.2007). Comment. The judge was under indictment for 20 months. During his suspension, the voters re-elected him.
Judge is 'disciplined' (but not 'caned') for authorizing three 'canes' too many. "The District Judge [in Singapore] who signed off the paperwork -- which led to a prisoner wrongly receiving three extra strokes of the cane -- will be 'formally cautioned' and suspended from judicial duties...." More (TodayOnline 07.17.2007). Comment. The judge sentenced the defendant to nine months in jail and five strokes of the cane for aiding an illegal moneylender in harassing the debtor. But the court clerk who prepared the warrant mistakenly specified eight strokes rather than five and the judge signed it without having carefully read it to ensure its correctness. One wonders how many appellate judges in this country would be subject to discipline, maybe even a few strokes of the cane, if signing colleagues' circulating opinions without carefully reading them were a detectable and punishable offense. And one wonders how many more authors of opinions would be subject to a few more strokes, if caught, for "slipping in" language extending the holding beyond that agreed to by colleagues at conference, then circulating the opinion during a rush period, hoping colleagues will sign on without noticing the legerdemain.
Judicial hobbies. "Darnell Jackson's cuckoo clock has startled an attorney or two. The Saginaw County circuit judge has accumulated 109 clocks, including a wooded one in his chambers whose loud chiming still surprises him as he presides over conferences with lawyers...." More (Michigan Live 07.17.2007).
Ethnic caucuses play tough on judicial appointments. "Ethnic caucuses, representing a third of state lawmakers, want to eliminate funding for new judges next year, citing what they call Gov. Schwarzenegger's poor record in naming judges of color in Riverside, San Bernardino and other counties...." More (Press-Enterprise 07.17.2007).
Few women judges on highest courts in India. "When it comes to appointing judges in the higher courts of law, India has a distinct bias against women. There is no woman judge in the Supreme Court; six of the 21 high courts have only male judges. Among the 597 judges of the higher judiciary across the country, only 39 are women...." More (Hindustan Times 07.16.2007).
Judge's gavel-like hammer. "In the courtroom, Lucas County Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger makes a point not to trip up, knowing that with every swing of his gavel he will impact a life in a local family. But when he traded his gavel for a hammer on a recent home-building mission to El Salvador, the judge could not claim the same amount of grace. 'I fell six to eight feet off a scaffolding,' he said, recalling a spill that landed him sticky and dirty on the dry ground. 'They don't have flat boards on the scaffolding. They use a split log so the top is very unsteady.'" More (Toledo Blade 07.16.2007). Comment. More and more judges around the country are turning to the hammer on weekends but not to help out Habitat for Humanity. Rather, unable to make a go of it on poverty-level judicial wages, they use their hammer to make extra cash. NOT. :-)
'48 Hours Mystery' sets up shop in courthouse. "For two weeks, Henry Olko's world consists of a tiny, curtained cubicle in the back of a Kanawha County courtroom. For eight hours a day he shares the tiny space with two soundmen, two field producers and a staggering amount of sophisticated technical equipment. Along with producer Tim Gorin, the crew is on hand to bring the story of Morgantown nurse Michelle Michael -- accused of murdering her husband -- to television. The CBS show '48 Hours Mystery' will air an hour-long show this fall about Michael, accused of injecting her husband, James, with a paralyzing drug and then setting their home on fire. Her trial is taking place this week in the Kanawha Courthouse after being moved from Morgantown because of all the publicity there...." More (Charleston Daily Mail - West Virginia 07.16.2007). Comment. Moved from Morgantown because of too much publicity...and then they all agree to the filming of the thing for national TV. Jimmy Hatlo of 'They'll Do It Every Time'-cartoon fame would love it.
Son of judge obtains protective order against him. "The teenage son of a former Cook County judge has obtained an order of protection against his father after the older man allegedly bit him on the hand. The order against 66-year-old Lambros Kutrubis was issued to his 17-year-old son, John, last week...." More (WQAD 07.16.2007). Comment. Protective orders are easy -- some say too easy -- to get. Spouses get them in divorce cases on the flimsiest of evidence. The fact the son got one doesn't establish as fact that the allegation in question is true. We here in MN just have no way of knowing at this point.
Norm Ornstein imagines a catastrophic attack -- What, no judges? "Presidential succession after the vice president is set by statute; every person in the line is based in Washington. The Supreme Court requires a quorum of six justices to function; if all or most of the justices are killed, there would be no Supreme Court until a president or acting president nominated successors and the Senate confirmed them. If an attack damaged all three branches, replenishing the court could take months or longer...." More (Mpls. Star-Tribune 07.16.2007). Comment. Considering that the Court takes the whole summer off and considering the nature and manner of the Court's "business" and considering that there's a large judicial infrastructure of federal trial judges and appellate judges, I sorta think the Republic would survive. Besides, haven't we been told that the law clerks do all the work? Maybe they could be deputized as temporary justices. Many of them think they're the real justices already and would be surprised, upon being sworn in, to learn they weren't.
Pageant winner was wearing false braids; judges strip her of crown. "The winner of a Bolivian beauty contest for indigenous women has been stripped of her title, just moments after winning, after judges noticed she was wearing false plaits." Indian women from La Paz are known as Cholita Pacena; the authentic ones speak the Aymara language, wear wide skirts and bowler hats, and have long plaited hair. Contest rules apparently state that the plaits must be real. The winner apparently wore false ones. More (MWC News 07.16.2007). Comment. In the annals of cliches, one of the most renowned is that used when a beauty pageant winner is 'stripped of her crown.' I wonder what Freud would say about the use of the cliched phrase. Anyhow, it's used even in news stories about the removal of the title from male pageant winners -- as in the report that the four-year-old winner of the Little Mr. Apricot competition was "stripped of his crown" for "rais[ing] his middle finger to the crowd." More (CBS13 07.02.2007). That pageant is held by the Patterson Apricot Fiesta Board in Paterson, Stanislaus County, CA. The news report says that the initial winner, a boy named Matthew, doesn't even know he's been "stripped of the title."
The judge's 'impeccable' record of service. "[Judge Ettore Simeone's] Web site, reelectjudgesimeone.com, described the judge as someone 'with 10 years of impeccable judicial experience'...[T]hree years ago [he] was censured...after he admitted that he improperly failed to disclose his relationship with a woman with whom he was romantically involved who repeatedly appeared in his court...The commission ruled he 'violated his duty to avoid impropriety' and 'his ethic[al] obligation not to preside' in cases where the woman, now his wife, appeared...." More (Newsday - Op/Ed 07.15.2007).
Annals of representative juries. "D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal E. Kravitz had never seen a jury pool quite like the one that walked into his courtroom for the trial of Donnie Ray Horne. In a city that is nearly 60 percent black, the prospective jury for the sexual assault case against the black defendant was almost 90 percent white...." More (Washington Post 07.15.2007).
Bribed judges, the death penalty and the rise of leniency. "Although the Twelve Tables, an early legal code in the Roman Republic, imposed the death penalty on judges who accepted bribes, enforcement grew lenient after the rise of the Roman Empire. Richard Saller, a history professor at Stanford, says Rome 'had a real problem trying to define what qualified as a bribe and what was a friendship gift. There was a pretty broad range of quid pro quos.'" From Ideas & Trends - Bribes and Punishment, by Nelson D. Schwartz (NYT 07.15.2007), a piece occasioned by the "the execution last week of China's former top food and drug official after he confessed to taking bribes."
Another judge is crime victim. "Burglars broke into the flat owned by Ghazipur District Judge in the city on Thursday and escaped with some jewellery and cash. Interestingly, the premises where the flat is situated is closely guarded and the names and address of all guests are noted down. Police suspect this to be the handiwork of an insider. The locks of the flat were found intact...." More (Times of India 07.15.2007).
Why some PA judges didn't want salary hikes this time around. "[A]t least some of the eight statewide judges facing retention races this fall sought the change [delinking state judges' salary hikes to hikes for federal judges]. If they received another pay raise, they feared, it would re-ignite voter anger before the election. None of them wants to suffer the fate of Russell Nigro, who was kicked off the state Supreme Court in a retention election because of the 2005 pay raise...." More (Allentown Morning Call - Editorial 07.15.2007).
Allegations re PA judiciary's role in keeping 3rd parties off ballot. "[Speaking at the Green Party convention], Carl Romanelli...was hot...accusing state courts of corruption [in removing him from the U.S. Senate ballot in 2006]. He announced plans to report two Democrat-affiliated Commonwealth Court judges...to the Judicial Conduct Review Board...[Ralph] Nader painted a similar picture including Democratic Party determination to crush minor-party challengers, judicial corruption or ignorance and a broken system that punishes people for attempting to be part of the political process...." More (Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader 07.15.2007). Comment. We don't know if there is any validity to the opinions expressed by Romanelli and Nader. This is not to say that we think that judges are always above the fray. This year is the 89th anniversary of MN Governor J.A.A. Burnquist's use, with the aid of our courts, of the now-notorious MN Commission on Public Safety to suppress political opposition by Charles A. Lindbergh's father. Since we always need reminding that our usually-politically-appointed judges can't always be depended on to uphold our right to free speech, etc., here's a link to an essay I wrote on 09.15.2001, just four days after 09.11; it's titled 'It can't happen here?'
Ripostes worth quoting. In response to word that renowned record producer Clive Davis doesn't like her new album, Kelly Clarkson reportedly said, "I just want people to hear it, instead of 100-year old executives making decisions on what's good for pop radio. It's people my age who listen to it. My gut hasn't been wrong yet, so why wouldn't I continue to follow it?" Cantankerous Judge Simon Cowell's response? "Clive Davis at 80 [actually, he's 75] is better than 99 percent of the people in the music business in their 20s, 30s and 40s...and he's not 80." More (National Ledger 07.15.2007). Comment. We know some judges at 80 who are better than 99 percent of the judges in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Are female judges ok? "Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) has reiterated the Maldivian Democratic Party's commitment to gender equality, after Hafiz Zaki, the Vice President of the MDP's Islamic Consultative Council told Miadhu, 'it is not allowed to appoint women as judges'...." More (Minivan News - Maldives 07.15.2007).
A sweet little town in Georgia. "[The environs of Columbus, Georgia,] include the place where, in 1912, a mob grabbed a terrified 14-year-old black boy from a courtroom after the jury had found him not guilty of murdering a white playmate, Cedron 'Cleo' Land, in a hunting accident. On his knees in front of the angry crowd the black boy pleaded for his life, but it was to no avail. Under the leadership of the boy's father and uncle, a wealthy local farmer called Aaron Land, he was shot up to 50 times." David Rose, the author of those lines, is author also of Violation: Justice, Race And Serial Murder In The Deep South, published by HarperPress. Rose contends that if the execution by lethal objection of a Carlton Gary, a black man found guilty in 1984 of serial murders, is carried out, it will be nothing less than a "very modern lynching." He reviews the evidence in trying to make his case, noting in the process the "almost incredible links [of the case] with the area's deeply rooted racist past," specifically noting that the trial judge, John Land, was the son of Aaron Land, the 1912 lyncher, and that the judge who denied a recent motion for a new trial based on new evidence, Clay Land, is John Land's great-nephew. Of the trial judge, Rose writes: "Judge [John] Land...[a]s a young man...had been a segregationist state senator and, later, as district attorney, he helped protect the murderer of Dr Thomas H Brewer, a leading black civil-rights activist, accepting the killer's spurious claim that he shot him seven times in self-defence." Rose argues that although the state spent huge sums of public money to investigate and prosecute Gary back in 1984, Judge John Land "fatally skewed the trial by refusing to grant a cent of public funding to his defence lawyer." More (U.K. Daily Mail 07.15.2007).
Latest on the case of the plundering of retired judge's estate. "[John L.] Phillips was once known as the Kung-Fu Judge for his habit of employing martial arts moves on the bench. He grew up poor on a Kansas farm, served in World War II, was the first black man to be admitted to the Montana State Bar, studied kung-fu in Japan, and eventually became a self-made millionaire buying up real estate in Bedford-Stuyvesant. When he ran for a judgeship in Brooklyn civil court in 1976 as the anti-machine candidate, his hired sound-trucks blasted the hit song, 'Kung-Fu Fighting.'" More from an in-depth article (The Brooklyn Rail July/August 2007). Earlier. See, previous entries here, here and here.
Inside the 'sweaty judicial locker room.' "Ever wonder what judges say about each other in their most private moments? Well, a new book reads like a transcript of bugged conversations from a sweaty judicial locker room. Stripped of their genteel judicial garb, Australia's most senior judges speak freely and at times savagely about their fellow judges, the judicial role in general, the role of the High Court in particular and their relationship with politicians and politics. Their candour is unprecedented...." From a review of Jason L. Pierce, Inside the Mason Court Revolution: The High Court of Australia Transformed (Carolina Academic Press 2006). More (The Australian 07.14.2007).
Former judge pleads guilty to money laundering while he was judge. "Former Nassau County District Judge David Gross, [45,] who once wrote about the 'pure menace' of organized crime members who appeared in his courtroom, admitted Friday in federal court that he conspired with an accused mobster to launder more than $400,000 in proceeds from stolen jewelry...." More (Newsday 07.14.2007).
Court bldg's 'dense brutalism,' 'Soviet-style workmanship,' 'fascist chaos.' "If Frank Lloyd Wright's airy, light-filled Marin County monument is one of the most hospitable gestures of modernism, then L.A.'s Clara Foltz criminal courts building must be one of its rudest. The façade's dense brutalism is matched inside by Soviet-style workmanship and the fascist chaos of the building's public spaces. Lines of visitors can stretch out the door to Temple Street and up to Broadway while those inside await in sweltering heat to pass through whichever two of the first floor's three functioning security checkpoints happen to be operating. Jurors, lawyers and cops are all sardined into similarly stifling elevators that are infuriatingly slow to arrive, and a second security check awaits arrivees on the ninth floor, where the Spector trial is held in Department 106...." From a great report by Steven Mikulan on the latest in the Phil Spector trail. More (L.A. Weekly 07.14.2007).
Annals of court security: screeners won't let suspects turn selves in. "Court authorities turned away two of the four accused bank robbers known as the 'burrowers' when the men attempted to turn themselves in to authorities on Wednesday, saying they lacked proper identification...While an intense search for the suspects was taking place in other parts of Santiago, the suspects waited over four hours at the courthouse before deciding to leave. They returned at 11 p.m. -- still without their identity cards -- and were finally arrested after being recognized by the police...." More (Santiago Times - Chile 07.13.2007). Comment. Sounds like a skit on MAD TV. A defense attorney says he told the court administrator that the two men, his clients, were the most wanted men in Chile but the administrator replied there was nothing he could do. Rules are rules. After all, what better way to gain entry to a courthouse without a proper ID than to say you're on the most-wanted list and you're there to turn yourself in to the authorities?
Judge rates Dazzling Darren with the greatest. "Another treble for [jockey] Darren Beadman, there's no doubt about him. That verdict came from Michael McHugh, former High Court judge and turf aficionado. It was handed down on Tuesday at Martin Place station in between trains to Bondi Junction...McHugh, a keen judge of jockey form as well as that of the horse, was well exposed to the boom seasons of [the great jockey,] George Moore...." More (Sydney Morning Herald - AU 07.13.2007).
Cincy judge says 'f--- you' to defendant in open court. "A Hamilton County Municipal Court judge told an angry defendant 'f--- you,' an almost unheard of breach of courtroom etiquette. Judge Ted Berry was responding to the same phrase that was uttered at him by Ivan Boykins, a defendant whom Berry had just sentenced to spend 30 days in jail...." More (Cincinnati Enquirer 07.13.2007). Comment. The bar may not like it, but I bet the defendant didn't mind it as much as he'd mind getting charged with contempt. Thus far, he hasn't been charged with contempt. And how could he, unless the judge also were charged?
Did France cover up murder of one of its judges? "Recently released classified documents suggest that France covered up the murder of one of its own judges in the tiny African state of Djibouti in 1995. The so-called 'Affaire Borrel' threatens to explode into a far-ranging political and diplomatic scandal, engulfing, among others, the former president, Jacques Chirac." The judge was Bernard Borrel, 39. He was on assignment to help reform the country's penal code. When his body was found at the base of a ravine, local officials said he killed himself. The French government agreed. His wife didn't. For twelve years she has disagreed. More (UK Independent 07.13.2007). Comment. And the sobering thing is, it's possible that when scandalous inside information about government -- any government -- eventually "gets out," that information is just the proverbial tip of the old iceberg.
Annals of law and kissing. "The great-grandmother of a man accused of murdering a Wanganui toddler charged across the courtroom to kiss the judge when he got bail. Police and court security had no chance of stopping the small woman as she flew from the public benches of a Wanganui District Court room yesterday morning and swung her arms around Judge John Clapham as he went to leave. But his initial shock turned into a smile as she planted the kiss and thanked him...And though she knew it was forbidden to directly approach a judge in court, she remained defiant. 'If they want to put me in jail for saying thank you then I'll go to jail. They all know me up there. The judge said he understood, he has children too.'" More (Dominion Post via Stuff - NZ 07.13.2007). Further reading. BurtLaw on Law and Kissing.
They won't close down government when you die, will they? "Justice N Surajmani Singh (61) of Sikkim High Court died in New Delhi today. He was suffering from lever problem, the Sikkim government officials said here today. Singh is survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter. All government offices, educational institutions and public undertakings remained closed in the state today as a mark of respect to the departed judge...." More (The Statesman 07.12.2007). Comment. When I was a kid, the businesses in my home town sometimes closed up shop for a couple hours when a prominent man (never woman) was being buried. And as late as the mid-1950's they closed up shop for three hours on Good Friday, so business people could go to church and hear "The Seven Last Words."
When angry spectators in a jammed tiny Alberta courtroom try to participate. "Inside the courtroom one distraught man, his face flushed and his body shaking with sobs, startled the room when he stood up and asked for people's attention. 'I am an ambassador of Jesus Christ. We need to pray,'' he said as friends held his hand to console him. Then, when the judge had come in, another person approached the judge, carrying a Bible, and said he had new evidence. However, the judge told him it was not the right time, and he was welcome to present his evidence to the Crown or defence lawyers...." More (CTV 07.13.2007).
What's the matter with courts in Jamaica? "Eminent jurist Justice Hugh Small QC...[has] called for reform of the Jamaican justice system to ensure expeditious judgements that do not negatively impact upon businesses. He said it was important to make the link between justice and socio-economic development." Justice Small cited twelve weaknesses of the Jamaican judicial system from the Justice System Report that ought to be of concern to the Jamaican business community's perspective and paraphrased the conclusion of a newspaper article he read a couple years ago that "In Jamaica, if medicine operated like the judiciary, all patients seeking medical attention would die from the treatment." More (Jamaica Observer 07.13.2007). Comment. One could say the same about our much-vaunted judicial system.
Swimsuits and the law. Several years ago we published a special collector's edition Law and Swimsuits issue of our law blog, BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else. We said then, "We believe this is the first swimsuit issue in the history of weblogging or blogging, certainly the first in the history of law blogging or blawging, of which this blog/zine is one of the pioneers. Indeed, it may be the first such issue of any legal publication in the history of Anglo-American law, nay, in the history of law!" The issue remains a classic of its kind (it's the only one of its kind we're aware of) and it is justly one of our most-visited pages, along with, perhaps, our special entries on mandatory retirement of judges, judicial independence and accountability, and crime and punishment. Anyhow, in the swimsuits issue we included a special two-part section titled "On judicial swimsuits and the Rules of Judicial Conduct." We were reminded of this when we read of the travails of Amy Jacobson, a top-notch investigative TV reporter in the Chicago market, who has been covering the April 30th disappearance of Lisa Stebic, the estranged wife of a man named Craig Stebic. Last Friday, her day off, Jacobson got a call from Craig Stebic's sister, Jill, who invited her over to the pool at the Stebic house to discuss the case. Jacobson, who says she was on her way with her sons, ages 3 and 2, to swim at a swim club, decided this was a way to hit two birds with one stone. So they went to the Stebic house, where they all swam, as did other mothers and children. But, unfortunately for the bikini-clad Jacobson, a videographer from a competitor was there and captured images documenting her presence there with her kids. The rival station broadcast a clip and that was the end of Jacobson's tenure at the NBC affiliate, WMAQ, where she's been a star for more than ten years. (Chicago Sun-Times 07.11.2007).
The story of her firing is being covered, along with other stories about journalism, at Romenesko - Poynter Online, the best of the journalism news blogs. But the best comments are those in the Readers Respond section of the Chicago Sun-Times. The comment I like best is that of reader Kevin Custer, who asks: "Why must everyone who commits a semi-questionable 'lapse of judgment' be fired?" It's a question I've asked on these pages numerous times when some judge gets trashed for being human.
Judge isn't 'out of touch'; 'deeply regrets' end of wigs, traditional gowns. "Sir Alan Moses...has dismissed suggestions that members of the judiciary are 'out of touch.' The Court of Appeal judge said it was wrong to 'even suggest' that judges were not in tune with public feeling. He also 'deeply regretted' moves to stop judges wearing traditional wigs and gowns. Sir Alan...was speaking on the BBC Radio Four programme, Between Ourselves...." About being out of touch, he called it "the most monstrous suggestion," asking, "Is it suggested if we listened to the Arctic Monkeys rather than listening to the South Bank Symphonia we would be more in touch? Why? Don't even think that we are not. Don't even dare suggest that we are not." About the decision that judges in civil cases will not be wearing wigs anymore: "I regret it deeply. I think we are losing the magic of our position and we blur in the eyes of the public the difference between the judge and the bureaucrat." More (U.K. Times 07.11.2007). Comment. We recommend reading Law Times in the UK Times every Tuesday.
Judge compared teen's garb to that of Columbine killers, is removed from case. "A circuit judge who compared a teenager's outfit to clothes worn by the Columbine High School killers has been removed from the case, the latest of many verbal missteps that have dogged the Broward courts. The 14-year-old boy was appearing before Judge Charles Kaplan, accused of bringing a razor blade to his middle school. He told the judge he forgot to take it out of his pants before school. During the hearing in April, Kaplan focused on the boy's black clothing, fingernails and pierced ear, questioning a case manager's assessment that the boy was not dangerous." More (Miami Herald 07.12.2007). Comment. Kaplan is quoted saying: "He's walking around with a razor in his pocket; he's wearing black; his fingernails are black; he's got that thing in his ear...I think if you look around at all the kids that are doing things in school, they're dressing this way...I mean, I'm no expert. I just know what I read in the papers, but it's like Columbine, right? He's dressed in black...He's depressed." Can you blame a judge for making the connection?
No more free fresh fruit for kids at the courthouse! "It used to be that any child dropped off for baby-sitting at the county courthouse could count on getting fresh fruit or another nutritious snack. But now in the South Suburbs, children get cookies and crackers bought by the county, instead of apples and bananas donated by a food pantry -- even though the program continues in other locations...That riles [Retired Judge Sheila Murphy,] the former presiding judge at Markham, who helped create the program in the mid-1990s...." More (South Holland Star 07.12.2007).
When sitting judges negotiate with law firms over life after judging. Sir Peter Winston Smith, 55, the judge in The Da Vinci Code Case, was approached last November by Addleshaw Goddard, a firm of solicitors, about his possibly leaving the bench and joining the firm. "Talks continued until May, when the firm decided that Sir Peter would be too expensive. His current salary is £164,430. Reports, not denied by either side, say that Sir Peter and his judicial assistant would have cost the firm £750,000 a year -- though that was not a figure that the judge himself demanded. In any event, Simon Twigden, head of the firm's Contentious Group emailed the judge to say that 'the level of investment required cannot be supported.'" Sir Peter was upset and said so in a number of e-mails. Recently, Paul Howell, head of the private-client department at Addleshaw Goddard, learned that Sir Peter had been assigned a case involving his conduct as trustee and sought Sir Peter's recusal. When Sir Peter refused, Howell took the matter to the court of appeals. Sir Peter learned the other day that he's been removed from the case. Joshua Rozenberg, legal editor at the Telegraph, has penned a piece titled "Sir Peter loses his judgment," in which he argues it's time for him to leave the bench. More (Telegraph 07.11.2007). Update. Top judge refers Sir Peter to Office for Judicial Complaints (U.K. Times 07.17.2007). Update. "Judges -- in this jurisdiction -- rarely are reprimanded. Gary Slapper, professor of law and director of the Open University law programme, notes that 'not all judges are perfect. They are no more or less universally impeccable than surgeons or government ministers.' But if there are several cases of judges misbehaving in the 16th century, it is rare now. Judge Bruce Campbell is the only judge sacked in recent years -- for smuggling whisky into England from Guernsey in 1983...." More (U.K. Times 07.19.2007).
Gay judge wants pension system changed so his partner will benefit if he dies. "High Court judge Michael Kirby has asked the Howard Government to change the law so that his homosexual partner can inherit his judicial pension when the judge dies. In a letter to Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, Justice Kirby has called for changes to the judicial pension scheme so he and his long-term partner, Johan van Vloten, are treated the same as his married colleagues on the nation's highest court...." More (The Australian 07.12.2007). Update. AG says no, for now. (News.Com.AU 07.13.2007).
Defense group seeks investigation of judge for oppressive conduct in court. "A local defense bar group has filed a complaint with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct accusing a Montgomery County judge [James H. Keeshan] of [wrongfully] having a Houston attorney [Norm Silverman] arrested in court....on a writ of attachment -- a tool used to bring subpoenaed witnesses before a court or grand jury -- instead of on a contempt of court charge, which would have immediately entitled him to a personal recognizance bond...." The judge is retired but still serves as a visiting judge in several counties. The attorney's grave error? He missed a court appearance because of an ankle injury. More (Houston Chronicle 07.12.2007).
From being a judge in Sudan to driving cab in Canada to... "While he drove a taxi, Abdalla Abosharia was a bit of a legend here. He used to be a judge, other drivers would say of the Sudanese immigrant, shaking their heads at the injustice. But these days, the Sudanese immigrant is a bigger legend -- one who wears a suit and walks the halls of London[ Ontario]'s courthouse...." He fled Sudan in 1984 after the government introduced sharia law, which he couldn't abide, and eventually made his way to Canada, where he drove cab for a time before going to law school in Ottawa. Now he's "articling" with a London lawyer named Hamoody Hassan. More (London Free Press 07.12.2007).
Drug court clerk appears before his judge on misdemeanor charges. "A clerk at the Criminal Courts Building wasn't working overtime when he showed up in court Saturday -- he was appearing as a defendant. John McNamara, 43, [a circuit court clerk for 26 years,] appeared before Judge Thomas Hennelly for a bond hearing in Courtroom 100, the same room where he works as a Narcotics Court clerk. 'I'm very disappointed to see you on this side of the court, you of all people,' Hennelly said to McNamara. 'Yes sir, I know,' McNamara said...." It all started at The Taste of Chicago when McNamara allegedly became "disruptive." He faces misdemeanor assault and drug paraphernalia possession charges. More (Chicago Sun-Times 07.12.2007). Comment. If you asked me what I thought, I'd say at this point I think he's innocent. But isn't that "prejudging the case"? Maybe so. I prefer to call it "presuming he's innocent." It's the law.
Some judges don't want to 'go digital' on law books. "Judge Sally Montgomery says her business is still done best with books. As the presiding judge over the county's five courts that handle civil cases, she and the other judges aren't ready for all digital justice. 'If we had to go to the Internet, the expense would be to the taxpayers, because they couldn't get their cases tried as nearly as rapidly,' she said. Montgomery says lawsuits go faster when judges and attorneys can look up cases the old fashioned way -- in books... Montgomery wants the county to spend about $11,500 to buy new law books for each court and a library shared by the judges...[C]ounty commissioners want to stop buying law books. They're expensive and become dated. Old books already fill a warehouse floor...." More (WFAA - TX 07.11.2007). Comment. I have mixed feelings. I still love the feel of books and, yes, as someone who conducted legal research for the MN Supreme Court for 28+ years, I was faster at it using books and my own BurtLaw Non-Computerized Legal Research System. Also, given the costs of using the commercial law databases at the time and given the cost of printing out cases and text found online or on CD-ROMs, I think my method was cheaper. But that was then. Not sure how I'd feel now. Perhaps a good-old-fashioned neutral cost-benefit analysis might help the judges and the commissioners decide this matter.
'I remember Antonio Llacer.' "I remember Antonio Llacer. Tall and mestizo-looking, he cut an imposing presence in his all-white garb. I was in grade school but I saw him often when I visited my father at the police headquarters adjacent to the municipal building. He was our town's justice of the peace, today's equivalent of the municipal judge. I have watched him hear cases, which were very few and far between, and was so struck with awe and admiration that when he was not around, I'd sit in his chair, pretending to be him...." -- From a nicely-written op-ed piece by Frank Malilong, who used to "dream" every now and then that he was "in some quiet town, wearing a robe in the morning and farming or fishing in the afternoon" -- of being a judge like Judge Llacer -- but who doesn't dream that anymore. Why? Read on... More (Philippines Sun-Star 07.11.2007).
Did mob plot to kill Chief Justice Burger in '81? "Montreal's Mob boss, Frank Cotroni, and high-ranking U.S. mobsters were once investigated for an alleged plot to assassinate the top judge in the U.S., according to newly released FBI documents. The investigation into the alleged plot to assassinate then-chief justice Warren Burger began in December 1981, after an informant came forward with information on a jailhouse plot. It ended 15 months later with no charges being laid. Instead, the FBI dispatched agents to warn the heads of Mafia families in the U.S. that any attempt to assassinate Judge Burger 'would be responded to with the full force and resources of the Department of Justice and the FBI.'" More (Ottawa Citizen 07.11.2007). Comment. If they'd tried to "hit" the Chief, they might have been in for a surprise. In the mid-1970's Burger -- who, it must be noted, is one of three SCOTUS Justices to "share" a first or last name with a "food item" (source: The Simpsons) -- reportedly brandished a pistol one night when he confronted a reporter who appeared at his residence seeking a comment. More (Arlington National Cemetery Website biography). Update (IHT 07.18.2007).
Ought judges be required to use courthouse public toilets now and then? The other day we expressed the view that legislators and judges ought to spend a few days in jail/prison so they better know what it's like to live in a cell and how long a "day" can be living in a cell. See, Annals of judges playing at being incarcerated, and comments thereto. Now comes a suggestion in a letter to the editor in the Farmers' Advance in the Zanesville Ohio Times-Recorder suggesting the county courthouse's public toilet might be better maintained if judges, who have their own toilet, had to use it occasionally. The letter has a great opening sentence: "Have any of you fine citizens had the not so distinct pleasure of visiting our county courthouse and discover you have need of a bathroom? Well, let me say, you've missed out on one of the most disstinkt (yes - disSTINKT) pleasures you'll never want to experience again. You'll be fortunate indeed if you get to observe a member of the public taking a 'bath' in the sink...I don't mind our public officials having a private bathroom, I do mind using a bathroom that, mostly, smells worse than most portable toilet that I've ever used...." More (Zanesville Times-Recorder - Ohio 07.11.2007). Comment. One other possibility, which we tossed out the other day: let the public use the judges' private bathrooms. See, comments at Auctioning off judges' perks.
What judges think is real vs. what is real. "In 1936, in a speech to the Lord Mayor's banquet, Lord Chief Justice Hewart said 'His Majesty's judges are satisfied with the almost universal admiration in which they are held.' Clearly, he needed to have gotten out more." -- Prof. Gary Slapper, in another interesting essay in the U.K. Times, this one on "judicial bias." More (U.K. Times 07.11.2007).
Feminists meet in Israel, seek alternative to rabbinical courts. "'The call to establish alternative courts is coming from a place of disappointment with and despair over the way the rabbinical courts function,' said one speaker after another at a conference held earlier this week by Kolech, a religious feminist women's organization. The audience responded with applause and an academic discussion on a new court with a humane ideology that would free agunot (literally, chained women, who cannot obtain a get, or bill of divorce) and mesoravot get (women whose recalcitrant husbands refuse to grant them a get) soon turned into a protest calling for the establishment of extra-institutional courts...." More (Haaretz 07.11.2007).
Chief judge retreats from threat to sue over lack of pay hike. "In a private letter to the state's more than 1,200 judges, Chief Judge Judith Kaye defends herself for not being able to get the Legislature to approve of a pay raise for judges and appears to back away from a threat to sue to try to get judges the money they think they deserve. Kaye pointed out in the letter, dated July 6, that no similar suits in other states have ever succeeded, and that filing a suit 'chills our dealings with our partners in government.'" One of those partners is the guv, Spitzer, who has said such a suit would be "frivolous." More (Elmira Star-Gazette 07.11.2007). Earlier. Governor says judges should know better.
Judge who won big libel verdict is subject of ethics charges. "The state judge who recently won a $2 million libel verdict against the Boston Herald now faces state ethics charges that he sought to bully the newspaper into giving him more money. The Commission on Judicial Conduct filed charges yesterday with the Supreme Judicial Court against Judge Ernest Murphy, alleging that a series of letters he sent to the Herald constituted 'willful misconduct which brings the judicial office into disrepute.'" More (Boston Globe 07.11.2007). Earlier. See, Newspaper attacks $2 million libel verdict awarded trial judge (and comments and link).
Deaths of three family court judges in two months. "The deaths of three family court judges in two months have further clogged the already backlogged state family court system and cast a dark cloud on the state's small, tight-knit judicial community...." The three judges were 60, 60, and 54 -- all died of natural causes (heart, cancer, an extended illness). More (The State - SC 07.10.2007). Comment. We don't know if the statistics back us up, but it's been our observation that the life expectancy of trial lawyers and trial judges is a lot lower than, say, that of appellate court judges. The stress that accompanies the job of family court judge is vastly greater, in general, than that which accompanies the office of appellate court judge. In fact, I've always felt that appellate court judges have about the best -- even easiest -- job, on balance, in the entire legal system. You would not necessarily be wrong in chuckling a bit next time you hear one of them talk about how hard he has it. BTW, it used to be that postal workers who walked around delivering mail lived longer than those who stood behind the counter selling stamps and growling at customers. Not sure that's true now that the deliverers drive around in little vans.
Senate confirms nomination of judge who attended same-sex ceremony. "The Senate on Monday confirmed the nomination of a Michigan judge who attended a same-sex union ceremony in 2002 and drew concern from Sen. Sam Brownback [R-Kansas] about her views on gay marriage...Neff, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge, said during the hearing in May that the Massachusetts ceremony was for the daughter of close family friends and her partner. Neff said she gave a homily but did not preside over the service...." More (S.F. Chronicle 07.10.2007). Comment. Isn't that shocking that someone who actually accepted an invitation to a same-sex ceremony would be considered for a federal judgeship, much less confirmed? Oughtn't we go further and bar anyone from serving who has attended any wedding at any place or time under any circumstances? Didn't Saint Paul say ya oughta avoid marriage if ya can? And aren't we encouragin' it if we attend? And aren't we encouragin' attendin' if we confirm? Further reading. Burton Hanson's 2004 Congressional Campaign Position Paper on Marriage and the Law.
State supreme court justice is object of death threat. "The West Virginia Supreme Court has tightened security after reports surfaced of a possible plot to kill at least one justice. The suspect is a man that Justice Spike Maynard sentenced to life in prison for a 1988 murder...." More (WOWK-TV 07.10.2007). Comment. It goes with the territory, sad to say. At least it's just reached the threat stage. On 06.27.2007 we linked to the story of a GA judge who was severely beaten and robbed in his office. Today we learn he has died and that a man he prosecuted is under arrest. More (Guardian 07.10.2007).
Yet another innocent man freed by DNA -- after only 22 years in prison. "All charges were dropped yesterday against a man who served 22 years in prison for the murder and rape of two children after prosecutors said DNA testing implicated another man in the crime. On prosecutors' recommendation, Superior Court Judge Stuart Peim dropped all charges against Byron Halsey, 46...." More (N.Y. Daily News 07.10.2007). Comment. The victims were the kids of his girl friend. Now the state has charged a neighbor in the rooming house where the kids lived and where the assaults and murders occurred. In other words, this is another case in which the "obvious suspect" -- i.e., the spouse or the live-in boy friend or the step-dad -- turns out to have been innocent. Jurors in general have a hard time presuming obvious suspects to be innocent. Compare and contrast. "In analyzing patients' problems, doctors look for typical signs and symptoms. Often after listening to a patient's complaints for just 18 seconds, studies show, a doctor will interrupt, having already formulated his or her diagnosis. Too often, shortcuts lead in the wrong direction...." Dr. Jerome Groopman, M.D., Mental Malpractice (NYT 07.07.2007). Some of the categories of errors doctors are prone to make include "anchoring errors," "availability errors," and "affective errors." See, the article for examples. Police, prosecutors, juries, judges -- i.e., everybody, not just doctors -- are prone to making such errors. For another type of error, read on....
Juror caught listening to MP3 player hidden under hijab. "A juror could face an unlimited jail sentence after she was arrested for allegedly listening to an MP3 player under her headscarf during a murder trial. The judge at London's Blackfriars Crown Court thought he heard 'tinny music' during the testimony of a man who brutally beat his disabled wife to death. The Muslim woman in her early twenties, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had repeatedly tried to avoid jury service...." More (Telegraph 07.10.2007). Comments. a) This story and the fact that Vacation Bible School just started yesterday at the church down the street combine to prompt a not irrelevant memory from when I was, say, 10 or 11. I used to hate (as I think most kids do) Vacation Bible School, typically held in the mornings for a couple weeks shortly after the regular school term is over. As a kind of rebellion, a couple times I hopped on my bike during recess and drove to the Northside Pool Hall and bought a hot dog, driving back to the church before eating it in front of my friends. On another occasion -- this is the one "in point" -- I smuggled in an old glass bottle of Coca Cola (the kind with the town of the bottler in raised letters on the bottom, the kind with a bottle-cap containing cork) under my shirt and a plastic tube from the hobby shop at Sandy Hudson's hobby shop at Lee's Variety Store. With the tube used as a long straw, I sipped Coke throughout the boring lesson, making sure, of course, that my buddies knew of my little scheme. Don't be too hard on the woman, I say. She's only in her twenties. These days it takes forever for kids to grow up. Some of us never do. She just did what I did back during the Vacation Bible School Days of my youth. She just did what lots of doctors, e.g., do when you try to tell them what's wrong. See, e.g., Groopman, supra: "Often after listening to a patient's complaints for just 18 seconds, studies show, a doctor will interrupt, having already formulated his or her diagnosis." b) Do we really do prosecutors, criminal defendants and others seeking a fair hearing by a jury a favor if we allow judges to compel a person to sit on a jury when it's clear the person has done everything possible to avoid service?
Because a staple was missing, a case was won/lost? "The NSW government was scrambling to defend its administration of the state's courts yesterday after shoddy paperwork at the Supreme Court registry gave two convicted murderers another chance to win their freedom. The Government revealed yesterday it had called in an official from the office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to check thousands of Supreme Court files for similar mistakes...." More (The Australian 07.09.2007). Comment. You have to read this to understand it. It strikes me as the sort of case that some in the media (e.g., radio talkshow shock-jocks) love to use to create the false impression that some in the judiciary are just looking for ways to let murderers and rapists go free without being punished.
Auctioning off judges' perks. "An upcoming state auction of surplus vehicles will include vehicles that members of the Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals drove at taxpayer expense until earlier this year...." More (Detroit Free Press 07.09.2007). Comment. Not all judicial perks are as easily renounced. How, we wonder, does a judge renounce a private bathroom in his chambers or a kitchenette? Does the state auction off licenses to the public to use the facility in question for a fixed period and under strict conditions? Do the judicial administrators, those fawning aides, work out with the judges times and places when other judicial employees may use the facility in question? Or, another alternative, does the state simply stop restocking the toilet with paper and stop hiring janitors to clean up after the judge? BTW, a janitor once told me that in his or her expert opinion women are much messier than men. Is this generally true, one wonders, or only true in the environs in which the janitor in question practiced his or her craft?
Unusual panel of high court will hear unusual appeal by former president. "A special bench of [five] High Court justices will hear petitions calling for the canceling of a plea bargain made by former president Moshe Katsav over the sexual abuse charges against him. The hearing is due a week from tomorrow. In a deal with the state two weeks ago, Katsav agreed to plead guilty to sexual harassment, forcible indecent assault and harassing a witness. In return, rape charges were struck from the indictment and he received a suspended sentence...." More (Haaretz 07.09.2007). Comment. President Katsav resigned as part of the deal. Will the court void the deal? "While the court is known as 'activist,' it has never yet intervened de facto in an attorney general's decision to refrain from filing an indictment due to 'insufficient evidence.'" Ze'ev Segal, Op-Ed piece (Haaretz 07.09.2007). I doubt that SCOTUS would interfere with a decision like this by a special prosecutor investigating a high federal office-holder, but I wouldn't venture a guess what the high court in Israel will do. Haaretz, by the way, is a good news site, worth visiting regularly.
Are courts failing pregnant minors? "[Under the parental notification laws, t]he minor can petition a judge -- usually in a juvenile or a state trial court -- who must grant a bypass if the young woman is mature enough to decide for herself, or if an abortion would be in her best interest. That's the law; what's the practice?" Helena Silverstein, a political scientist, has written a book revealing the results of a study and her interpretations of those results: Girls on the Stand -- How Courts Fail Pregnant Minors, published by NYU Press. According to one reviewer, there's good news and there's bad news in Silverstein's study. The worst news comes out of Alabama, where, in the reviewer's words, "A handful of judges...let their personal views overwhelm their responsibilities," with "[s]everal requir[ing] minors seeking a bypass to attend evangelical anti-abortion counseling centers, where they are shown graphic abortion videos, browbeaten for not 'choosing life' and encouraged to be born again." More (San Francisco Chronicle 07.08.2007).
R.I. courts -- last and first in the hearts of NCSC? "Trial courts in Rhode Island rank last in the nation in permitting jurors to take notes, and first in the nation in questioning prospective jurors outside the hearing of other jurors, according to a survey of judges and lawyers that's part of a new National Center for State Courts report...." The last ranking in "bad," the first ranking is "good." More (Providence Journal 07.09.2007). Comment. One area in which Rhode Island, the state, not the courts, will always be first in the heart of this countryman is in freedom of and freedom from religion. See, my 2004 congressional campaign essay, Government and Religion.
Chili and wine judging. Headline to an op/ed piece in the 07.09.2007 Binghampton Press and Sun-Bulletin: "Wine-tasting principles can be applied to judging chili." Comment. We envision an ideal judicial world that we like to compare to a barn. Judicial accolytes would start out learning the ancient and honorable craft of common-law judging by judging poultry competitions, etc., then dog shows, then jam'n'jelly competitions, then beauty pageants, etc., etc., working their way up ye olde judicial ladder that leads to the judicial equivalent of the exalted heights of the hay mow, the U.S. Supreme Court, where the pay is, if Justice Scalia is to be believed, paltry-poultry chicken feed . The beauty of this farm team ladder-up-the-hay-mow to the big leagues approach is this: With common law judges receiving poverty-level wages, having to defend themselves in partisan elections, getting bumped from the bench simply for being human, it is quite possible that more and more young law school grads will set their sights on alternative judgeships, say, flower judge, jam&jelly judge, county fair judge, or rabbit judge. FTD certified floral competition judges get to "globe-trot," rabbit judges get to travel around the country -- and what? -- a common law judge represents the court at a convention at some beach-front resort and gets skewered in the press! To paraphrase JFK, life isn't always fair; ironically, it's sometimes even less fair to those who devote their lives to fairness. But, and this is the good part, after awhile the magic of the marketplace will work its wonders on judicial salaries. Politicians who set judicial salaries will see that chicken judges and hot-dog-eating-contest judges are refusing appointment to common law courts and they'll have to raise judicial salaries. In other words, the tide will raise their boat. Further reading. Dog Judging, Jam&Jelly Judging, Etc.; I could be making lots more if I were Michael Jordan.
City gears up for bloom competition judges -- what litigators can learn. "Maybe it's too late to paint the porch, but it's not too late to put out a pot of petunias for a spot of color and a show of pride. Likewise, it's not too late to sweep the front walk or circle the block picking up trash. We'll get credit for caring if the judges drive by your home while you're mowing the lawn or pulling weeds from your flower beds. They understand that grass and weeds are ever-growing. Effort counts. All of us know elderly or disabled residents who want to improve the city's chances of taking a national Bloom title for a second time, but who are unable to do the work themselves. Help them by planting something where the judges can see it, but more important, where it can bring enjoyment to the residents...." More (Rockford, Illinois Register Star - Editorial 07.09.2007). Comment. The editor would make a good teacher of appellate advocacy and appellate brief-writing. He understands, for example, the need to edit (pull weeds from) one's written brief, the need to make one's arguments clear and even enjoyable to the judges, if any, who'll read them (by planting them where the judges will get a good view of them).
Thinking things, not words, in India. "'Access to Justice for the poor' and 'Backlog in the Courts' Docket' are the political jargons used by different committees to support their version of administration of justice. Law Minister, H.R. Bhardwaj has a plan to introduce Gram Nyayalayas, i.e., the local village courts, in order to cope with the increasing backlog of cases and to provide justice to villagers at a cheaper cost...On the other hand, the Minister of Panchayati Raj, Mani Shankar Aiyyar together with a Committee headed by learned Prof. Upendra Baxi seek to re-introduce [the pre-British] Nyaya Panchayats [alternative-dispute type mechanism for conflict resolution] in villages...." -- From an op-ed piece by Meera Kaura (Desicritics.Org 07.09.2007). Comment. Our friends and readers in India know that in deciding public policy matters like this it always pays to heed Justice Holmes' admonition to "Think things, not words." Meera Kaura clearly understands this and this explanatory piece is a good start to the debate. Cf., Poet-Doctor William Carlos Williams' "No ideas but in things" from the poem A Sort of Song (BurtLaw translation: Don't think in generalities and abstractions and big words or words fraught with emotions that get in the way of meaning; instead, think concretely, operationally, in plain speech, focusing on the thing itself as it stands before you in its ordinariness).
A judge 'on the wedding circuit' on 07-07-07. "By now, you've heard that Saturday was the 'it' day for getting hitched this century...So in honor of the day, The Columbian followed District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman as he officiated weddings throughout Clark County. Zimmerman is a tall, mustachioed man with a penchant for telling slightly off-kilter jokes. On Saturday, Zimmerman had seven events to attend: six weddings and a birthday party. And -- to add to the mystique of the number seven -- each of his ceremonies took exactly seven minutes...." More (The Columbian - Washington 07.09.2007). Comment. The judge, who drives a gold Mercedes, says that he "can squeeze in as many as 20 [weddings] in one day" at the courthouse (something he did in around three hours one Valentine's Day). Courthouse weddings by "the Zim" cost $50 and the seven-minute wedding out on ye olde circuit costs $200. I live down the street from a lovely old Episcopal church that typically would have one or two weddings (maybe even three?) on a day like Saturday. I know cuz the guests park theirs cars way down the street, including by my place, and I enjoy watching the occasionally pretty babes dressed to the nines walking by. Saturday, 07.07.07? No weddings at all, that I noted. Hmm, don't numbers carry as much signifance with Episcopalians?
Can't get him to listen to you gripe? Sue the bastard! "Nobody really listens to petty grievances, and that is one of the greater injustices of life. Judge and Jury Tragedy and major upheavals command attention. Everyone wants to console the widow or abandoned child; anyone will give a hearing to a betrayed wife or a neighbor reeling from financial ruin. It's the smaller, more commonplace injuries -- the roommate who vanishes without paying the rent, the ex-wife who won't return the kids on time, the grandson who runs off with the stereo -- that grate in isolation. Even close friends nod and tune out or, worse, turn the subject to their own lukewarm discontents...The aggrieved simmer in solitude, deprived of redress or sympathy...." Or...they sue! Alessandra Stanley reviews the TV judges. More (NYT 07.08.2007). Comment. I've got some ideas for fresher, different spins on the standard TV Judge format. But I'm not of a mind to give them away to the first producer who asks for them without protecting my interests. Whattaya think I am, a sucker?
Junketing in Europe. "Here's a proposition a majority of the Supreme Court can agree on, without rancor or regard for ideology: Europe is a good place to spend the summer. At least five of the nine justices will travel there this summer, mostly to take part in international programs sponsored by U.S. law schools...." More (Wilmington News-Journal - Delaware 07.08.2007). Comment. Another 5-4 decision, this time with Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg & Alito in the majority. If I were on the Court I'd be in the minority on this, "doing a David Hackett Souter": "During the summer, he returns to his home in Weare and climbs the tallest peaks of the nearby White Mountains." More (Supreme Court Historical Society). My "Weare" is where I'm living right now, a God-blessed suburb of God-blessed Mpls in God-blessed MN in God-blessed USA, and I'd be doing what I love to do, walking with one of my canine friends around the neighborhood, walking to the grocery store, walking around, say, Lake Calhoun or nearby Lake Harriet and enjoying the passing babes, sitting in the sun by myself reading the NYT or a novel (right now I'm reading Vanity Fair -- the Thackery version, not the mag), mowing the lawn, etc.
Annals of judges playing at being incarcerated. "Douglas Meslow, of White Bear Lake, was busted for drunken driving on a Friday, was released the following evening and was back in court by Monday. Another sad example of revolving-door justice? Not really. Meslow returned to the bench, not the defense table. An Anoka County judge, the former city prosecutor and defense attorney arranged to get himself 'locked up' to experience firsthand the sentences he imposes on first-time DWI offenders...." More (Pioneer-Press - MN 07.07.2007). Comment. In the same vein as my proposal that all judges ought to have to spend time on jury duty, I've said it wouldn't hurt if every judge (and, more importantly, every "tough-on-crime" legislator) were required to serve a week in jail, just so he would have some minimal understanding how long a day or a week or a year in prison really is. Frank Lloyd Wright, the great but eccentric architect (aren't all highly creative people eccentric?), made this argument in his Autobiography (1932), which I read a couple years ago. He spoke from experience: In 1926, while his suit for divorce from his second wife was pending, Wright and his future wife, Olgivanna, were arrested here in Hennepin County Minnesota (at the instigation of his wife) for allegedly violating the Mann Act (the so-called "White Slave Act") and spent a few nights in the Hennepin County Jail. People who spend time behind bars or have a relative or friend behind bars tend to stop thinking of people in trouble with the law as "others" or as "them" but as "us" and they start to see the folly of our unnecessarily-harsh and counter-productive sentencing policies. See, my extended comments at How top judge turned convict and Top judge says 5-year-term is a 'very weighty punishment.'
Basement flooded, files ruined, A.C. not working, but he's open for 'bidness.' "District Judge James DiBenedetto said his Aliquippa office was open for court business Friday thanks to overnight cleanup work that included removing 3 feet of water from the Franklin Avenue building's basement. 'It's been business as usual, except there's no air conditioning. But we've got people coming in and keeping their appointments just like any other day,' DiBenedetto said. The floodwaters that filled the basement destroyed around 150 boxes full of case files, among other things." But...the files have been digitized & those digital files are safe. More (Beaver County Times 07.07.2007). Comment. It's always a good idea for a judge to keep, among other things, an inflatable raft, a wet/dry vacuum, a hand-crank radio & flashlight, a plumber's helper, some towels and sponges, and a surfboard in his closet.
Judge ok's suit to stop courthouse teardown after plaintiffs reveal identities. "A lawsuit aimed at stopping the demolition of the Seneca County Courthouse will be allowed to proceed because six county residents who filed the complaint identified themselves for the court yesterday. Visiting Judge Charles Wittenberg, who is retired from Lucas County Common Pleas Court, had said he would dismiss the suit if the anonymous plaintiffs did not reveal their names and addresses by noon yesterday...." More (Toledo Blade 07.07.2007). Comment. We oppose demolition of historic courthouses, but those opposing demolition ought not be allowed to have it both ways -- conceal their identities and, at the same time, get judicial review of the county board's demolition order. Openness ought to be the default setting in litigation. Let the courthouse doors swing open, let God's blue-enamored July sun shine in....
Are poor folks going to have to pay to protect visiting Iraqi judge at Cornell? "Amid preparations for the arrival of an Iraqi judge involved in the trial of Saddam Hussein, local law enforcement and public officials are expressing concerns about exactly what will be needed to keep the judge -- and his family -- safe. Based on their limited research, police say the judge -- Ra'id Juhi Hamadi Al-Saiedi, who is to be the Cornell Law School's first Clarke Middle East Fellow -- has been the target of assassination attempts and they don't have enough information to assess the risk he represents and prepare for it...." More (Ithaca Journal 07.07.2007).
Ex-judge fights off attacker. "A former 15th Judicial District Court judge is being credited with successfully fighting for her life Tuesday night after a man attacked her in her Vermilion Parish home. Vermilion Parish Sheriff Mike Couvillon said the man who attacked Sue Fontenot may have bite marks on his hands and/or fingers and damage to one eye after Fontenot apparently gouged his eye during the attack...." More (Lafayette Daily Advertiser - LA 07.07.2007).
Judge whose life was threatened is irked at lack of police escort. "A high court judge whose life has been threatened and who is yet to have security, yesterday hit out at those who make decisions in air-conditioned offices without any relevance to what is going on at ground zero. Speaking in the Port-of-Spain Third Criminal Court, a frustrated Justice Anthony Carmona made the comments in open court declaring himself 'deeply appalled....'" More (Trinidad and Tobago Newsday 07.07.2007).
Ought one be required to be an income-tax-payer to be judge? "A candidate may have the experience to become a district judge, but does he/she have the income?...Anita Kataria, an advocate has challenged the tax payer condition laid down by the state department of law and judiciary...As per [the] rules...a candidate applying for the post of a district judge should be a practising advocate with at least 55% marks in the LLB exam and should be an income-tax payee. Kataria's petition...states that going by the conditions laid down, a woman lawyer earning less than Rs 20,000 per month cannot become a judge as she will not fall into the tax payee bracket...[Specifically,] a male lawyer with an annual income of Rs1 lakh will qualify for the post, but a woman earning the same will not as tax is exempted for women up to an annual income of Rs1.5 lakh...." More (DNA India 07.07.2007).
Loving the sound of the old courthouse clock. "The antique apparatus runs the familiar wooden hands on four colossal clock faces atop the Historic Volusia County Court House. Unique in this area, the works rest upon a poured concrete platform in a large arched space sandwiched between two domes: the exterior dome of brick and copper that caps the skyline of downtown DeLand and the terra cotta and stained-glass interior dome above the marble rotunda of Corinthian columns. Since 1929, the public and private lives of officials, schoolchildren, store clerks and families have played out against the background of the clock's bells. They are part of the musical score of the story of the county seat and date from an era when the peal of a public clock striking the hour was harkened by half the town...." More (Daytona Beach News Journal 07.07.2007). Comment. Ronald Williamson has a lovely "sense of place" op/ed essay in the Daytona Beach News Journal about the old courthouse's clock, and we recommend you read it. It contains good stuff like this: "'I love that clock. I've heard it all my life,' said Danny Gainin. He was born in 1933 about six blocks from it, grew up and still lives, three blocks away. He attended school two blocks away and worked in a shoe shop that for years was a stone's throw away. The chimes helped tell him how long glue should set when he worked in his parents' shop. 'Just the sound of it. You know? The way the chimes go? It's DeLand to me,' he said. 'The sound brings back memories of people and things that happened. A lot of towns don't have that kind of thing.' John Blakely tends the old machine with quiet, reverent ritual, like an acolyte at an altar of time...." Further reading. See, my comments at County board votes to demolish historic 1884 courthouse.
Restored courthouse is 'jewel' in town's crown. "What, as Monty Python might have asked, has the aristocracy ever done for us? Shillelagh surely never again wants to see an Earl Fitzwilliam drawing rent from thousands of acres and riding imperiously over South Wicklow as though it were his personal plaything. Still, it has to be acknowledged that the ermined upper crust at least left the village with a most striking architectural heritage. And a central part of the old legacy has been enthusiastically taken up by the citizens of the 21st century with refurbishment of the old courthouse, now concluded...." More (Wicklow People 07.07.2007). Comment. Shillelagh, the town, on Ireland's east coast near Dublin, should be distinguished from the stick referred to in the song I often heard in my youth. (I would have been two when I first heard Bing Crosby's 1945 rendition of it). I refer to The Same Old Shillelagh. The courthouse is now a community center.
Convicted defendant scolds judge for conducting 'faux trials.' "Marijuana advocate Ed Rosenthal lectured a federal judge Friday before being sentenced to a day in jail -- which he has already served -- for growing pot plants for medicinal use. 'I am proud of what I did. I know I have done nothing wrong,'' Rosenthal told U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer. Referring to the two juries that convicted him of violating federal drug laws without hearing evidence that the marijuana was intended for medical use, Rosenthal said, 'You have now hurt 24 jurors...You left them feeling guilty about their unwitting role in these faux trials.' Breyer said Rosenthal could take his grievances to the federal appeals court that overturned his first conviction...." More (S.F. Chronicle 07.07.2007). Comments. a) Our drug laws are as crazy as our unjustified invasion and occupation of Iraq. b) Judge Charles Breyer is the younger bro of Justice Stephen Breyer.
Judiciary's fear of 'You Tube.' "The general public will never get a chance to see these videotaped statements, even though the media hired lawyers during the trial and requested the exhibits. You can blame the general reluctance of judges to follow 25 years of Supreme Court of Canada rulings stressing the importance of open courts as well as a relatively new obstacle --- the judicial fear of YouTube...." More (National Post 07.07.2007). Comment. For the best explication of the arguments for mandatory video- or audio-taping of all police custodial interrogations, including those "in the field," see, my detailed casenote titled Interrogation, Confessions, Audiotaping and Videotaping. For an introduction to my views on judicial openness, see, BurtLaw on Judicial Independence and Accountability. We, of course, believe courts are crabbed and wrongheaded in trying to keep the public from viewing/listening to tapes of police interrogations. Isn't that the point of openness in government, of letting God's santizing sun to shine in? Why are courts so afraid of it? Further reading. "Sunshine and fresh air as judicial disinfectants" and "Let the sun shine in" at BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else - Court Gazing V (scroll down). A Google search found these prior entries on "sunshine" for judges at BurtLaw coordinated websites.
The 'monsoon session' of court. "A [bill] to bring in greater transparency in the judiciary and make judges more accountable is expected to come up in the monsoon session of Parliament...." More (Times of India 07.07.2007). Comment. The "monsoon session" of parliament in India is the one held from July to September. Three sessions take place in a year: budget session: February to May, monsoon session: July to September, winter session: November to December. Is there a "monsoon session" of court? Apparently so. The Supreme Court's calendar indicates the court is on vacation all of June and the first week of July but in session all during monsoon season.
Judge sings, 'If I had my way/ I'd bring back the whip.' "An Alberta judge appeared to lament the demise of corporal punishment as he sentenced a man Wednesday for terrorizing his family and raping his former girlfriend in front of their two-year-old son. 'If I had my way...I would ask the Parliament of Canada to bring back whipping,' provincial court Judge Michael Stevens-Guille said as he handed James Jacobs a five-year prison sentence...." More (Globe and Mail - Canada 07.06.2007). Comment. One ought to keep an open mind and not immediately criticize someone who expresses a view like this. One could reasonably argue, e.g., that giving a repeat sex offender the choice of "chemical castration" over a life in prison would be both humane and utilitarian. On the related subject of forced sterilization, see Justice Holmes' classic, though sometimes criticized as being "fascist," opinion in Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927). (Note: The opinion is worth reading not just for its content but for its brilliance of style; only Holmes, "a literary genius of the first magnitude," could write opinions like that.) I'm pretty sure that if given a choice between twenty lashes and five years in prison, many convicted of crimes would pick the twenty lashes. George Bernard Shaw had some provocative things to say about this in The Crime of Imprisonment (1922); for example, "Imprisonment, as it exists today, is a worse crime than any of those committed by its victims." Indeed, Shaw argued that capital punishment may be more humane than imprisonment. I, for one, would abolish capital punishment, reverse the trend toward longer and longer prison terms, increase the use of creative alternatives (not including whipping) to imprisonment, and reclaim from the attic of sentencing law the grand old aim of rehabilitation. In his great 1897 speech, The Path of the Law, Justice Holmes asked, "What have we better than a blind guess to show that the criminal law in its present form does more good than harm?" And he asked, further, "whether fine and imprisonment do not fall more heavily on a criminal's...children than on himself." Many politicians, even the kind who wear robes, are afraid to ask questions like these or suggest reasonable answers because they worry that the answers won't win them any votes, something talking tough has been proven to do. We could just blame the politicians, those "rabid partisans and empty quacks," saying that they lack the kind of civic courage of which William James spoke; but we voters share the blame for being persuaded by their cheap rhetoric and by electing them in droves. Further reading. My 2004 position paper on Crime and Punishment (Burton Hanson for Congress - GOP Primary - MN 3rd District - "Strength and Prosperity Through Peace").
When a lame duck quacks late in term, few listen. "Some Republicans are upset that the White House has nominated only 25 people to fill the 47 vacancies now on the federal judiciary. Not to worry. If history is any guide, President Bush can nominate as many people as he wants, but most of them will not don the black robes anytime soon...." The so-called Thurmond Rule, as refined, calls for the blocking, if blocking can be accomplished by those not of the President's party or persuasion, of all "judicial appointments in the last year of a presidency unless (they are) consensus nominees." More (Washington Post 07.06.2007).
Judge who fled Zimbabwe to avoid jail holds forth on Mugabe 'madness.' "Benjamin Paradza, the High Court judge who sensationally fled from Zimbabwe to avoid jail last year, has spoken out for the first time against what he describes as a systematic government crusade to purge the judiciary of independent judges and court officers...A veteran of the liberation war, Paradza[, who lives in exile in New Zealand,] could not hide his bitterness about the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe under ZANU PF, saying he 'did not fight for this madness.'" More (Financial Gazette via AllAfrica 07.04.2007). Comment. Zimbabwe is a prime example of what can happen when voters and their leaders allow themselves and their policies to be motivated primarily by hatred, vindictiveness, jealousy, covetousness, and reverse-racism rather than by love, forgiveness, tolerance, openness and pragmatism.
Judge in resort that is center of corruption scandal is suspended. "[Judge Francisco de Urquia, a] judge in Marbella, the resort at the centre of one of Spain's biggest corruption scandals, has been suspended on suspicion of corruption and bribery...." The resort in question is described as "the playground of millionaire playboys and Saudi princes." The scandal involves "builders pa[ying] officials billions of euros in backhanders for construction permits." More (Reuters 07.06.2007). Comment. It's still the same old story...My maternal grandfather, Otto (NMN) Herfindahl, as a county commissioner during the Depression drought years in MN, had occasion to physically and literally "throw off his farm" a representative of a company who offered him a kickback in exchange for help in getting a government contract. He could have used the kickback: during one of those years he had to ask my mom, who in those years was employed as a rural school teacher and then as salesgirl at a local five-and-ten-cent store (which paid more than teaching), for financial help. BTW, all over MN in those years honest commissioners apparently were "throwing" bribers off their property. The father of Chief Justice Peter S. Popovich, with whom I was honored to work during his time on the state supreme court, physically tossed one off his property. See, my extended essay: Burton R. Hanson, "The Voices of a Judge -- The Judicial Opinions of Chief Justice Peter S. Popovich of the Minnesota Supreme Court," The Judicial Career of Peter S. Popovich (MN. Justices Series No. 10, 1998) (on file at Minnesota Historical Society and Library of Congress).
Judges suspended during investigation of marriage solemnization allegations. "Four municipal court judges in Cebu City were ordered [preventively] suspended Friday in connection with their alleged involvement in the irregular solemnization of marriages, the Philippine Supreme Court said...Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno...[also] ordered the immediate filing of administrative charges for corruption, dishonesty, gross ignorance of the law, and deliberate violation of the law on marriage against [the four]. The charges stem from allegations that certain courts in Cebu City conduct marriages with undue haste and for an amount higher than the prescribed P300 marriage fee...." More (GMANews 07.06.2007).
Frivolous litigation -- and those who live in fear of it. "For us small business owners, this kind of abuse is always looming in our future...and past. How many of these frivolous fraudulent attacks can we survive? Will we lose or be unable to get insurance? How do we pay the lawyers needed to defend us, as well as our bank loans, rent, wages, health insurance, etc., etc? Should we settle just to mitigate our costs and risks, even though there's no way we should lose? Will we need to declare bankruptcy?" More (Rolla Daily News - Editorial by Dave Winebaum 07.05.2007).
Frivolous litigation -- Will magistrate's ruling cost him a judgeship? "Most of the neighbors appreciated the chocolate chip and sugar cookies left at their doorsteps with a red or pink paper heart and the message 'Have a great night,' although their origins were a mystery. But one neighbor...called police. No crime had been committed, but [the caller] was so upset that she would check into an emergency room the next day with an anxiety attack. And when she found out who'd left the cookies, she took off the gloves and sued." And won -- an award of $900 "to offset her medical bills." Now the magistrate's decision has been called to the attention of Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who will decide soon which of two people, this magistrate or another candidate, to appoint to a new district court judgeship. More (Rocky Mountain News - Op/Ed 07.06.2007).
Judge arrested for not squealing on secretary's sexual misconduct, resigns. "An Aiken County[, South Carolina] magistrate judge arrested earlier this year on misconduct charges has resigned. Gov. Mark Sanford appointed Daniel Hatcher late last week to replace Charles Terry Carter, who was charged in January with misconduct in office and failure to report sexual misconduct, both misdemeanors. Mr. Carter is accused of failing to report his knowledge of a sexual relationship between his legal secretary, Aimee L. Barton, and a state inmate nearly two years ago...." More (Augusta Chronicle 07.06.2007).
Inmate's lawsuit claiming sexual abuse by guards will go forward. "A jury will decide whether a woman who murdered a teenage romantic rival more than 15 years ago was raped and assaulted by state prison staff, as she claimed in a civil lawsuit. Lisa Michelle Lambert, 34, filed a lawsuit in 1996[, which was put on hold while she appealed her conviction,] in which she accused administrators at the State Correctional Institution-Cambridge Springs of doing nothing to prevent the assaults and also claimed she was videotaped during a strip search. 'Plaintiff paints a disturbing picture,' the judge found." More (Philadelphia Daily News 07.06.2007).
Lawyer who was threatened is arrested for carrying gun in courthouse. "A defense attorney who had been receiving death threats was arrested Thursday morning for carrying a loaded gun into the Broward County courthouse. Stephen J. Finta, 59, told deputies who found the .357-caliber Ruger revolver in his black briefcase that he had forgotten the gun was there. He did not have a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon...." More (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 07.06.2007).
Chalk attack on courthouse steps has officials puzzled -- what does it mean? "What is the meaning of life? That question is being pondered by city and county officials after a graffiti message was found on the courthouse steps Tuesday as employees returned to work after the July 4th holiday. 'We don't know if it's a political statement,' Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Chief Wendell Davis said. 'We can give this thing legs and speculate. But we don't know what it means.' On Thursday, county employees found the word 'life' written at least 15 times in chalk on the courthouse steps. Beside one edition of ['Life,' the board game, were the words] 'It's not a game'...'It is technically a vandalism,' [Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Chief Wendell] Davis said. South Carolina state law indicates that anyone convicted of damaging a courthouse can be sentenced up to three years in prison...." More (Times and Democrat - SC 07.05.2007). Comment. Is writing with water-soluble chalk on public property an act of "vandalism"? Not everyone thinks it is. See, results of Google search. McKinney v. Nielsen et al (9 Cir. 1995), /9th/9415438.html decided by a three-judge panel consisting of Judges Harry Pregerson, Alex Kozinski and Edward Leavy, Circuit Judges, deals with the issue in the context of a civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C.S. 1983 by a man arrested after he verbally refused a police order to stop writing a protest slogan on the sidewalk for violating a California law prohibiting defacing "with paint or any other liquid" or damaging property that is not one's own. The panel ruled, inter alia, "It was not reasonable for Sergeant Nielsen to arrest Mackinney for a violation of S 594. Mackinney wrote on the sidewalk with chalk. Chalk is not 'liquid,' and there is no evidence that the sidewalk was 'damaged.' No reasonable person could think that writing with chalk would damage a sidewalk. In addition, if writing with chalk constitutes 'damage,' it is hard to imagine any defacement 'with paint or other liquid' that would not also constitute damage. This reading would collapse the 'defacement' provision of S 594 into the 'damage' provision, violating the prohibition against construing statutes so as to render any of their provisions superfluous."
Annals of fair judging. "Using a purple recycled silk made by women in Nepal, 12-year-old McKaela Christenson began knitting another scarf...On Thursday, she showed a scarf, change purse, shawl, wash cloth and hand-sewn sock creature at the pre-Sauk County Fair 4-H project judging. McKaela was one of nearly 500 exhibitors who showcased their work Thursday at the Sauk County Fairgrounds. Kindergartners through 19-year-olds had photography, clothing, woodwork and cultural arts and other works on display. The works will be displayed Wednesday through Sunday at the annual fair, which runs July 10 through 15...." More (Baraboo News-Republic 07.06.2007). Comment. BurtLaw will be entering before-and-after examples of his sock-darning wizardry at similar fairs this summer, culminating -- he believes -- with the award of a blue ribbon at the famed Minnesota State Fair in August. Taught by his mother, BurtLaw, who is the founder of Darn That Sock Academy, is betting his fortune and fame on the simple proposition that most people are "thinking green" these days and desperately want to relearn the old resouce-saving skills (of which sock-darning is a prime example) and are willing to pay big bucks to do it. "I'm hoping, and expecting," he said in an interview Thursday, "that I'll not only win the blue but 'best in show' and that that'll not only ensure me a place of enormous prestige and reverence in the Minnesota applied arts community but, more importantly, will lead to recognized greatness in related but more important fields." BurtLaw said that once Darn That Sock achieves a solid financial footing, he intends to offer applied-philosophy courses in metaphorical sock darning, a topic he believes will appeal especially to Judicial CLE Credit-hungry common law judges whose task might be said to include ongoing darning of the torn and tearing cotton-and-wool fabric of the common law. "Would you throw out the fabric of the common law and replace it with some new synthetic fabric -- or would you value it by mending it? To ask the question is to answer it." Further reading. Dog Judging, Jam&Jelly Judging, Etc.
Annals of courthouse remedies -- everything in due course. "A reflecting pond at the Morgan County Courthouse, which dried up and became an eyesore three years ago, is about to get new life. Workers from a pool company are working on the pond and said they should finish by next week...[According to] Wayne Lindley, courthouse maintenance supervisor[,] 'They're going to replaster it and spray a liner in it,' he said. 'They say it shouldn't crack anymore'...The repairs to the pond will cost $7,500, Lindley said. 'It'll be worth it. Once they finish it, we'll fill it up with water, and that should make everybody happy.'" More (Decatur Daily - AL 07.06.2007).
Official says application of death penalty is 'uneven' in China. "China's top court will ensure the death penalty is applied uniformly across the nation by the end of the year, state media said Thursday...At the start of 2007, the country's highest court started reviewing and ratifying all death penalty sentences meted out by provincial courts. Zhang Jun, vice president of the Supreme People's Court, said the review has reduced the number of death sentences...However, uneven standards for applying the death penalty in provincial high courts has led to 'judicial injustice,' Zhang was quoted as telling a conference of high court presidents on Wednesday...." More (Washington Post 07.05.2007). Comment. You could say the same about the administration of the death penalty in the U.S. -- it's "uneven," or, to put it differently, "unfair." It's also "wrong." We ought to abolish it, something I've advocated since I was a teenager in the mid-1950's and corresponded with Nathan Leopold of Loeb-Leopold (in)fame. See, BurtLaw's Law and Capital Punishment.
More allegations levied against judge. "A suspended Mobile judge accused of using his position to help family and friends who were in trouble with the law is now facing 15 additional judicial ethics charges. Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission doubled its charges against Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas, citing numerous instances in which Thomas, without his colleagues' knowledge or permission, took over their cases, even after their decisions had been rendered and the sentences on defendants imposed...." More (Birmingham News 07.05.2007).
Courts in cahoots? "A recording has been made public that indicates the extent to which Thailand's top jurists are compromised and their conduct, censurable. An unidentified top echelon bureaucrat apparently recorded his phone conversation with the secretary of the Supreme Court, Virat Chinvinijkul, and a judge of the court, Pairoj Navanuch, during May 2006. Neither the then-secretary nor the judge has denied the veracity of the recording, in which the three openly discuss charges pending against members of the Election Commission...." More (UPIAsia - Opinion Awzar Thi 07.05.2007).
Authoritative legal justice and moral intuitive justice. "Alongside authoritative legal justice, there is also a broad, popular concept of justice as an intuitive-moral issue. Both types of justice have complementary advantages and disadvantages: Legal justice suffers from a lack of flexibility...[while] intuitive justice suffers from a surfeit of flexibility. Moral intuition, as we know, is an evasive thing that is vulnerable to the manipulation of interested parties, passing fashions and personal cultural preferences...." -- From an interesting essay by Yedidia Stern and Avi Sagi, On the voice of the masses and the silence of the law,' prompted by the public outcry in Israel over the settlement that resulted in a prominent Israeli government official resigning and pleading to a lesser offense in exchange for the prosecution's dropping of a more serious charge. I highly recommend reading it. More (Haaretz 07.05.2007).
A review of the Courthouse Cafe. "In the lunch halls that serve our halls of justice, the objective is similar to that of a defense attorney: acquittal. One doesn't need to have jurors (diners) shouting in righteous unanimity that the accused (sandwich) is the most spectacular person (sandwich) they've ever heard testimony from (eaten); one simply needs to establish that maybe, just maybe, the accused (sandwich) didn't commit the heinous crime he or she is accused of (induce vomiting). If the accused (sandwich) didn't do the crime (induce vomiting), all is well and fine. By that measure, both the Courthouse Cafe and Dennis' Snacks pass muster. What's amazing, however, is how far above muster the Courthouse Cafe performs. For starters, there's the setting: The gleaming new Federal Courthouse on Stewart Street...." More (Seattle Weekly 07.04.2007).
Spying on judges in Italy and elsewhere. "A top Italian judicial body headed by Italy's president accused the national military intelligence agency on Wednesday of having spied on judges and prosecutors at home and abroad. The alleged spying, which also appeared to have targeted some justice officials in Spain and Britain as well, took place during the centre-right administration of Silvio Berlusconi, who lost reelection in 2006 after five years as prime minister...." More (Javno 07.04.2007).
Architect pleads guilty in courthouse construction corruption case. "An Albuquerque architect has given up his license. Mark Schiff has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse scandal...." He'll testify against others charged in the scheme to bilk the state out of $4.2 million. More (KOA 07.04.2007).
Wanna be a judge in Fiji? "The interim Cabinet has agreed to amend the High Court Act to allow for suitably qualified judges from countries other than Australia and New Zealand to be appointed to Fiji's High Court..." The list will now include judges from "Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and India and any country which is a member of the Commonwealth of nations." More (Fiji Times 07.04.2007).
Judge called special Saturday session of court to help friends. "A McHenry County judge [Judge Michael Chmiel] last month called a special court hearing into session on a Saturday afternoon to keep the brother of a close friend and political ally from spending the weekend in the county jail...." More (Chicago Daily Herald 07.04.2007). Comment. Other judges in other jurisdictions have gotten in trouble for doing this. That said, maybe our courts ought to be open every day, on a limited basis, so no one has to unnecessarily spend the weekend in jail.
Chinese courts are the subject of PBS documentary. "A showdown in the countryside between contentious next-door neighbors with tree troubles -- this could be an American suburb -- culminates in arson, and a visit from three city judges who hear the case...The judges set up their bench amid dirt, stones and ducks. Villagers arrive in droves, carrying babies, half-done knitting and scythes. The man who believes his neighbor deliberately burned down his trees states his case, holding her responsible for the demise of 150 red bamboos, 60 blue bamboo, 320 bitter bamboo, 4 banana and 10 tea trees, not to mention 5 pepper plants...." - From a review of People's Court, a documentary on PBS' Wide Angle about rapid changes occurring in the Chinese judicial system ("In the last 25 years the country has opened nearly 400 law schools...and hundreds of thousands of judges and lawyers have hastily been trained"), all necessitated by China's embrace of free trade. More (NYT 07.03.2007). Comment. A few years ago I saw a PBS documentary filmed in China that included footage of a "trial" held in a civic center auditorium, shortly after which the poor guy found guilty was paraded through the streets, then taken out of town to the place where "they" do such things & executed. It's always tempting to look down our noses at practices in other countries, and I intend to continue to do so. But our primary concern ought to be with getting and keeping our own house in order, setting an example for our own citizens (government being, as Brandeis said, "the great teacher") and for other nations. The old line from A.E. Houseman, "Malt [i.e., beer] does more than [John] Milton can/ To justify God's ways to Man" [from "Terrance, this is stupid stuff" (1896)], could be modified to read: "Trade does more than shelling can/ To sanctify Sam's ways to Chan."
Pakistan judicial soap opera. The Pakistani Supreme Court proceedings in re Musharraf's attempt to remove the suspended chief justice, who's taken his case to the people, continue, with these developments of late: a) "The administration," trying to prove the chief has bad character, offered surveillance photos of the chief in the presence of a rape victim who'd approached him complaining about abuse by police. The administration argues some of the pics show the chief in an objectionable position with her, but the chief's lawyers say he's consoling the victim by patting her on the back (is this permissible in Islam?). b) In offering the photos, the administration bolstered the opposition's case that Musharraf & Co. have been spying on judges. c) The Supreme Court was sufficiently offended that it suspended the lawyer on record who offered the pics, reprimanded other government lawyers, and fined the government Rs 100,000. d) The court also "banned all unauthorised personnel, including intelligence personnel, from entering the Supreme Court and high courts and ordered the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to sweep the courts and their judges' homes of any bugging devices, and file an affidavit to this effect in the SC on July 9." e) Foolishly, however, the court also "barred the media from covering the case." More (DNA India 07.04.2007). Comment. It's a mistake, I think, for outsiders to be too quick to choose sides in a dispute like this. In foreign affairs, as in our personal lives, we ought to have learned to be careful what we wish for....
Woops, new appointments system in England isn't achieving desired results. "The proportion of black and Asian judges recommended for appointment last year under a new system was just five per cent, it was revealed today. The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) said three lawyers from a list of the 58 names put forward to the Lord Chancellor for appointment to the bench were from ethnic minorities. In the previous year -- when judges were appointed under a system widely considered to be unfair -- 25 per cent of lawyers appointed were black and Asian...The JAC data appeared to show an improvement in the balance of men and women recommended to serve as judges...." Under the much-criticized "old boy" or "Oxbridge" system, "judges were appointed by the Lord Chancellor according to 'secret soundings' and 'taps on the shoulder.'" More (UK Times 07.04.2007). See, also, an interesting opinion piece by Prof. Gary Slapper in today's UK Times on judicial diversity: "Of the 639 Circuit Judges, only 73 are female, and of 108 High Curt judges only one is from an ethnic minority. The composition of the judiciary will change slowly, because judges' educational background lags about 30 years earlier than their appointment to the Bench. So, changes in access to legal education today will become manifest on the Bench about 2037." More. Comment. These days almost no one in the big law firms and no one among the judicial and political elite wants to trust "the people" in judicial selection. But the argument can be made that, in Minnesota at least, "the people" are more open-minded and willing to select people of diverse backgrounds than the politico-judicial-legal triumverate. Those supposedly narrow-minded, parochial Minnesotans elected a conservative Republican Jewish plywood salesman named Boschwitz to the U.S. Senate; elected a Jewish left-leaning organizer from North Carolina named Paul Wellstone who was, of all things, a "perfessor" at that silk-stocking school, Carleton, to the U.S. Senate; elected Alan Page, a black man from Ohio who gained fame as a pro football player, to the state supreme, where he has become, to the surprise of some but not me, the best judge on the court; elected Keith Ellison, an Afro-American lawyer who is a Muslim by choice, to the U.S. Congress. I don't believe in glorifying the ordinary voter. But I don't believe in glorifying the ordinary governor or the ordinary group of lawyers, judges, politicians and others who make up the typical "merit appointment commissions" either. Thomas Jefferson said, "If you state a moral case to a plowman and a professor, the farmer will decide it as well, and often better, because he has not been led astray by any artificial rules." If you substitute the word "governor" for "professor," the point remains equally valid. Those in the politico-judicial-legal triumverate, for sure, will speak of Minnesota as having an "enlightened public." But if they really believe that, they must believe that the people are as capable of separating the wheat from the chaff as the governor or as the members of some appointed "commission" are. In any event, our state constitution says the people are capable of doing it. And I, for one, think they've proven they are.
New PM wants to give up power over judges. "[Gordon] Brown[, the new PM, says] he want[s] to remove the Lord Chancellor's remaining residual powers over the appointment of judges. Instead, the Government is 'willing to look further' than the present system, 'including conceivably a role for Parliament itself, after consultation with the the judiciary, Parliament and the public.'" More (UK Times 07.04.2007). Comment. Brown is said to be a lover of, if not "all things American," then "many things American," and, or so I heard the other day, spends his "holiday" (Brit-talk for vacation) in the U.S. every August.
Spector's lead attorney takes time off from trial to film new TV 'judge' show. "Bruce Cutler, the New York lawyer...has taken a time out from the 10-week-old [Spector] trial to film a new courtroom TV show, Jury Duty. Promotional clips from the show's Web site depict people pleading their small-claims cases to 'Judge Cutler' and a jury of three celebrities. If the celebrities -- producers promise appearances by Phyllis Diller, Dick Van Patten and assorted lesser lights -- can't decide the case, 'Judge Cutler will render the verdict.'" More (IHT 07.03.2007). Comment. Several years ago I independently came up with a very similar idea for a TV judge show. But, as I typically do, I kept it to myself. So what? I've got a million other good ideas, including other ones for judge-type TV shows. If I ever get desperate, I may try cash in on a few of them.
Annals of judicial strategy. "Since Justice Stevens had the power at that moment to cast a fourth vote for immediate review, he clearly had something else in mind by joining Justice Kennedy instead. The most plausible explanation is that this canny tactician and strategist, who had managed to win Justice Kennedy's vote for his two earlier Guantánamo opinions, knew better than to risk losing that support by pushing his colleague too far, too fast. There was no point in granting a case to which Justice Kennedy was not yet ready to give favorable consideration...." -- Linda Greenhouse speculating on the possible strategy of that wily old judicial politician, Justice John Paul Stevens, in first voting against hearing the appeals by Guantánamo detainees challenging the constitutionality of their lack of access to federal courts to challenge their detention -- speculation prompted by "the court's stunning announcement on Friday that it would, after all, hear the appeals." More (NYT 07.03.2007).
Fed judge wants state bd. to investigate prosecutor reprimanded by Gonzalez. "Chief US District Judge Mark L. Wolf, in a rare rebuke to the US Justice Department, has asked the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers to launch disciplinary proceedings against a veteran federal prosecutor who withheld key evidence in a New England Mafia case from the early 1990s. In a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that was made public yesterday, Wolf criticized the Justice Department for punishing career prosecutor Jeffrey Auerhahn with only a [heretofore private] letter of reprimand after concluding in 2005 that Auerhahn 'engaged in professional misconduct and exercised poor judgment.'" More (Boston Globe 07.03.2007).
Law on court-ordered involuntary conservatorships changed in CT. "Locked up and drugged, Daniel Gross celebrated Independence Day in a nursing home last year, another one of the thousands of people each year whose rights are stripped away by our probate courts. Gross would still be there but for a couple of crusading lawyers who won freedom for the 87-year-old. Largely because of his ordeal, we have a new law that reins in probate court, forcing judges to think twice before approving an 'involuntary conservatorship,' where strangers can succeed in revoking all liberties of an elderly or ill person...." More (Hartford Courant 07.03.2007). Comment. Think of involuntary conservatorships as a form of civil imprisonment. Chief Probate Judge James Lawler proposed and lobbied for the changes. Not surprisingly, he was "vilified" by some probate judges. But the Legislature overwhelmingly approved his proposals.
State atty asks governor to appoint sp. prosecutor to investigate two judges. "Two Broward judges are facing criminal investigations, accused of accepting gifts and money from a defense attorney. Charles B. Morton, chief assistant state attorney, asked Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday to appoint an outside prosecutor to look into allegations of wrongdoing by Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin and County Judge Robert Zack. The allegations were first made against Zack during a WSVN-Fox 7 broadcast on June 19, Morton said. It was reported that Zack solicited and received a $2,500 loan from attorney Lawrence 'Chris' Roberts, who regularly handled cases before the judge...." More (Miami Herald 07.03.2007).
Judge revokes man's bond for 'staring him down'; court of appeals reverses. "Shane Leu was out on bond when he went to court [in Toledo, OH] last week. He thought his charges of endangering a child, assault and domestic violence would be dropped since his former girlfriend hadn't shown up for two trial dates. But instead of telling Leu he was clear, Judge Robert Christiansen did something else...." What the judge did was ask Leu, "Why are you staring at me?" Then, to Leu's attorney: "Mr. Wingate, you can, of course, not see it, but your client is attempting to stare me down. As you know, that doesn't work. Bond is revoked." The judge then ordered Leu handcuffed and jailed. "Leu would still be in jail if his attorney, Ronnie Wingate, [hadn't argued] the matter to the [court of appeals]," which concluded that ambiguous staring did not constitute a violation of the terms of the bond and ordered Leu released from jail. More (WTOL-TV 07.03.2007).
Let us now praise Mitzi. "Mitzi Harbin Jones, daughter of former County Commissioner Harold Harbin, had eyes and a smile that would light up the world, and she was a person you could lean on when your troubles seemed unbearable, said her friends and family. Jones, the mailroom supervisor at the Madison County Courthouse and the county commission's official photographer, died at her home Wednesday after a brief illness. She was 37...." She leaves, among others, a husband and son. More (Huntsville Times - AL 07.03.2007). Comment. There are a lot of unsung heroes in and around and courthouse. See, e.g., BurtLaw's Law and Legal Secretaries. And see, Clint Stephens, courthouse custodian -- and more (and several entries following it). Compare and contrast. A dysfunctional 'court family'; High court censures retired judge for inadequately supervising wife.
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