BurtLaw's Daily Judge is not an online newspaper and is not affiliated with or intended to be mistaken for any existing or previously-existing newspaper or journal. Rather, this is a so-called "blawg," a law-related personal non-profit pro bono publico First-Amendment protected "web log" or "blog," one with a subjective, idiosyncratic, and eccentric sociological and social-psychological slant that focuses not on the latest judicial decisions of supposed great legal importance but on a) the institution of judge in the United States and in other countries throughout the world, b) the judicial office and role, c) judicial personalities, d) the great common law tradition of judging as practiced here and throughout the world, e) judges as judges, f) judges as ordinary people with the usual mix of virtues and flaws, etc. We link to newspapers and other sources in order to alert you to ideas, articles, stories, speeches, law books, literary works and other things that have interested us and that may interest you. In linking to another site or source, we don't mean either to suggest we necessarily agree with views or ideas expressed there or to attest to the accuracy of facts set forth there. We urge you in every instance to click on the link and read the entire story or other printed source to which we link. We often use the linked piece as a springboard for expressing our opinion, typically clearly labelled "Comment."
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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.
This just in! -- Iran willing to share judicial expertise with Tanzania! "In a meeting with Tanzanian Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mary Michael Nagu, on Saturday, Elham said that Iran's Islamic-based judicial system is ready to share its experience with Tanzania in the fields of drafting laws, holding trials and fighting crime...." More (Press TV - Iran 12.15.2007). Comment. That's an offer a country can't possibly pass up.
Two SCOGA justices, 64 and 41, hunt quail together, deepen their bond. "Quail season attracts the well-heeled and powerful to the dusky pines of the South for a social appointment with fire, air, feathers and earth. On this day, two justices from the Georgia Supreme Court allow a glimpse into this seasonal rite, at a private preserve two hours from their courtroom in Atlanta. Harold Melton, 41, the youngest justice..., is embarking on his first hunt....Harris Hines, 64, who plucked Melton to be his Cobb County law firm intern two decades ago,...will guide Melton today into another elite field. On a quail hunt, like in a round of golf, character is tested and relationships cemented...." More (Atlanta Journal Constitution 12.14.2007). Comment. Delightful story, worth reading in its entirety, by Michelle Hiskey. Melton is an African-American. Hines, who thinks of Melton as a younger brother or oldest son, has been a mentor. Life lessons for a new judge learned while quail hunting? One is patience. "You've got more time than you think you do," says Hines. Another is practice: "It's like throwing a ball. The more you do it the better you get." Want a bit of free advice about ethics? "The day you walk into law school, your reputation talks...Don't do anything to tarnish it...If a state trooper stops me, I say: 'Give me a ticket! If it's $50, I want to pay $100!'"
Judge ought not to have given candy to injured plaintiff in front of jury. "A New York state appeals court has thrown out a $14 million medical malpractice verdict, holding that a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge's inappropriate conduct, including presenting the brain-damaged 4-year-old plaintiff with a box of candy in front of the jury, denied the defense a fair trial...." More (NYLJ via Law.Com 12.14.2007).
New courthouse on fairgrounds? "An advisory committee toured the Porterville fairgrounds this month and, as expected, is recommending the fairgrounds as the No. 1 site to build the new Porterville courthouse...." More (FresnoBee 12.14.2007). Comment. Under the plan, the fairgrounds would move. We suggest the courthouse be an integral part of the fairgrounds and thus of the fair experience. Cf., our extended comment on common law judges serving as county fair judges at Judges in high demand; availability trumps other qualifications!
A few quotes on sunshine and justice.
a) "In the darkness of secrecy sinister interest, and evil in every shape, have full swing. Only in proportion as publicity has place can any of the checks applicable to judicial injustice operate. Where there is no publicity there is no justice. Publicity is the very soul of justice." Jeremy Bentham.
b) "The unique virtues of the English judiciary would not be threatened if its members were brought out of the self-imposed seclusion and into the sunlight where their performance could be more effectively assessed. In addition, the greater publicity might reveal some room for improvement in one or two judges...Because judges are part of government, acting on our behalf, we are entitled to require them to...present their activities for assessment by laymen." David Pannick, Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, in Judges (1987).
c) "Few myths have been so powerfully developed by the British Establishment than that we have 'the finest legal system in the world'...Belief in the myth is of inestimable value to those in authority...But what of the reality? Time after time after time, ordinary people who become involved with the courts find that they are oppressive, forbidding, incomprehensible and unjust..." Tony Gifford, Where's the Justice? Penguin Special (1986).
Woops! South Australian Family First MP Dennis Hood recently urged the removal of District Court Judge Marie Shaw, calling her Adelaide's softest judge, a characterization he based on his assertion that in 2006 she didn't jail any of 12 defendants appearing before her on sexual assault charges. It turns out that in half of the cases the government decided not to prosecute and in the other half the defendants were acquitted. MP Hood now has publicly apologized. More (ABC.Net - AU 12.14.2007).
Early critic of military tribunals is now chief judge at Gitmo. "Back in 2002, a master's degree candidate at the Naval War College wrote a paper on the Bush administration's plan to use military commissions to try Guantánamo suspects, concluding that 'even a good military tribunal is a bad idea.' It drew little notice at the time, but the paper has gained a second life because of its author's big promotion: Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann of the Marines is now the chief judge of the military commissions at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba...." More (NYT 12.13.2007). Comment. If a critic of the system becomes part of the system, the system must be okay, right? That's the sort of faulty logic the military might want you to employ. This tactic -- co-opting one's critics -- is as old as the Seven Hills of Rome. Further reading. "A final strategy for dealing with [a] critic is...[to t]ry co-opting the critic by bringing her into your camp. 'Sue, you have some strong opinions about this, so I'm wondering if you would consider, for the next phase of the project, working with me from the start. I'd like to get your perspective early on.' Disarm your rival by giving her an ownership stake in the work." Alan Axelrod, Office Superman: Make Yourself Indispensable in the Workplace (2004). Related tactics. Related tricks/tactics include: containing or promoting or marginalizing one's critics or expropriating the ideas of one's critics.
Man convicted in courtroom shooting incident. "A 60-year-old man who said his life was ruined when a young woman accused him of groping her was convicted Wednesday of trying to kill her when he fired a rifle in a small-town courtroom and nearly hit the judge...." More (Newsday 12.13.2007).
Blogging lawyer may be sanctioned for harsh words about judge. How far may a lawyer go in criticizing a judge in his blog? A FLA case raises the issue again. The lawyer used adjectives that arguably were inflammatory but there seems to have been an objective basis for his being upset with the courtroom conduct of the judge, whose conduct is itself before the disciplinary folks. More (Sun-Sentinel 12.13.2007).
Trial judge resigns after embarrassing audiotape surfaces. "[Judge John B. Hagler Jr., 65, a] Cleveland Circuit Court judge is resigning at the end of the month...The resignation was related to an investigation of a tape in which Judge Hagler discussed his 'fantasies,' but no criminal charges were filed. Chattanooga Police reportedly came upon the tape during a criminal investigation...." The judge's press release states:
On Friday, Dec. 7, I was confronted by law enforcement officials with information of an audio tape recording. I was told it has been in the hands of law enforcement officials for two years. I have not heard the recording or seen the tape. But I believe it to be a private communication made by me for my private use. It was intended for no one else's ears. I was told that, after extensive investigation, unknown to me, it was concluded that no crime was committed. This was the first time I learned that such a recording still existed or was no longer private. I have committed no crime. I have done nothing wrong except to cause great embarrassment to my family, friends and the state judiciary. I have tendered my resignation because of this embarrassment and to leave no room for anyone to reasonably question my integrity as a judge. I will continue holding court until the end of the month unless requested or directed by other higher authority. I appreciate the support and trust of the people of the 10th Judicial District. I have never, as judge, dishonored their trust.
More (Chatanoogan 12.13.2007). Comment. That a judge has expressed "fantasies" in a private written diary or in a private audiotaped diary ought not be a matter of public inquiry or interest or a reason for the judge to feel compelled to resign. If it were otherwise, it is possible that few judges -- perhaps only the blandest and most unimaginative -- would be able to remain on the bench. Update. "Members of the 10th District bar association met and voted to ask the U.S. Marshall's Office to investigate the details surrounding the leak of the tape. They're also asking Hagler to reconsider his resignation." More (WTVC 12.14.2007).
Rwanda's gacaca genocide courts: success or disappointment? Success say some (Hirondelle News Agency via All Africa 12.13.2007). Disappointment say others (Hirondelle News Agency via All Africa 12.12.2007).
Annals of judicial sentencing alternatives -- The Galileo Case precedent. Rev. Jose Cornejo, a Roman Catholic priest in Puerto Montt, Chile, has been parking in front of the school where he works because he doesn't have the money to pay for public parking. He recently received an illegal parking ticket that typically carried a $100 fine. The judge, Manuel Perez, alternatively sentenced sentenced Cornejo to recite seven Psalms daily for three months as punishment. You ask, "What was he thinking of?" Answer: "The judge told the Santiago newspaper La Tercera that he did it as a tribute to Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei, who received a similar, three-year sentence from the Catholic Church for saying the Earth rotates around the sun." More (Canadian Press 12.13.2007). Further reading. "A white suburban Cincinnati man accused of shouting a racial slur at a group of black children and threatening to shoot them has been ordered to spend more time with black children as part of his sentence...." More (Fox News 12.13.2007).
Former judge seeks cut from creator of 'The Sopranos.' "It is a tale of influence, of promises, favors and made men, not unlike an episode of The Sopranos. But this scene is playing out in a federal courtroom here, where [Robert Baer,] a former municipal judge and prosecutor in Hudson and Union Counties[,] is claiming that he is owed money and credit for helping the producer David Chase gather the ideas, people and locations for The Sopranos, the HBO series that earned a number of Emmy Awards...." More (NYT 12.13.2007).
Latest on trial-fixing scandal in Greece. "An Athens court has ordered 21 people, including judges, lawyers and an astrologer, to stand trial in a major trial-fixing scandal. The accused -- eight judges, eight lawyers, a priest, an astrologer, a military doctor and two court employees -- allegedly formed a ring that rigged trials in both criminal and civil courts and ensured suspects received lighter sentences or were acquitted, court officials said Monday...." More (IHT 12.12.2007). Comment. This investigation has been going on for several years, and we've linked to stories about it several times. One of the judges is "on the run." For some reason, the mental image of a judge "on the run" is amusing to us.
Dispute between court clerk and five judges simmers. "A running dispute between the county's five district judges and the clerk of court over the conduct of court business escalated Tuesday after the clerk asked for an attorney...[The clerk's] request comes after all five judges issued 11 orders on Nov. 29 requiring changes in how the clerk conducts business. Areas covered by the judges' orders include communication between the offices, identifying responsibility for carrying documents between offices and a lack of e-mail access for some court employees...." More (Billings Gazette 12.12.2007). Comment. An outsider rarely can pass judgment on disputes like this because it's so hard learning what really has happened.
The relation of courthouse elevators to justice. "Bronx Family Court has added a new obstacle [to those seeking justice]: broken elevators. For about a year, the elevators at the courthouse have been a disaster, people who work there say...Lines to use a working elevator can stretch around the corner. People sometimes wait for hours to get to hearings, which are held on the seventh and eighth floors. Frequently, hearings have to be postponed because clients and witnesses cannot get to them...." And, for several bureaucratic reasons, the court administrators won't let people use the steps. More (NYT 12.12.2007).
Judge shot ten times and killed. "An unidentified shooter has gunned down a Supreme Court judge on the door steps of his home in Russia's violence-plagued Dagestan region...." More (Press TV - Iran 12.12.2007).
The Iowa courthouse in Torrance, California. "Acting on a whim after an aunt lamented that vintage Midwestern courthouses were falling to the wrecking ball, [Attorney Dudley] Gray placed an ad in an Iowa newspaper seeking to buy a courthouse that could be dismantled and transported to California. The ad was answered by officials in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who had been planning to demolish the Pottawattamie County courthouse, built in 1885. Gray paid $3,600 for the parts he was able to salvage, including a load of columns, marble flooring, cast-iron stairways, a safe and a judge's bench. He spent $2.5 million moving the items across the country and incorporating them into a new four-story [office] building...." The building became a Torrance landmark. Gray died the other day in Palm Springs at age 85. More (L.A. Times 12.12.2007). Comment. May God be praised for ordinary people who do eccentric things for beauty, sentiment, love, principle. It is often the off-center things they do that we remember most when they are gone. It seems to me that it is to the credit of Harvard College that it likes to admit not just boring "well-rounded" students but what one of its officers described as the "well-lopsided" student. (More.) See, in this regard, Louis Menand, The Thin Envelope, (The New Yorker 04.07.2003). It's too bad that no President can "get away" with appointing someone to SCOTUS who's a little "lopsided," someone with a little "baggage." Give me a person with some "baggage," someone who's "lived a little," someone who's been "laid low by Life" a time or two -- give me such a person any day over the perfect little fellow or gal who's always followed the straight & narrow. My ideal state or federal "final" appellate court, therefore, would involve, as "Sir T. Browne" (whoever the heck he was) put it, "A farraginous concurrence of all conditions, tempers, sexes, and ages" -- an agglomeration of "well-rounded" and "well-lopsided," some with "baggage," some poor souls without. See, A 'Farraginous' Supreme Court. Here's a link to good poem by W.H. Auden that I first read as a student in Freshman English taught by the wonderful & beautiful then twenty-something Elizabeth Breeland Rogers during the 1961-1962 school year at S.M.U. It's called The Unknown Citizen. Are you one?
Ninth Circuit dismisses complaint against federal trial judge. "The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed a complaint against a federal judge[, James C. Mahan of Las Vegas,] who awarded more than $4.8 million in judgments and fees to people with whom he had long-standing political and business ties...." More (L.A. Times 12.11.2007).
Middle-class Indians love their judges, but... "Middle-class Indians love the judiciary. We look upon the sage men in black as new-age incarnations of Walter Raleigh, spreading their robes across puddles of corruption and sleaze and enabling a genteel jump across the muck and the slime. If someone were to draw up a list of institutions that we still believe in, I suspect only two would qualify -- the Indian Army and the judiciary. If soldiers protect the nation's physical well-being, the courts are the gatekeepers of its conscience...." These are the opening words in a fine essay by Barkha Dutt in Hindustan Times. But, Dutt argues that the judiciary, whose independence most cherish, also needs to be accountable. More (Hindustan Times 12.11.2007). Comment. My argument, too. The best introduction to my views is my much-read 2000 essay, BurtLaw on Judicial Independence and Accountability. Among the many other entries, see, A flurry of stories about judicial independence and accountability. For a fairly extensive but still incomplete list of my writings on the topic, see the "further reading" section at the entry titled Ten out of 10 pundits agree: Chief's Report on paltry pay was appalling.
No sabbaticals for tardy judges. "A judge who is behind in more than five cases will not be allowed to go on sabbatical, the Courts Administration has decided...." More (Haaretz - Israel 12.11.2007). Comment. In Israel, "[e]ach judge is entitled to a 30-day sabbatical every year, which they can either take or save up until they have accumulated enough time for a full year off." Sabbaticals, I take it, are separate and distinct from vacations, because "[they] are supposed to be used for professional study or research, and after finishing one, the judge must report to the Courts Administration as to what courses have been taken or what subject researched." A man named Jim Youngdale from my hometown won the DFL primary for Congress once running against the party-endorsee in the old 7th District, but the big-wigs, including HHH, turned on him and disowned his candidacy. Why? He was too liberal for HHH, who, if truth be known, wasn't that liberal. I have it on good authority that back in the 1940's, before he ran for Mayor, HHH might have seriously considered pledging his troth with the MN GOP if Harold Stassen hadn't been such a dominant figure in the state GOP. Anyhow, shame on HHH & Co. for disowning Jim Youngdale. Jim went on and got a Ph.D. in American Studies and wrote some fine books, including one on third-party radical politics in MN. One of Jim's ideas was that every worker ought to get a paid sabbatical every seven years or so. Judges aren't the only ones who need a chance to recreate themselves every now and again.
Attorney's other-worldly warning draws chuckles from judge, gallery. "'Whatever it is that you do in this case will be recorded in heaven,' a deadpan Frank Chavez told [Judge Elmo Alameda of the Makati City Regional Trial Court] during a politically charged hearing Monday. 'I am sure Saint Peter will take care of you.' The feisty attorney and former solicitor general fittingly made reference to divine reckoning to spice up his oral arguments seeking the release of his client, Fr. Robert Reyes, one of the alleged participants in the Nov. 29 Peninsula hotel uprising. Chavez's otherworldly warning drew chuckles not only from Alameda but also from several priests and nuns in the packed gallery of the Makati RTC-Branch 150...." More (Inquirer - Philippines 12.11.2007). Comment. Each of us needs reminding that even in our ordinary, daily decisionmaking, as the Bette Midler song ("From a Distance") goes, "God is watching."
SCOWIS justices ask for judicial campaign finance reform. "Every member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court signed a letter supporting campaign finance reform for Supreme Court races, putting political pressure on the Legislature to act on a recent reform proposal. All seven Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices signed a letter Monday endorsing public financing for Supreme Court races in an "unprecedented" support for campaign finance reform...." More (Daily Cardinal 12.11.2007). Comment. Earlier (at Should we shed tears for 'small-budget' subsidized judicial candidates?) I wrote:
Justice ought not be for sale. Until now, in MN, the "big" spenders have been the incumbents in those few instances in which there've been challengers and a good chunk of the incumbents' money has come from lawyers. When I ran against C.J. Blatz in 2000, her proxy collected a war chest of around $125,000-130,000 even though I promised to not spend more than $100 and in fact did not spend more than $100. Other states have had problems with moneyed interest groups trying to influence the voters. Washington State...is an example. MN has not had a problem and I doubt that it will. If outside money comes in, the "good guys" -- i.e., candidates like me :-) -- can refuse the money and/or disavow the attack commercials, and the voters, whom I trust, presumably will vote for the good guys. If the voters don't vote for the good guys, well, then maybe they don't deserve better. But I do trust our "above average" voters here in MN. In any event, I oppose any system of state financing of judicial campaigns, here or elsewhere. Taxpayers' hard-earned money ought not go toward financing silly commercials, paying campaign consultants, etc. I wouldn't waste any of my own money on them, so how could I in good conscience endorse a plan that would allow me to waste taxpayers' money on them? In short, I don't feel anyone should shed tears over the small-budget subsidized judicial candidates in NC. I do feel we voters should shed tears over the miserable coverage the press gives to judicial campaigns. Big-city newspapers, although happy to report in depth whenever a sitting judge allegedly commits misconduct, literally never cover judicial campaigns in any significant way other than to parrot the judicial establishment's (and the papers' editorial boards') view that they're a bad thing, that they signal the end of judicial independence, etc., blah-blah, etc.
Judge dismisses environmentalists' complaint over '69.' "A federal judge late Monday ruled against environmentalist plaintiffs and in favor of state and federal officials in deciding the new-terrain route of Interstate 69 from Evansville to Indianapolis can proceed...." More (Courier-Press 12.11.2007).
NY's chief justice once again threatens to sue for higher paycheck. "The state's chief judge says she may file a lawsuit next month if state lawmakers end a planned December session without voting to give raises to New York's judges...." More (Newsday 12.11.2007).
Hearing on whether to try judge for swearing false statements begins. We linked to a number of stories about the investigation leading to this prosecution. Now, finally, the trial on whether to try has begun. "Crown prosecutor Wayne Roser SC [began it by saying] Einfeld was a man who would 'lie if he perceives there is an advantage to him...[Einfeld] is prepared to lie at will if he is found out about a matter, or if he perceives there is some advantage to him to change his story,' said Mr Roser." More (Sydney Morning Herald 12.10.2007). Day Two in hearing. (SMH 12.11.2007). Day Three (Melbourne Herald-Sun 12.12.2007).
Tips on how to judge Best in Show - What key factors decide the overall champion show dog. The headline is the title of a piece by David Frei, who is described as "the analyst for 'The National Dog Show presented by Purina.' He has bred and shown many champion Afghan Hounds and Brittanys in over 30 years in the sport, and is a licensed AKC judge." More (MSNBC 12.10.2007).
The shocking Social Security disability claims process backlog. "Steadily lengthening delays in the resolution of Social Security disability claims have left hundreds of thousands of people in a kind of purgatory, now waiting as long as three years for a decision...Two-thirds of those who appeal an initial rejection eventually win their cases. But in the meantime, more and more people have lost their homes, declared bankruptcy or even died while awaiting an appeals hearing...." More (NYT 12.10.2007).
Turks hold protest rally over change in method of appointing judges. "Thousands of members of Turkey's legal profession and ordinary citizens protested against the adoption of a law that makes it easier to enter the judiciary in Ankara yesterday...The numerous defenders of secularism among holders of public office suspect that the ruling political party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), wants to use this law to facilitate the entry of those who have similar political leanings...." More (Turkish Daily News 12.10.2007).
When deliberating jurors take a break. "By my conservative estimate, the Robert Pickton jury has spent at least 10 hours smoking since deliberations began...Not all of them, of course. Just that rump of five, I believe, who frequently huddle for their nicotine fix at the eastern side of the courthouse, portal to the underground garage. This is a shocking ratio of fag-draggers -- excluding the brace of non-smokers who usually hang with 'em, no doubt for the contact cool -- especially in a province so health conscious and censorious...." Rosie Dimann, Counting butts and staring at stripes (The Star 12.09.2007). Comment. That's an average of an hour a day, since the deliberations have been going on for ten days. Who are the jurors? "[R]etired brewery worker, retired racetrack security guard, retired electrical engineer, condo complex manager, retired nurse, building engineer, bartender, university student, waitress, community living worker, retired mill worker, physiotherapist." Note the relatively high number of retirees. More and more, a jury of one's "peers" seems to be a jury of retirees. Hmm, the system is happy to let 70-year-old people judge the facts but deems 70-year-old judges too old to hold the office of judge of the law. See, BurtLaw on Mandatory Retirement of Judges.
Will a 'miraculous' courthouse Christmas Tree contaminate a jury? "A Christmas tree decorated with 26 lace-winged angels has appeared, mysteriously, in the plaza outside the New Westminster courthouse where Robert Pickton, charged with 26 murders, is now on trial. Family members of many dead and missing women -- some of them Pickton's alleged victims -- were left wondering who erected the tree. 'Christmas is a time for miracles,' said Lori-Ann Ellis, sister-in-law of Cara Ellis, one of the dead women named in the next 20 counts that Pickton faces after the current trial for six murders...." More (The Province 12.09.2007).
When courts harm innocent people by being gullible. "Child protection is a controversial area, and in recent years some of the worst miscarriages of British justice have followed the testimony of so-called expert witnesses in the field, a number of whom have been accused of being zealots or just plain wrong in their willingness to blame parents...for children's injuries. The conviction of the solicitor Sally Clark, jailed in 1999 after being wrongly convicted of murdering two of her children, was based on the evidence of Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who famously and -- it later turned out -- inaccurately testified that the chance of two of her babies having suffered cot death was one in 73m. Clark, 42, was freed on appeal in 2003 but never recovered, and died of acute alcohol intoxication at her home in March...." -- From an excellent report by Sian Griffiths, Haunted by the nightmare of the secret family courts (UK Times 12.09.2007).
Widow of judge who resigned under fire, then killed self after indictment, is suing DA. "Media attention about the [stolen laptop prosecution] riveted the city because [the defendant, Larry] Manzanares, a Harvard Law School graduate, was a popular former judge with a reputation for evenhandedness and for working with disadvantaged youngsters and community groups. In June, after criminal charges were filed against him, Mr. Manzanares[, a Democrat,] shot and killed himself. Now his widow, Peggy Montaño, plans to file a lawsuit charging that the conduct of the [Republican] Jefferson County district attorney, his deputy and an investigator contributed to her husband's death...." More (NYT 12.08.2007). Comment. The action will focus on the DA's sensationalistic press conference during which he released an 80-page affidavit that included details of pornographic images found on the recovered laptop. In many jurisdictions the DA might have a pretty good claim of immunity from suit if he'd kept his mouth shut. But in many of the same jurisdictions, the DA is not as well insulated for things he says in a press conference. Earlier. Earlier entries, with links to even earlier entries, include: Friends of judge who killed self pay tribute, express anger at press; Following judge's suicide, lawyers express anger at the prosecution; A judge commits suicide; Op/ed piece.
Judges as parents/grandparents -- or, when judges are asleep at home. "Lower Southampton District Judge Susan McEwen said...[o]n Friday...that she's been 'indefinitely suspended' from her post after her grandson held an underage drinking party last month at the judge's house while she was home. 'You have an 18-year-old, he has an underage drinking party, and you're punished for it,' McEwen said as she sat in her living room. According to police, McEwen is not facing criminal charges in connection with the incident. Both Lower Southampton police and McEwen said the judge was asleep and unaware of the party, which was busted by police about 10 p.m. on the night of Nov. 20...." More (Bucks County Courier-Times - PA 12.08.2007).
Judge is censured for 'shocking' behavior at conference. "Clark County Superior Court Judge John Wulle was censured Friday for 'demeaning, offensive and shocking' behavior at a training conference last year...." More (The Columbian - WA 12.08.2007). Comment. We aren't setting forth the "shocking" conduct described in the order of censure. Some say the highly-respected judge smelled of alcohol, but he says no. According to the order, "He recalls suffering from a cold and taking cough syrup, and suggests the odor from the cough syrup may have been misconstrued as an odor of alcohol." We take him at his word and incorporate that into what we're calling BurtLaw Rule-of-Thumb for Judges #111: Don't attend conferences, conventions, retreats, etc. unless you have to; if you do attend, don't drink booze or take any cough syrup containing alcohol; if you do drink booze or take cough syrup containing alcohol, keep your mouth shut. Further reading. "John Wulle can be cantankerous, sarcastic, blunt and impatient on or off the bench. However, when it comes to the even-handed administration of justice -- which is what judges are all about -- you can't find a better person for the job...." -- Op/ed piece by Tom Koenninger, editor emeritus of The Columbian (The Columbian 12.08.2007).
Judge summons two Hindu gods to appear in court. "A judge in India has summoned two Hindu gods, Ram and Hanuman, to help resolve a property dispute. Judge Sunil Kumar Singh in the eastern state of Jharkhand has issued adverts in newspapers asking the gods to 'appear before the court personally.' ...The two Hindu gods have been summoned as the defence claimed that they were owners of the disputed land. 'Since the land has been donated to the gods, it is necessary to make them a party to the case,' local lawyer Bijan Rawani said." More (BBC News 12.08.2007).
Complaint by judges against prosecutor is dismissed. "Ten months ago, Harvey Bryant, Virginia Beach's commonwealth's attorney, intimated in a political gathering that the city's judges had shirked their duty to punish criminals by inappropriately reducing or dismissing charges. Although none of the judges heard Bryant's comments, someone relayed a version to the city's nine circuit judges, who promptly complained to the Virginia State Bar...[The Bar] launched an exhaustive investigation. Last week, it dismissed the complaint, one that never should have been filed...." More (Virginian-Pilot - Editorial 12.08.2007). Comment. We said at the outset the complaint would never hold up.
Herfindahl hits it big at 'The Office.' My late mom's first cousin, Orris Herfindahl, who died in 1972 while mountain trekking in Nepal, was a world-class economist, making significant contributions both in environmental economics and in merger theory (by creating, in 1952 and while yet a student at the University of Chicago, the so-called Herfindahl Index, a formula which is used the world over to determine the degree of economic concentration in any industry). Ten years after his unexpected death at too young an age, the "trustbusters" in the U.S. Department of Justice began using the index to determine whether the change in the degree of economic concentration in any particular industry resulting from a merger is impermissibly anticompetitive. Had he lived, he might well have won a Nobel Prize in Economics, but dead people aren't eligible. The other night I watched a re-run of an episode of The Office titled Business School, in which "Michael" accepts an invitation from "Ryan" to be a guest speaker at the business school Ryan is attending. Michael, of course, makes a fool of himself, including by having no idea what a student is talking about when he asks Michael about how Dunder Mifflin's Herfindahl Index has decreased since the merger. I don't go in for Nobel Prizes but getting mentioned on The Office? -- that's posthumous recognition Cousin Orris might have been proud to get. Further reading. "LawAnd(Herfindahl)Economics" at BurtLaw's Law and Economics (scroll down).
Judge comes in to work drunk, loses job. "A civil judge in Chhattisgarh lost his job after he came drunk to the court and abused a lawyer and a staff member...." More (Times of India 12.07.2007).
Campaigning on a 'judicial bus.' "Top Pakistani lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, arrested under emergency regulations for spearheading protests by the legal fraternity, is planning to campaign for the reinstatement of deposed judges on a 'judicial bus.' Ahsan, now under house arrest in Lahore, plans to campaign across Pakistan after his release...." More (The Hindu 12.06.2007).
'Big gun' judges to receive media training to help in commenting on cases. "Five senior judges are to be trained in how to handle the media so that they can explain controversial sentencing decisions, MPs have been told. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Philips, said 'big guns' such as himself would still comment on general legal points. But judges would also be available to comment on individual cases when controversy flared-up in the media...." More (BBC News 12.06.2007).
The 'lofty mansion of Islamic juriprudence.' "Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said here on Wednesday that the judiciaries of Islamic countries should make every effort to 'revitalize and strengthen the lofty mansion of Islamic jurisprudence.' Addressing the first convention of Islamic states' judiciary chiefs...[he said,] 'Islamic law is among the most advanced' legal systems and 'has great potential to meet humans' needs, especially their need for justice.'" More (Tehran Times 12.06.2007).
Law and Jennifer Aniston. The case is Jackson v. Frank (7 Cir. 12.05.2007). Here's how the opinion opens:
Jennifer Aniston: television (Friends) star; actress in several forgettable (Rumor Has It and Along Came Polly) recent films; former wife of Brad Pitt; and anointed as a hottie by FHM Magazine -- #35 on its list of the "100 Sexiest Women in the World in 2007" (she also made People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" list in 2002) -- has legions of fans. Jevon Jackson, the plaintiff in this case, is one of them. And Jackson would like to display a photograph of Aniston in his room. His "room," however, is actually a prison cell where Jackson is serving time for a state court conviction in Wisconsin. The prison authorities, relying on a rule, won't allow Jackson to receive, and thus display, a commercially published photograph of Aniston that he had ordered. So Jackson made a federal case out of the situation by filing this suit alleging that Wisconsin was violating his rights under the First Amendment.
Destroying a neighborhood to add courthouse parking spaces? That's what a letter writer argues Becker County's proposal to add parking spaces at the courthouse in Detroit Lakes (MN) will do. The writer argues that it'd be cheaper, use less land, and provide many more spaces (for the whole community, not just courthouse users) to build a ramp. More (DLOnline 12.06.2007).
Hairless judges listening to barristers wearing horse-hair wigs? "The arch-reformers of the Bar must be pulling out their hair in despair. No sooner have the judges taken the bold step of agreeing to remove their wigs in court than barristers have voted to keep theirs on...This now raises the rather unedifying spectacle of a courtroom presided over by a bare-headed judge hearing arguments advanced by barristers looking even more like players in the royal courts of Hanoverian England...." More (UK Independent 12.05.2007).
Judge speaks at schools over consequences of threats by students. "About 260 Penns Valley students watched as a Centre County judge put on his black robe inside their high school auditorium on Tuesday and thanked them for listening -- but said he hopes he never has to see them at his workplace. During the past month, Judge Thomas King Kistler has seen too many local teenagers locked up in juvenile detention for writing false threats in notes and on bathroom walls at school, he said...." More (Centre Daily Times - PA 12.05.2007).
Should courthouse be named after judge who was 'Father of Glacier Park'? "U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon on Tuesday recommended the $16.4 million federal courthouse being built in west Great Falls be named after U.S. Judge Charles Pray, who spent 33 years on the bench here... Pray...represented Montana in Congress for three years and sponsored a bill in 1910 that created Glacier National Park...." More (Great Falls Tribune 12.05.2007). Comment. I think naming a courthouse after anyone is inconsistent with the oft-repeated lofty ideal of ours being a nation of law and not of men.
County judges' go-to-guy gets nod for MD's highest court. "For a long time, there's been a little secret among Baltimore County judges facing a difficult ruling on evidence. They take a recess to 'research' the matter. Then they call Judge Joseph Murphy...Gov. Martin O'Malley on Tuesday appointed Murphy, 63, the chief judge on Maryland's second-highest court, to fill a vacancy on the state's highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals...." More (Baltimore Examiner 12.05.2007). Comment. Anyone have a problem with a trial judge's calling up another judge mid-trial for advice on deciding an evidentiary matter in the case being tried? I do. Anyone have a problem with a judge calling up the head of a sentencing guidelines commission for advice on interpreting and applying a sentencing guideline to a specific case? I do.
SCOPHIL appointee insists she earned her appointment the right way. "Her entire professional history, not the conviction for plunder of deposed [Phillipines] President Joseph Estrada by the Sandiganbayan division she headed, was the basis for her appointment to the Supreme Court [by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo], Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro stressed Tuesday...." More (Inquirer 12.05.2007).
Courthouse rules modified: blankies are okay now, but not board games. "Blankets are in, but board games and jigsaw puzzles are out for relatives of the alleged victims of Robert Pickton. The long wait for a verdict in the murder trial of the former pig farmer was overshadowed Monday by a controversy over a provincial court services branch policy that prohibits board games and jigsaw puzzles inside the courthouse...." Over the weekend, when the building heating system wasn't working, family members passed the time huddled under blankets, playing board games and solving jigsaw puzzles. But late Sunday sheriff's deputies told them that as of Monday "colourful blankets and the board games and puzzles" were banned from the courthouse. Then on Monday came word from on high that the blankies are okay but the board games and puzzles are still verboten during regular hours. More (National Post 12.04.2007). Comment. The bureaucracy's reason for the "no board games" rule? Board games are said to violate court decorum. But, and this is the good part, the family members are welcome to walk two blocks to a building where there's an area where they may play the indecorous board games.
Judge is tired of uninsured drivers. "It is 10 a.m. at the Dallas Municipal Courthouse. From his faded wooden dais, Judge Jay Robinson faces yet another defendant accused of driving without insurance...They are among the more than 3 million uninsured motorists in Texas. They arrive [in court] one after the other, in T-shirts, in sports jackets, in blouses, in reflective road-worker vests. So many that Judge Robinson seems exhausted by them all. 'It just does not seem to be a deterrent in many cases to impose a fine only,' the judge said recently. 'It's frustrating in that so many of them, when I ask them, are still driving without insurance.'" More (Dallas Morning News 12.03.2007). Comment. Some suggest higher fines will do the trick. Others think an expensive insurance-verification system will help. BurtLaw's solution? In 2004 I "ran" (more accurately, "stood") in an unsuccessful anti-Iraq-war campaign for the GOP nomination in MN's Third Congressional District against an entrenched so-called "moderate" Republican. One of the position papers I wrote and posted on my campaign website/blog called for auto insurance reform in the form of national pay-at-the-pump auto insurance. If you're interested in learning how it would save fuel and would cut your insurance rates (because you in effect are paying for those who drive without insurance), click here.
Should judge be allowed to take over unfinished trial and judge credibility by listening to audio tapes? That's the issue being considered in a Canadian court by Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg. More (Vancouver Sun 12.03.2007).
How do so many mass tort suits end up before Judge Jack Weinstein? "The docket of Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn has long been a magnet for big lawsuits with billions of dollars at stake. In case after case involving guns, cigarettes, Agent Orange, breast implants, typing keyboards, asbestos, and pharmaceuticals, manufacturers have defended their products before the now 86-year-old federal judge...." How is it that so many of these cases wind up assigned to him? See, Joseph Goldstein, Federal Judge Lands at Center Of a New York Legal Mystery (N.Y. Sun 12.03.2007). Update. "Disturbing reports in the New York Sun regarding the way certain cases are steered to the New York courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein have compelled the Second Amendment Foundation to call on the 86-year-old jurist to step down...." More (Press Release by SAF). Comment. A press release by an advocacy group calling on a federal judge as tough as Judge Weinstein to retire will not -- NOT -- persuade the judge to retire.
Should retired top judges be barred from doing ADR, heading commissions? "To check political interference in the judiciary, top jurists have demanded a new law to prohibit Supreme Court judges from taking up any post-retirement paid work, which relates to their position as a judge. Former Chief Justice of India (CJI) JS Verma and former Supreme Court judge VR Krishna Iyer have told HT that such judges 'were responsible for making the judiciary dependant on politicians and bringing a bad name to the institution.' Both the jurists said that retired chief justices and judges being involved in arbitration and at the same time heading commissions had become a common practice, which severely eroded judiciary's independence...." More (Hindustan Times 12.02.2007). Comment. This is a bad idea, in the same league with "mandatory retirement of judges," the "Missouri Plan," laws squelching or otherwise regulating free speech by judges and judicial candidates, and other "reform" ideas that are opposed by Santa Claus, Jesus Christ and me.
Investigating a trial judge: why & how? Yesterday some of MD's top judges held a hearing on whether to suspend or otherwise impose sanctions on Baltimore County District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin. How did the investigation begin and how was evidence against the judge gathered? "The investigation into Lamdin's conduct began in November 2005, when a Reisterstown man filed a formal complaint about the judge's handling of traffic cases Sept. 2, 2005. After receiving the complaint, the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities ordered audio recordings of several weeks' worth of hearings from Lamdin's courtroom. Captured on the recordings were Lamdin's disparaging remarks about drug treatment programs and the correctional officers who staff the state's prisons, a joke that the county's Circuit Court judges spend their afternoons sipping cocktails rather than working, and profanity not normally heard from the bench...." More (Baltimore Sun 12.01.2007).
Judge and long-time assistant retire together. "The Marion County Courthouse said farewell to two of its longtime professionals Friday, commemorating the retirement of Circuit Judge Carven D. Angel and his judicial assistant, Gail Watson. Fellow judges and judicial assistants joined bailiffs, deputy court clerks, court reporters, lawyers and others to wish Angel and Watson well. Both entered the courthouse's jury assembly room to sustained applause from the audience...." The judge is 64 and Ms. Watson is 69. More (Ocala.Com - FLA 12.01.2007). Comment. Ms. Watson worked as a deputy clerk before the judge got there. Sounds like the powers-that-be in Marion County's court system don't require one in Ms. Watson's position to leave when "her judge" leaves. Good for them. Sadly, in many appellate courts a judge's personal secretary (sometimes called an assistant or stenographer or typist) has no job security & may find herself (yeah, they're usually women) in effect buried or retired with her judge when he dies or retires. Specifically, if she wants to continue working at the court when her boss dies or retires she typically goes through a period of anxiety as she awaits the decision of the successor whether or not to retain her. It is well known that, astonishingly, this was the practice at the MN Supreme Court for many years. I don't know but I'm presuming the court has advanced sufficiently that it no longer is the practice. I have always compared this practice to the ancient Egyptian cult of the Pharaoh's death, described here:
In the alphabet of Egyptology, Abydos comes first. It is the last resting place of the first kings of the first dynasty, 5,000 years ago. It is the birthplace of the cult of the divine king...It is where the pharaoh's undertakers buried his ships of the desert -- a flotilla of 20m-long planked craft to ferry the dead king to his afterlife -- and ritually killed and buried donkeys to carry his goods. They killed and buried his servants, too, to tend him beyond the grave....
Death on the Nile (Guardian Weekly). The practice is insulting to secretaries. It seems to assume that they are personal servants of the judges and not professionals employed by the state -- an assumption perhaps having something to do with the fact that, as I said, they typically are women. It also glorifies judges, who, after all, are not Pharaohs but public employees who ought not have the rights or perquisites of Pharaohs.
MI judge's pregnant daughter dies in crash; granddaughter delivered alive. "The pregnant daughter of Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred Mester died Thursday in upstate New York after an automobile crash. Her near-term baby was delivered alive during 2 1/2 hours of emergency surgery. Katherine Mester Luzzi, 37 and eight months pregnant, died after suffering massive head and abdominal injuries. The baby, named Isabella Katherine Luzzi, was hospitalized but said to be uninjured...." More (Detroit Free Press 12.01.2007).
Judge is charged with theft by a public servant. "State District Judge David McCoy, 64, was suspended from the bench following his indictment Thursday on charges of theft by public servant, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and abuse of official capacity, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years...." More (Houston Chronicle 12.01.2007). Comment. The judge's attorney says he's innocent. We presume he's innocent.
Dahlia Lithwick on Robertsian-Thomasinian ideas about SCOTUS openness and accountability. "Roberts and Thomas, to different degrees, seem to be fundamentally misunderstanding the sort of transparency Americans need from their courts. Transparency, to them, means that judges give more speeches, do more television, and speak more personally than they have ever done before. But that isn't nearly as important as laying out the real substance of what they do -- whether it's thinking through cases at oral argument or reassuring the public that their illness does not affect their job performance. On what matters most to many of us, the court is now somehow more 'private' than ever." -- From Dahlia Lithwick, Open Books -- Why Supreme Court justices' speeches are less important than oral arguments (Slate 12.01.2007). Further reading. The best introduction to my views is my much-read 2000 essay, BurtLaw on Judicial Independence and Accountability. Among the many other entries, see, A flurry of stories about judicial independence and accountability. For a fairly extensive but still incomplete list of my writings on the topic, see the "further reading" section at the entry titled Ten out of 10 pundits agree: Chief's Report on paltry pay was appalling.
The county courthouse seating crisis. Administrative Judge Chris Oldner "shocked the [Collin County] commissioners when he told them that he begins each court session by apologizing to the gallery for the small seats [in the new courthouse] and explaining that the county is working on the problem." No one is sure how one measures seat sizes and no one is sure what the proper size for a courtroom seat is -- 20-inches, 21-inches, 22-inches or 24-inches? The current ones are said to be 20-inch seats, whatever that means. It is said that replacing them with 24-inch seats would cost $235,000. The trouble with 24-inch seats is that they do not allow for enough courtroom seating. Someone then came up with the bright cost-saving idea of "mov[ing] the seats around a bit, which would...cost $42,000, but not replac[ing] any of them with wider ones." That idea was rejected. What to do? Answer: defer action until later. Confused as to what the judges want, one commissioner said, "I've learned that when I'm talking to a judge to get it in writing." From an entertaining op/ed piece by columnist Bill Baumbach (Dallas Morning News 12.01.2007). Further reading. For one of our earlier posts on judicial "chair" or "seating" crises, see, Reining in those wild spending judges, reprinted at Annals of judicial chambers makeovers.
Fiji: former justice says secret court hearings must stop. "The practice of holding secret court hearings should cease and [hearings] should instead be held in an open court in the interest of judicial accountability, says former Fiji High Court judge John Connors...." More (Fiji Live 12.01.2007). Comment. Whenever I travel to a tropical isle, I like to sit in on court sessions. I guess I'll postpone my plans to visit Fiji until this matter is resolved to my voyeuristic satisfaction.
The slippery slope and the courthouse cat. There's a black cat named Boo that has the run of the town in Virginia City, MT. One of his favorite hangouts is the Madison County Courthouse. Boo regularly slips in through a briefly opened door and likes to "wander the halls and stroll through hearings." County employees have come to love Boo's presence, but the county board this week voted to bar Boo from the building. Board members' reasoning: the county has a policy and we've got to adhere to it. Why, they seemed to be saying, should Boo get to be here when other animals aren't, and what would happen if we let all animals in? But wait! Maybe the policy won't be enforced: "Peggy Kaatz, clerk and recorder, said it will likely be nearly impossible to keep Boo out of the courthouse. The public is constantly opening the courthouse doors to do their business. 'You open the door and he's in,' she said. 'We can't get up from our desks and take him out 10 times a day.'" More (Helena Independent Record 11.30.2007). Comment. I think I sense the possible making of a best-selling, heart-warming fictionalized "based on real life" book followed by a tear-jerking, life-affirming TV movie. In my fictionalized version (my "movie treatment"), a terrorist -- an outsider, of course -- would make it past sophisticated courthouse security financed by 09.11 grants from the Dept. of Homeland Security, but at the appropriate moment Boo would meow, calling a clerk/recorder's attention to the terrorist and foiling the plot. The commissioners relent, but Boo is run over by someone from the Dept. of Homeland Security who is racing to the scene in an SUV to hold a press conference. But wait! The scene switches to six months later. It turns out Boo sired a litter of kittens, one of them a black one named Boo Two.... And ya know what? It turns out Boo Two likes hanging out at the newly-renamed Boo Memorial Courthouse.
Christmas at the Courthouse. "More than 300 people turned out to show off their holiday spirit Thursday at the 16th annual Christmas at the Courthouse. Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham welcomed the crowd before the official lighting of the Christmas trees that will be displayed on the courthouse lawn until Jan. 2...There are 38 decorated and lighted trees from businesses, civic groups, organizations, scout troops, churches, adopt-a-schools and their sponsors and others being displayed as part of the Festival of Trees, said Cookie Crowson of Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks and Recreation...." More (Maryville Daily Times - TN 11.30.2007). Comment. More and more communities are doing this, and more should do it. Courthouses shouldn't be forbidding fortresses of judicial solitude but centers of the community, with the people -- who, after all, own the courthouses -- feeling welcome there at all times.
Power play by religious courts? "Another salvo was fired in the ongoing power struggle between religious and secular courts Thursday after the High Rabbinic Court ruled that religious courts had primary jurisdiction in monetary issues connected with divorces while civil courts had only secondary or residual jurisdiction...." More (Jerusalem Post 11.30.2007).
Prof says judicial selection in KS is controlled by lawyers. "Kansas has 2.7 million people and only 7,666 lawyers. Yet those few lawyers have more power in selecting our highest court than all other Kansans combined. The bar's majority on the commission can prevent the appointment of an outstanding individual to the Supreme Court, even if that individual is the unanimous choice of the governor, the Legislature and every nonlawyer in Kansas. Further reducing accountability, the commission's votes are secret...." -- From an op/ed piece published in The Wichita Eagle by Stephen J. Ware, professor of law at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. More (Wichita Eagle 11.30.2007). Comment. Although Ware himself apparently doesn't favor voters having the ultimate say in judicial selection -- as in MN -- KS voters polled in a random survey apparently do favor it. Kansans want to vote for justices, survey says (Kansas City Kansan 12.01.2007). We heartily recommend "the Minnesota Plan" to Kansans. See, comments and numerous embedded links to our views on judicial selection at Annals of judicial selection.
A call for judicial elections in MA. Columnist Howie Carr, reacting to the Tuttman/Tavares crisis, has posted a column titled Stop the insanity by electing judges (Boston Herald 11.30.2007). A sample:
To score his judgeship [in MA], the shyster begins contributing money to politicians, usually candidates for governor, who nominate the judges. Sometimes, if he's really hungry, the lawyer gets his parents, his in-laws, and his secretary to max out to the local member of the Governor's Council, which has to rubber-stamp the governor's nominees. I say, let's eliminate the middlemen. Instead of giving money to candidates running for office, let the would-be judges go on the ballot themselves. OK, maybe most of them would run unopposed, like the legislators do. So what? At least the threat would be out there.
Comment. Howie, if there's anyone in MA who's really interested, we recommend "the Minnesota Plan" of direct election of judges, which has helped make the MN judiciary one of the best. The plan, which was the brainchild of our great populist forebearers, has worked far better than the Missouri Plan, which is loved primarily by political science professors, bar association types, and sitting judges. See, comments and numerous embedded links to our views on judicial selection at Annals of judicial selection.
Mitt's scapegoat -- the Tavares-Tuttman crisis. "It is a phenomenon as ugly as it is familiar. A defendant who has had his day in a Massachusetts court commits an unspeakable sin, and a furious parade of finger-pointers directs its ire toward the judge who was there when he walked free. Before long, there is an unpleasant feeding frenzy and logic has been inverted. The public is led to believe that the jurist's career has been an inevitable path toward a nefarious plot to unlock the prison doors and let thugs go free...." More (MA Lawyers Weekly - Editorial 11.29.2007). Earlier. Romney throws judge under campaign bus. Comment. Well-reasoned editorial that makes the following basic point:
The cold reality is that no matter how comprehensive and meticulous the reforms, this scenario will repeat itself. No degree of "toughness" can prevent every ghastly crime. The legal system is not, and never has been, a panacea for all of society's ills. A system with built-in humanity will sometimes pay the price of being fair.
Lawyer indicted on federal charge of bribing judge. "Richard F. Scruggs, a prominent trial lawyer who has been fighting insurance companies over payments for damage from Hurricane Katrina, was indicted yesterday by federal authorities on charges of offering a bribe of $50,000 to a Mississippi state judge[, Henry L. Lackey,] in a dispute over fees with another lawyer...The indictment...said Judge Lackey reported an attempt to bribe him to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and cooperated with investigators as payments were made...." More (NYT 11.29.2007). Update. "It seems Judge Henry L. Lackey, a deacon at First Baptist Church and a member of a state commission charged with ensuring judicial integrity, should be among the last people one would consider offering a bribe...." More (Sun-Herald 12.02.2007).
Details of rape victim's testimony about judicial insults. "A Saudi gang rape victim who was sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes was scolded by judges while police repeatedly dismissed her claims, she said in testimony published today...." More (ABC AU - 11.29.2007).
MN's largest judicial district announces hiring freeze, other cuts over budget shortfall. "The chief judge of the Fourth Judicial District today announced a hiring freeze and cuts in various services in an effort to make up what the Hennepin County court projects will be a $1.4 million budget deficit for the fiscal year ending in June...." More (Mpls Star-Tribune 11.29.2007). Comment. It is not unusual around the country for courts to announce cuts like this in an attempt to persuade lawmakers to fork over more money. Therefore, it's imperative for people outside the judicial system to carefully scrutinize the entire budget for the district or other governmental unit to determine independently if the claims and solutions are meritorious. But how do it? In order for a taxpayer to independently subject the court's budget to a basic cost-benefit analysis, he needs access to the court's detailed budget, not just the "lite" version of it that's typically made available to legislators and the public. In this regard, as I've said before, the ascension of the web as a tool for providing the free-flow of information is a great thing, not just for the democratization of the world, but for the greater democratization of already-open societies such as ours. Judicial independence is a cherished value, but so are the values of transparency and accountability. In Minnesota the court system has spent millions of dollars (I think too much) to develop a state-of-the-art statewide computer system that theoretically holds great promise for openness in government, provided the ordinary people -- you and I -- insist that the system be used for it. Thus far, in my opinion, the promise of such openness has not come to pass. But I foresee the day, in the not-too-distant future, when citizens will demand that each state court system and district court system put its detailed financial books and accounts online, and not just the aforementioned "lite" version; this would include the name and salary of every court employee, the unit-by-unit amounts spent on this or that, the monthly expense-account filings of each judge, the daily calendar of each judge and each court employee (after the fact), etc., etc. Further reading. Some of our many postings on judicial economics are posted at BurtLaw's Law & Judicial Economics. Other more-or-less relevant entries are scattered throughout this blog -- see, e.g., comment at Judge calls recess to deal with chewing gum crisis. If you scavenger enough, you will find many very specific entries. Here, e.g., are links to some of the many entries dealing with just one aspect of court budgets: judicial junkets: a) No belt-tightening for New Orleans judge traveling on public's money. b) Revelations about those junkets for federal judges. c) Judicial 'Educational' Junkets. d) Judges huddle in high style on taxpayers' money. e) Judicial junk-science junkets. f) The 'Wacky Courthouse' playground as alternative judicial retreat. g) Will Senator's response to junket exposé affect judicial junkets? h) Three Senators want to end judicial junkets. i) Judicial privileges. j) Some judges are more judicious in spending. k) Judges of troubled court head for the beach for 'education.' l) The annual convention of the state chief justices. m) Did MN judges use public funds for lessons on how to get re-elected? n) Annals of judicial junkets -- blowing $16,000, then quitting.
Courthouse archeology. "The asbestos and radon abatement in the basement of the Penobscot County Courthouse has revealed some hidden secrets, including an old tombstone with a poem scrawled on its back...While tunnels that were hidden by walls may be the most surprising discoveries, the tombstone is one of the most intriguing items left in the bowels of the courthouse...." More (Bangor News 11.29.2007).
Commission votes to remove judge for tantrum over cellphone ringing. "Yesterday, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended the removal of a judge in Niagara Falls City Court[, Robert M. Restaino,] who had what the commission's chairman called 'two hours of inexplicable madness' when a cellphone rang in his courtroom...." More (NYT 11.28.2007). Earlier. See, Judge who lost cool over cellphone ringing has immunity from suit. Comment. Back in March of 2005 Restaino, who is now 48 and has been a judge since 1996 without any other disciplinary problems, was presiding in domestic violence court when someone's cell phone or wrist-watch alarm went off. He retaliated by setting a higher bail amount for defendants who appeared before him because they didn't cooperate with him in identifying who was responsible. About 20 people spent an hour or more in lockup before Restaino released them. "Raoul L. Felder, the commission chairman...was the lone dissenter on the 10-member commission. He voted to censure the judge, though he excoriated his behavior in the report, calling it, among other things, 'two hours of viral lunacy.'... 'If we had the power to suspend, I would have voted to suspend him, but we don't...But to destroy a man's life because he snapped doesn't make any sense. This guy was 11 years a judge, 10 years a public defender, and seemed to have an exemplary record before this.'" I, of course, agree with Felder and hope that the N.Y. Court of Appeals (its final appellate court) imposes a lesser sanction. With respect to the judge's behavior, we remind all trial judges of BurtLaw Rule-of-Thumb #139 for avoiding discipline: Avoid using the contempt power altogether. The rule is a corollary of another rule, one we like to call, in our clever way, The Golden Rule, an obscure little rule that prompted us to oppose from the very outset the Bush Administration's nice little plan to allow the use of torture in interrogating and summary justice in trying "enemy military detainees" in its "War on Terror."
Surprise! MN's governor picks associate of his to be new SCOMN justice. "Christopher Dietzen, who helped Gov. Tim Pawlenty's first gubernatorial campaign when it ran into legal trouble and later became an appeals court judge, secured an appointment Tuesday for a seat on Minnesota's highest court...." More (Dickinson Press 11.27.2007). Comment. Isn't it curious how often it happens that in the opinion of the MN governor -- and it doesn't seem to matter who the governor is or what political party he represents -- the "best" person for a supreme court vacancy turns out to be either an associate or crony or former law firm partner or political ally? All of which is yet another good reason for retaining the safety valve provided to the people under the "Minnesota Plan" of judicial selection. See, extended comments and numerous embedded links to our views on judicial selection at Annals of judicial selection.
Annals of the history of judicial courage: the polka-dot stockings-short-skirt scandal. The year was 1993. A judge had just chastised a female solicitor for appearing in court wearing a suit with a short skirt and polka-dot stockings. The rightness of the judge's comment was being debated in the press. Tensions were high. Into the fray strutted a courageous female magistrate named Jennifer Coate. "Coate spent the next week wearing stockings that were 'most fantastically patterned'...ma[king] it her business to cross and re-cross the yard at the centre of the city court complex many times, smiling serenely." Says Judge Felicity Hampel, the colleague who recounted this event on news of Judge's Coate's being named the new state coroner, "She's never afraid to say or do what is right." More (The Age - AU 11.27.2007). Comment. I admire Judge Coate for what she did back in '93. It's the sort of thing I've been known to do, as when, many years ago, I stood up to a court administrator who insisted I give to the annual "United Way"-type combined-charities campaign. He wanted 100% participation, a prerequisite, I recall, to his being invited to a banquet for managers who got 100% participation from their employees. I said I didn't like it when employers pressured employees to contribute to charity, that coerced giving wasn't real giving, and moreover I liked to give to specific charities that mattered to me. He told me he needed 100% participation and was going to contribute $1 in my name, but I told him I'd raise a fuss if he did. I was a lowly law clerk & worried a bit that my "stand" might get me in trouble. Not to worry -- the secretary for the judge I clerked for told the administrator she wasn't giving either. Others said no, too. Sometimes one brave act sets off an avalanche. Sometimes it doesn't. No matter. If you don't take on bullies or bully broads on little matters, then a) you're not a man but a mouse, and b) their bullying will only increase. Further reading. a) John Updike's great short story, from 1961, A&P. (Want the easy-to-read Wikipedia summary of "A&P"? Click here.) b) Here's a link to a relevant poem by W.H. Auden that I first read as a student in Freshman English taught by the wonderful & beautiful then-twenty-something Elizabeth Breeland Rogers during the 1961-1962 school year at S.M.U. It's called The Unknown Citizen. Are you one?
Romney throws judge under campaign bus. "Throwing people under the bus is a required skill for politicians, but last week our former part-time governor and now full-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney threw one of his judicial appointees under the bus even before it had come into view...." These are the opening words by Kevin Cullen, an excellent columnist for the Boston Globe, in a piece titled Mitt takes the low road, criticizing him for calling for the resignation of a prosecutor-turned-judge in one of those bailed-suspect-gone-bad scenarios that give judges everywhere bad dreams. Cullen concludes: "Using Romney's [scapegoat] logic, he should resign, because he is the one who put Tuttman on the bench in the first place. But he doesn't have a position to resign from, so that's out." More (Boston Globe 11.26.2007). Comment. We've said it before -- see, MN judge under fire for bail decision not 'soft on crime' -- & we'll say it again: Too many people are too ready to blame a trial judge in specific or judges in general every time someone released on bail commits a crime. The judge in question in this case may or may not have made a mistake given the information provided to her by the prosecutor at the time bail was set. We'll see. But if every judge who's made a mistake were to resign, we'd have courthouses without judges. A worse nightmare, in our view, than that described here by a MN judge is of a judge being too mindful of what the late Justice Seán O'Leary described as judges being too ready to bow to popular opinion over prosecution and punishment of people accused of crimes. See, Top judge posthumously criticises Supreme Court for lack of independence. Update. Two top Mass. justices speak out against 'vilification' of Tuttman (Boston Globe 12.01.20070.
How did computer discs with personal info about judges go missing? "Jack Straw's Ministry of Justice has launched an internal investigation into allegations that judges' personal details were sent out in the post on unencrypted computer discs. A newspaper reported that the discs contained 55,000 files containing names, bank account details and addresses of judges, magistrates, barristers and solicitors...." More (UK Guardian 11.26.2007).
When judges dole out other people's money. "Judges all over the country have gotten into the business of doling out leftover class-action settlement money, sometimes to organizations only tangentially related to the subject of the lawsuit. Hospitals are popular, as are law schools and legal aid societies. The practice is getting out of hand, said Samuel Issacharoff, a law professor at New York University...." Details at Adam Liptak, Doling out other people's money (NYT 11.26.2007).
Struggling to maintain the rule of law in a lawless society. "Lawlessness is so pervasive [in Nigeria] that it is not only a feature but another name for the country...Though Nigerian courts are manned by people from the same generally degenerated Nigerian society, they (particularly the appellate ones) have over years proved to be relatively better than the other arms of government...." Mamman L. Yusufari in Nigeria: Restoring rule of law (Daily Trust via All Africa 11.26.2007). Comment. This op/ed piece brings to mind the great speech by Judge Learned Hand titled "The Spirit of Liberty," where he said:
Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow. What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.
Learned Hand (1872-1961), "The Spirit of Liberty," speech at an "I Am an American Day" ceremony, Central Park, New York City, May 21, 1944; L. Hand, The Spirit of Liberty 190 (Irving Dilliard, ed. 1952). More quotes at BurtLaw's Greatest Quotes on Law.
A bad idea from England. "Ministers will outline plans this week to boost the rate of convictions in rape cases by countering myths that may sway juries in cases of sexual assault. Vera Baird, QC, the Solicitor-General, wants juries in rape trials to be issued with 'myth-busting' packs that would demolish notions such as that women who drink or dress provocatively are 'asking for it.'" More (UK Times 11.26.2007). Comment. What a bad idea. Will the "packet" also give the jurors information on the large numbers of claims by women of sexual assault that, on further investigation, have turned out to be false? See, entry titled Crying wolf. See, also, the eye-opening piece of reportage of the same title by Christie Blatchford in the National Post several years ago.
Defense lawyer's 'missed connection' entry on CraigsList.Org. "From the Baltimore 'missed connections' page on craigslist.org: 'You were #4 on the jury but first in my mind! I know you didn't want to be there but I just couldn't bring myself to strike you...I could not stop staring at you through the whole trial. Of course you have a great body and sexy demeanor, but it was [your] sultry eyes and rich, luxurious skin that made me lose track of what I was arguing...thanks for the verdict!'" More (Baltimore Sun 11.25.2007). Comment. Even judges keep their eyes open during trials. Consider this entry from BurtLaw's Law & Love:
"I would fall for a girl merely because she has fine ankles and a clear voice, I who have maintained that the most wretched error in all romances is this invariable belief that because a girl has a good nose and a smooth skin, therefore she will be agreeable to live with and -- well, make love to. The insanity that causes even superior men (meaning judges) to run passionately after magpies with sterile hearts. This, after the revelations of female deception I've seen in divorce proceedings. I am corrupted by sentimentality." Trial Court Judge Cass Timberlane of Grand Republic, Minnesota, thinking about an attractive female witness in Sinclair Lewis, Cass Timberlane 5 (1945).
A look back at a judge who refused to resign after being convicted of bribery. "Justice Gavin W. Craig, who sat on the state appellate court about 70 years ago in Los Angeles, made his mark on history not through his judicial opinions but through his own legal woes and a penchant for persistence. When Craig refused to leave the bench after his 1935 felony conviction on bribery charges, opponents launched a drive to remove him and fomented a change in the California Constitution...." More (L.A. Times 11.25.2007).
Grilling the justices -- at a CLE event. "Texas' Supreme Court justices aren't in the habit of defending their judicial records, much less from lawyers grilling them as they would an uncooperative witness. But that's just what happened in September at a continuing education event at Horseshoe Bay Resort hosted by the Dallas Bar Association, where lawyers peppered two justices with questions about their impartiality. Sample query: Do the justices hunt for plaintiff victories in appeal courts just so they can overturn them?" More (Dallas Morning News 11.25.2007).
Another pricey new courthouse? "The price of a new federal courthouse for downtown San Diego has ballooned to $310 million, making it the third-most expensive U.S. courthouse on the books. Advertisement Court officials are asking for an additional $80 million from Congress, after all bids exceeded the existing $230 million construction budget this year...." More (San Diego Union-Tribune 11.24.2007). Comment. A modest proposal: The $310 million would build a third of a new football stadium. Since football stadia are typically used only only on weekends, why not spend a little more and build a Swiss-knife sort of stadium/courthouse or, if you prefer, courthouse/stadium. The feds could lease weekday use of the "courthouse" to the state for $1 a year. Prominent "show trials" -- those involving celebrities, show biz personalities, and suspected terrorists -- could be held in the stadium. Even if admission were free, the profits from concessions alone would fund the entire CA court system for a year and help build more and more prisons to house third-strikers. Moreover, and this is the good part, appellate courts engaged in Minnesota-style judicial outreach (as in holding arguments in high school auditoria and law school courtrooms several times a year) could hear arguments there before, say, 60,000 people. What's that? -- Ah, I seem to hear the ghost of Justice James C. ("Pussywillow") McReynolds whispering softly, "If you build it, the people will come!"
Courthouse TV - coming soon to your local cable channel? "From a desk full of monitors in the basement of the Baltimore County courthouse, Lt. Tony Chambers watched one recent morning as lawyers argued a case, people got on and off the elevators, and an incarcerated defendant preened and danced in a holding cell. Then, using a device similar to a video game joystick, he panned across several blocks in Towson that surround the courthouse, zooming in on buildings and license plates of individual cars...." More (Baltimore Sun 11.24.2007). Comment. When I get it, I'm tuning in to the subchannels focusing on judges' chambers.
UN rep. tells Pakistan it must reinstate deposed judges. "Pakistan must reinstate all the judges dismissed under emergency rule or endure a 'twisted form of democracy' where the judiciary is utterly subservient to the executive, UN human rights boss Louise Arbour said on Thursday...." More (Reuters 11.23.2007).
He's 87 years young. There's a profile of Justice Stevens in today's L.A. Times that's worth reading. U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement is quoted saying, "He seems to get younger every year." He turned 87 last week and apparently shows no signs of 'losing it." Only Holmes, who retired at 90, served to an older age. We're glad there's no mandatory retirement of SCOTUS judges and we hope he keeps chugging.
Another judge gets caught saying something he shouldn't have said. This time it's an Aussie county court judge, with over 20 years' experience. Dismissing a victim impact statement as a "waste of time" and commenting on a statement by "a young man, who was sexually assaulted by an older male from the age of 13" that he might not recover, the judge reportedly said: "He wouldn't have done well in a British public school in the '30s. He says this will haunt him until he's 40...Greek society was founded on young men being seduced in relationships with older men...The majority of people who suffer this kind of incident at some stage in their life simply get over it and think no more of it...." The judge also reportedly said that "both of them acquired illicit pleasure." We don't know the underlying facts and haven't heard from the judge but the Aussie press reports that "the head of Victoria's sexual offences prosecution unit, Michelle Williams, SC, yesterday confronted Judge Michael Kelly about his comments, which she said were 'clearly inappropriate.'" More (The Age 11.23.2007).
Another Aussie judge speaks out, about judges. The judge is Retired High Court Judge Ian Callinan. Speaking in Brisbane to some arbitrators and mediators, he said, inter alia, a) every judge brings "philosophical baggage" to a case involving a constitutional issue and has an obligation to "be absolutely candid about it" and about "their real reasons for deciding [the] case"; b) High Court judgements are "too long, too wordy and too numerous"; c) cases are "taking too long and costing too much money." More (ABC Australia 11.23.2007). Comment. "Your Honor, the defense respectfully requests, pursuant to People v. Armond Pouissaint, that the court provide full disclosure of its philosophical baggage before trial."
Officer recommends public reprimand of Boston judge who won libel verdict. "A hearing officer yesterday released a report recommending that Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy be publicly reprimanded for 'conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and unbecoming of a judicial officer' in sending two bizarre and 'threatening' letters to the publisher of the Boston Herald...." More (Boston Herald 11.22.2007).
Should we allow babies to serve as jurors? "Babies as young as 6 to 10 months old showed crucial social judging skills before they could talk, according to a study by researchers at Yale University's Infant Cognition Center published in [the] journal Nature...." The babies, for example, can tell the difference between naughty & nice. More (MSNBC 11.21.2007). Comment. If we allow babies to serve as jurors, then we ought to consider allowing dogs to serve, too, because, to paraphrase Holmes (Oliver Wendell, Jr., not Katie), even a dog can tell the difference between being kicked and being tripped over.
Annals of random case assignments. "[Georgia's] Hall County Clerk of Court Dwight Wood turned the crank of a wire-frame tumbler containing 24 numbered pingpong balls backward four times, then forward once. A ball fell into a cup and rolled down a metal chute. The number on the ball -- four -- meant the circuit's newest superior court judge, Jason Deal, could preside over his first death penalty case...." More (Gainseville Times 11.22.2007). Comment. Three judges were in the lottery. The defendant watched as the random ping-pong-ball judge-selection process took place. My opinion: given the seeming randomnness with which the death penalty is administered around our death-penalty-happy country, the use of the ping-pong-ball randomization process to select the judge seems appropriate. Further reading. See, my position paper on Crime & Punishment, which I wrote in my failed anti-war campaign for the GOP nomination in the Third Congressional District in MN in 2004.
Judges walk out in protest over chief's officiating. "Controversy erupted at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall on Sunday night in the final bout of the Guyana Karate Federation's (GKF) national championsips with two of the corner judges walking out in protest over the officiating of the chief referee in the bout between Lennox Brummell and David Hardy...." More (Stabroek News 11.22.2007). Comment. Appellate judges, any of you ever felt like walking out in protest over "the Chief's" manner of officiating during oral argument or presiding in closed conference? C'mon, tell the truth....
Learn any 'life lessons' while judging? Judge J. Miles Sweeney, Greene County (Missouri) Circuit Court, who's retired after 23 years as judge, spoke the other day to the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association on the topic "What I learned in my 23 years on the bench." According to this report in the News-Leader (11.22.2007), the chief lesson he learned was "Be nice to that lawyer across the table. He/she might be your next judge." Comment. Everyone, not just judges, should feel free to make such a list. Your list maybe will be just as interesting as, maybe moreso than, the typical judge's list. Here's one we'd have to include if we were to compile a similar list of not ours but JFK's "life lessons": "Life is unfair. Some people are sick and others are well." More (Press Conference 03.21.1962).
Annals of Irish court shredding contractors. "The Courts Service has apologised to the public after two bags of mail sent to the Four Courts were shredded by mistake. The mail was delivered to the Four Courts in Dublin on Tuesday and was collected in error by the contractor responsible for destroying confidential documents. The contractor dumped the mail in an on-site industrial shredder before anyone realised what had happened. The mix-up was captured on CCTV...." More (Irish Times 11.22.2007). Comment. "Your Honor, I sent my papers and a check for the fine on time. They must have been among those shredded by mistake...."
Judge is charged with misuse of campaign funds. "Clark County District Court Judge Lee Gates is facing legal trouble. The Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission has filed two formal charges against the veteran judge over his...allegedly us[ing] his own [campaign] funds to help fellow judges who were running for office...." More (KLAS-TV 11.22.2007).
Part-time NJ municipal judge's aide admits subprime mortgage fraud. "A legal assistant to Garfield's long-time municipal court judge pleaded guilty yesterday to federal tax fraud charges in connection with a widespread mortgage scam tied to the judge. [The woman] waived indictment and admitted preparing fake mortgage settlement documents in exchange for more than $50,000 in cash and checks that she never reported on her income tax returns...." The judge in question has not been indicted. More (Star-Ledger 11.21.2007).
Ongoing mystery: who killed judge, wife and neighbor? Four-and-a-half months ago retired Tax Court chief justice Alban Garon, 77, his wife Raymonde, 73, and their neighbour, Marie-Claire Beniskos, 78, were murdered in the 10th-story two-bedroom Ottawa condo owned by the judge and his wife. Police still are investigating. An update (Globe and Mail 11.20.2007).
Former associate justice seeks GOP nomination for governor. Bob Orr, who was a justice on North Carolina's supreme court is seeking the GOP nomination for the race for governor. In a newspaper article he tells what he thinks his judicial opinions and dissents during ten years on the court say about him. More (Asheville Citizen-Times 11.21.2007). Comment. Back in 1946, when gambling was still called a racket, Luther Youngdahl resigned his position as state supreme court justice in Minnesota to run successfully for governor, promising to clean illegal one-armed bandits out of country clubs, bars and other "establishments." On taking office in 1947, he did just that. Minnesota did well without legalized gambling for many years. Indeed, it was a better state in so many ways before it got the gambling bug. I've never visited a casino and odds are high I never will.
Did judge issue blank warrants for probation officers to fill in? "The state added more charges Tuesday against a powerful judge in a rural [GA] county whose practices are being investigated, alleging that he signed blank warrants and gave them to probation officers throughout his circuit. The state's Judicial Qualifications Commission claims the blank probation arrest warrants were used 'numerous times' when Clinch County Superior Court Judge Brooks E. Blitch III wasn't available to sign completed warrants...." More (Fox News 11.21.2007).
Annals of informal, de facto punishment of judges for misconduct. "The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has called on lawyers to socially boycott judges who took oath under emergency regulations because they had "betrayed the nation" and caused 'irreparable damage' to the constitution and judiciary...." More (The Hindu 11.21.2007). Comment. Wikipedia has a good entry on shunning. I'm a rugged individualist. My mom taught me to not be a joiner, to dare to be different, to never be afraid to say no, and to never follow the crowd. Thomas Jefferson said it all better than I can: "I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." And so I'm not big on joining groups and I'm not big on informal group sanctions, such as shunning, against members for supposed misdeeds. So often the group is wrong. To give a sad example, there are those -- many of them members of the bar and the judiciary -- who discourage lawyers from offering themselves to the voters in those states in which by constitution the voters are the ultimate appointers of judges. Some of these sad folks even shun those who have the audacity to step forward in this way. So I'm not a shamer or a shunner. I'd rather send my individual praise to those who do what I think is right than join some group in shaming or shunning someone the group decides is wrong. As a tribute to those who have the courage to do the right thing -- including the other judges in Pakistan, the many who refused to swear fealty to General Musharraf -- I offer in tribute this little sermonette by the great William James on the theme of civic courage:
That lonely kind of courage (civic courage as we call it in times of peace) is the kind of valor to which the monuments of nations should most of all be reared, for the survival of the fittest has not bred it into the bone of human beings as it has bred military valor; and of five hundred of us who could storm a battery side by side with others, perhaps not one would be found ready to risk his wordly fortunes all alone in resisting an enthroned abuse. The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their borders. And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks. Such nations have no need of wars to save them. Their accounts with righteousness are always even; and God's judgments do not have to overtake them fitfully in bloody spasms and convulsions of the race.
If a woodman won't spare a great tree, maybe a judge will do it. "A judge granted a reprieve to the chestnut tree that comforted Anne Frank as she hid from the Nazis, ruling in favor of conservationists who want to stop its being felled. Judge Jurjen Bade said Amsterdam officials should look into ways to save the 150-year-old tree and not proceed with plans to chop it down today...." More (NYT 11.21.2007).
Judge gets 3 years for conspiring to launder mob money. "[David Gross, 45, a] former Nassau County judge was sentenced to nearly 3 years in prison for conspiring to launder more than $400,000 for members of the Genovese crime family...." More (MSNBC 11.20.2007).
Taiwan blocks Chinese judge's appointment to WTO court. "The appointment of a Chinese judge to the highest court in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been blocked by Taiwan in a surprise decision...." More (BBC News 11.20.2007). Update. Taiwan relents (Taipei News 11.29.2007).
High court judge is charged with accepting bribes. "[O]n Tuesday, Perak Syariah High Court Judge Hassan Basri Markum had his first taste of standing in the dock at a Sessions Court here as an accused. Hassan Basri, 53, was charged with five counts of corruption for soliciting, accepting and agreeing to accept RM5,200 worth of bribes...." More (Malaysia Star 11.20.2007).
Judge takes telemarketer's call while on bench. "Judge: Who is calling? Caller: That does not matter.. just listen to the plan. Judge: Will you please shut up? Caller: You shut up...(and the caller put the phone down)...." More (Times of India 11.20.2007).
Former judge under fire for relying on adverse possession to get title to neighbor's land. "More than 200 people protested outside the home of a couple who added more than 1,400 square feet of their neighbors' land to their own property using a centuries-old legal doctrine. Some protesters carried signs Sunday outside the home of Richard McLean and Edith Stevens that read, 'You'll never enjoy a stolen view.' Others yelled 'shame' and 'thief.'" McLean is a former district court judge and former mayor of Boulder, CO. More (Denver Post 11.20.2007). Further reading. The Great Boulder Land Grab (Rocky Mountain News 11.20.2007). Hard Feelings on Hardscrabble Drive (Daily Camera 11.20.2007). Adverse Possession (Wikipedia). Comment. The news articles refer to the doctrine of adverse possession as an obscure doctrine. I recall my first-year property law teacher at Harvard Law, W. Barton Leach, spending the first week of class the fall of 1964 using the doctrine as a tool to teach us how to deal with property law issues. A famous Hollywood lawyer, Bertram Fields, HLS Class of 1952, recalled Leach doing the same in the fall of his first year:
Fields recalls an important lesson he learned from HLS Professor W. Barton Leach '24. "Leach devoted the first week to teaching us the doctrine of adverse possession." He then asked the class whether anyone took issue with what they had heard. "When nobody disagreed, he said, 'None of you will succeed as lawyers. I will now present the argument I would make for the other side.' He proceeded to demolish everything we'd learned so far." Leach's student went on to use this lesson in his career.
HLS Names in Lights (Harvard Law School Alumni Bulletin Spring 1998). Update. Report: Another former Boulder judge, Marsha Yeager, also acquired property by adverse possession in dispute with neighbor over boundary (MyFoxColorado 11.22.2007).
Has Norway gotten too big for its britches? "Around a table at Ingebretsen's, an 86-year-old market stocked with Norwegian staples like lutefisk, meatballs and fruit soup, the women of the Monday knitting club were upset. Ingebretsen's not only stocks Norwegian staples but also is home to a Monday knitting club. 'This is a bit of a slap in the face,' Janet Rog, 74, said of Norway's recent announcement that it would shut its career consulate here next year and send the diplomats home...." More (NYT 11.20.2007). Comment. It's not difficult for Norwegians to get too big for their britches -- excessive pride is one of our main vices (and I can say it because I'm 100% Norwegian) -- so I'm not surprised by this story. See, BurtLaw's Law & Norwegians. Back in the 19th century, Norway was an impoverished country. A large number of its poorest inhabitants -- mostly peasants -- made their way to Minnesota, known in Norwegian emigrant literature as "the Glorious New Scandinavia." It is a commonly-mouthed myth that Norwegians "made" Minnesota. Truth is Minnesota -- Land of Genetic Liberation -- "made" these Norwegians, liberating them to become "whatever thing their manhood and vigor could combine to make them" (Thomas Wolfe). In the process, Norway, then the equivalent of one of today's Third World countries, slowly found itself basking in the glow of the reputation earned by its castoffs in Minnesota. Now rich in oil wealth, the cheapskate Norwegians in Norway say the paltry $2 million a year it costs to keep the consulate open for the Norwegians in Minnesota is too much. Ah, how soon they forget -- the ingrates! When the Norskies run out of oil & once again need to attract tourists from Minnesota, perhaps they'll put on their false humility and come begging, reopening the consulate, etc. Until then, while I'd never advocate that others boycott Norway, I'll personally be boycotting Norway -- which will be easy since I've never been there & have no plans to go there. BTW, one might have thought that our Ambassador to Norway, a wealthy Minnesotan who got the job from Bush as a reward for his and his family's political services to the Grand Old Party, might have persuaded the Norwegians not to do this. But, not so. Well, our GOP Ambassador won't advocate it, but I will: let's break off diplomatic relations with Norway, withdraw Ambassador Whitney, close the Embassy there, and expel Norway's diplomatic corps from the U.S. And then let the sanctimonious Norwegians come begging and whining for our help again, as you know they will, next time they get invaded -- or when their oil wells run dry. And, of course, we'll save the dumb asses. We always do. Why? Because, my friends, we're the good guys. Always have been, always will be. :-)
Passing on the family judicial torch. "When James Cowlin is sworn in as McHenry County's newest judge early next month, he...will be the third generation of his family to put on a black judge's robe in McHenry County, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather...." More (Chicago Daily Herald 11.19.2007).
Judge allegedly strips her cousin naked in public over cousin's alleged affair with hubby. "A female chief magistrate yesterday went berserk at the Federal Staff Hospital in Garki II, Abuja. She physically assaulted her 15-year-old cousin,...stripping her naked and inflicting other bodily harm on her. The judge, who was later identified as -----, was angry with her cousin for allegedly sleeping with her husband and attempting to destroy her marriage...." More (Leadership via All Africa - Nigeria 11.19.2007).
The new 'lawyers lounge' at courthouse. "Lawyers should enjoy the lawyers lounge that opened on Friday at the new Collin County Courthouse. They paid for it. Lawyers from different Collin County law firms celebrated the opening by stopping by the lounge to acknowledge the various lawyers and law firms that privately funded the room. More than 35 lawyers and law firms contributed more than $45,000 to furnish and equip the lounge...." More (McKinney Courier-Gazette Star - TX 11.19.2007). Comment. Since each courthouse is "the people's courthouse," we trust there is also a "peoples lounge," similarly equipped.
Annals of courthouse security: protecting our clerks of court. "Renovations to increase security in the clerk of courts offices at the Fond du Lac City County Government Center are underway. About a quarter of the funding for the $202,000 renovation project will be used for bulletproof glass and counters in the clerk of courts offices on the second floor, said County Executive Allen Buechel. A door that will require a keypad password for entry will be installed, securing the area from the general public, he said...." More (Fond du Lac Reporter 11.19.2007). Comment. For some of my dissenting views on the current courthouse security hysteria, see, comments and embedded links at Lawyers will be screened at courthouse. And, see, the classic post-09.11 Onion "story" from 10.03.2001: Security Beefed Up at Cedar Rapids Public Library.
Proposed 'reforms' by justice minister in Israel are under attack. "Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann came under fire this weekend from former Supreme Court justices Aharon Barak and Mishael Cheshin for his effort to draft a bill that would restrict the Supreme Court from ruling on political, security and budget matters, among others...Cheshin...call[s] the justice minister 'a bull rioting in a china shop.'" More (Haaretz 11.18.2007). Comment. In recent years the supreme court in Israel has been the bravest & one of the best in the world -- better than ours. The "reforms" proposed are similar, in some ways, to the jurisdiction-stripping "reforms" proposed by the radical religious right-wing in the U.S.
Update. "Former Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak said on Saturday that thanks to the development and application of judicial tools such as "proportionality" and "reasonability" by the High Court of Justice, Israel has been far more successful in protecting human rights while fighting terrorism than the United States...." More (Jerusalem Post 11.25.2007).
Our gullible court systems -- in re 'experts.' "Our blind faith in scientific opinion makes us reluctant to question pronouncements by 'experts,' but while the law requires everyone from plumbers to nurses to be trained, registered and checked, there is no such requirement for witnesses who may be pronouncing on matters of life and death in court. A study by senior barrister Penny Cooper of City University in London, has shown that the majority of lawyers and judges do not bother to check the qualifications of experts they approach to bolster an aspect of their case...." More (UK Times 11.18.2007). Comment. As a result of judges' gullibility, sometimes innocent people get convicted as the result of bogus testimony by bogus experts who slant their testimony to support the case of their paymaster.
Missouri's troubled 'Missouri Plan.' "The commission is made up of three members elected by the Missouri Bar Association and three members selected by the governor -- each serving six-year terms. The seventh member? The sitting chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. Is it a good idea to have our most powerful judges determined largely by a private organization?...And why have the governor appoint people to a commission which appoints people for the governor to appoint? A tad circuitous, no? And why have someone on the current court deciding who sits on the future court? You can see what this seems like: an insider game, a stacked deck...." -- From an 11.18.2007 column in Town Hall by Paul Jacob. Comment. We agree with his critique of the commission process but not with his proposed solution. We think he should go a step further & propose adoption of the Minnesota Plan of direct elections of judges, which has produced far better trial courts and better appellate courts than those in Missouri. See, comments and numerous embedded links at Annals of judicial selection: stacking appointment commissions.
In re Bhutto's sorry record on judicial independence. "Eminent lawyer Mohammad Akram Sheikh...said in Pakistan...the relationship between the executive and the judiciary has always been tense. The executive has never wanted an independent judiciary...He said the bar and the judiciary are two wheels of the carriage called law. Unfortunately, governments have failed to put men of proven integrity into higher seats of justice. There are no exceptions. Benazir Bhutto, Sheikh reminded his audience, suspended 42 judges. She placed incompetent, partisan and ill-qualified men in higher courts...." More (Daily Times - Pakistan 11.18.2007).
She wasn't first to sit on judge's lap! "The judge later admitted she wasn't the first to appear in chambers and sit on his lap. But when she did, 3-year-old Heaven Billingsley was probably the most thoroughly photographed. It was Saturday, and it was, after all, National Adoption Day...." More (Atlanta Journal-Constitution 11.18.2007).
Courthouse fashion trends: orange earplugs. "Neon-orange earplugs linked with a bright blue cord, provided by Court Administrator Kathy Lloyd, have become necessary for staff this week to muffle the racket signaling the first stages of the courthouse expansion, scheduled to continue until at least the end of next year...." More (Columbia Tribune - MO 11.18.2007).
Judge wants government to replace his Mercedes with a Porsche. "Controversial Cape Judge President John Hlophe wants the government to buy him a...Porsche-Cayenne S costing more than R828 000. Judges are entitled to use a luxury vehicle bought and maintained by the state for official and unofficial purposes...." More (IOL 11.17.2007).
Judge's secretary gets sentenced for stealing $46,000+ from judge's office. "[Barbara Shaffer, a] 52-year-old former secretary for [Robert Breakiron,] a Fayette County district judge[,] was sentenced to five years' intermediate punishment, including at least one year's house arrest, for stealing from the judge's office...." More (Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader 11.17.2007).
MN announces limited access to docket. "The state judicial branch is launching a public access system that allows Web users to find basic information about court cases, without having to make a trip to the courthouse...." But if you want to read motions, etc., you'll have to travel to the courthouse. More (St. Paul Pioneer-Press 11.17.2007). Comment. It's taken way too long for the court to get this up and running, and the info available is way too limited. It's a start to greater openness via the internet, but, sadly, just a Johnny-come-lately start. Much, much more openness is needed. Further reading. See, my comments and embedded links at the posting titled Letting the sun shine in.
Judge is removed from sheikh's divorce case after making mocking remarks. "A high court judge who made allegedly mocking remarks about a sheikh involved in a multi-million pound divorce was today ordered to step down from the case...." Mr. Justice Singer, a family court judge, made a number of remarks that offended the sheikh, including referring to the sheikh departing on his "flying carpet" and saying the sheikh should be able to attend hearing during this "relatively fast-free time of the year." The judge has apologized. More (UK Guardian 11.15.2007). Update. Here's a link to the decision removing the judge (UK Times 11.23.2007). Lord Justice Ward, speaking for Lord Justices Mummery and Wilson, does a good job of delicately showing why Justice Singer's patience was tested and of explaining why the court had to criticize his statements, much as it understood them: "Making every allowance for the jocularity of the judge's comments, one could not, in this day and age, allow those remarks to go unchallenged. They were not only regrettable, and his Lordship unreserverdly expressed his regret to the sheikh, they were also unacceptable." That phrase "in this day and age" is very telling.
Judge comes under fire for suggesting some court services be 'privatised.' "Chief Wayne Circuit Judge Mary Beth Kelly is stepping down as head of the court after six years. It says something about the climate of local government in southeast Michigan that the main reason for her decision is a run-in with a county government labor union over bringing efficiency to the court. Kelly has come under intense fire for proposing to seek bids from private firms to do the work of the county's inept Friend of the Court office, which handles child support payments and other issues related to the children of single parents...." More (Detroit News - editorial 11.15.2007).
Sixteen judges recuse. "Sixteen federal judges, all the eligible judges in north Alabama, agreed Wednesday to step aside from presiding over the criminal contempt case of Mississippi lawyer Richard Scruggs, who raised concerns of fairness because his prosecution originated from a fellow jurist...." More (Birmingham News 11.15.2007).
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has an op/ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal in which she repeats what she's been saying around the country about judicial elections being a threat to judicial independence. Dan Pero, a former member of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, disagrees with O'Connor's critique. In an op/ed piece in The Washington Times (11.15.2007), he responds to her views, in relevant part as follows:
Until recently, the election of judges was mainly a private affair confined only to members of the state's legal and media establishment. Lawyers' groups like State Bar Associations would give judicial candidates a 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down.' And editorial boards, taking their cue from the Bar, would hand out endorsements. With voters now starting to notice, many, including Justice O'Connor, want to remove 'politics' (meaning the people) from the equation by pushing a plan for governors to choose from a list of candidates proposed by an unelected outside commission accountable to no one. Anyone want to guess who will dominate those commissions?
And here's what Colin McKnickle says, in part, in an (11.18.2007) op/ed piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
"Judicial independence" left to be decided by elitist "independent commissions" -- is there any other kind and are they not usually stacked, packed and stuffed either to the left or in pursuit of some preconceived end? -- is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to establish a third branch of government not independent of influence but shielded from public accountability. "Merit selection" is meritless.
Call someone a 'witch' and it's easy to dispose of him. "In parts of Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic, a surprising number of children are accused of being witches, and then are beaten, abused or abandoned. Child advocates estimate that thousands of children living in the streets of Kinshasa, Congo's capital, have been accused of witchcraft and cast out by their families, often as a rationale for not having to feed or care for them...." More (NYT 11.15.2007). Comments. a) It's tempting to read article like this -- with a family irrationally blaming a young boy for his father's death, labeling the boy a "witch," and expelling him from the community after being prevented from throwing him into the river to drown -- and shake our heads and say, "Boy, what primitive people." b) Alas, we all have a primitive streak. One way we human beings sometimes respond to chaos or uncertainty or tragedy is to quickly direct blame for it on someone who is weak or different. We treat that someone as an "other," as someone less than human, thereby making it easier to justify to ourselves that it's okay to kill the person or lock him up and throw away the key. c) Our increasing harshness in the treatment of convicted criminals in recent years in general results from two things: i) politicians learned from President Nixon and George H.W. Bush that being "tough on crime" is a cheap way to win votes, and ii) too many people think in terms of criminals as "others," forgetting that the man in the dock someday might be their son or daughter or sister or brother. While rereading some of my favorite Whitman poems awhile ago, I came across a striking line in "Song of Myself" that I'd underlined: "Not a youngster is taken for larceny but I go up too, and am tried and sentenced." If politicians and legislators and judges thought of the person in the dock as "one of their own," rather than as "the other," their attitudes and their policies might change. But, of course, when "one of their own" is in the dock, "the system" maybe isn't always so tough because, as we all know, "much depends on whose ox is being gored." More at BurtLaw on Crime & Punishment - Law & Capital Punishment - Law & Kids. d) A prediction: the day will come when we will look back on the current hysterical approach to those who commit sex crimes in the same way we react when reading Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. See, in this connection, my mini-essay titled My eccentric views on putting a scarlet letter on judges who view porn.
Judge who sued for $54m over lost trousers is not reappointed. "Roy Pearson's term as an administrative law judge in Washington DC expired on 2 May and the selection commission voted not to reappoint him...." More (BBC News 11.14.2007).
Will a judge agree to enter a 'political minefield'? "The judge who led the inquiry into the Liberal sponsorship scandal says a public probe into the relationship between Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber [in Canada] is a political minefield that he wouldn't touch and doubts other judges will, either. 'To be honest with you, I think quite a few judges would say, 'No, this isn't for me,'' said John Gomery, a retired Quebec Superior Court judge...." More (Globe and Mail 11.14.2007).
Want to rent the historic courthouse for a wedding reception? The fee schedule for the rental of the historic Washington County Courthouse has been set for the 2009-2010 "season." That's right, 2009-2010. The courtroom apparently is a popular venue for a wedding reception or for a wedding ceremony + reception. It'll now set you back $1,300 on a Friday, $1,500 on a Saturday. Use of the courtroom is around $500 less if you just hold a ceremony sans reception there. More (Woodbury Bulletin 11.14.2007). Further details. Washington County Historic Courthouse Wedding and Special Events Rentals.
Judge Buck Owens sentenced him to a day without a smoke, saved his lungs. "When 'Judge Buck' sentenced me to a day without a cigarette, I wanted to comply but wasn't sure I could make it. However, I did, and then wondered if I could abstain for two days, a week, a month, a year, an eternity. It was the hardest thing I've ever done...." -- From a column by Bob Bentley recalling the "sentence" imposed by Judge Buck Owens, the country music star, on him 20 years ago in the Bakersfield (CA) Courthouse 20 years ago in connection with the Great American Smokeout. More (Greenwood Index Journal - SC 11.14.2007).
Is where you sit and wait a sign of where judge stands? "Azerbaijani courts allow prosecutors to sit in the court halls and judge's studies, whereas the defenders must wait in vestibules, said Alan Gabel, an American Lawyers Association (ALA) expert on criminal legislation. He drew attention to this problem while addressing a training course for judges on 12 November...." More (Trendaz.Com 11.13.2007).
Courthouse construction scandal. "New court documents give more information about the suspected money laundering operation that was part of the Metro Courthouse construction scandal. Former court administrator Tobias Martinez, his wife and three others are accused of diverting more than $4 million in courthouse construction money to themselves...." More (KOAT-TV - Albuquerque 11.13.2007).
Jazz fans upset by closing of Courthouse. "The decision by the operators of Live@Courthouse to permanently close the 150-seat, Adelaide St. E. venue as a jazz club means the local scene is once again without a large capacity room...." More (Toronto Star 11.12.2007).
Nevadan is named associate justice of Palau Supreme Court. "President Remengesau appointed Russell Marsh, a Chief of the Criminal Division in the United States Attorney's Office in Las Vegas, Nevada as the new Associate Justice of the Supreme Court...The president said that Marsh's previous work in Yap and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Ireland makes him a candidate who knows and honors diverse traditions and cultures...." More (Marianas Variety - Micronesia 11.12.2007). Comment. Why an outsider among the Palauans on the court? The president is quoted saying, "Palauans are very closely related to each other and this is a very small population. Hence, conflicts of interests arise with the Palauan justices and it is necessary at times to appoint off-island part time associate justices to sit on cases." I checked back. The government's posting advertising the position stated the benefits as follows: "$80,000 U.S. Dollars, housing, relocation costs, and a health insurance stipend" and listed qualifications as "a sense of adventure, an acute legal mind, and a commitment to the thoughtful development of Palauan law [and a]t least five years quality legal experience." Want to know more about Palau? Click here (Wikipedia).
The courthouse turnip seed prank. "Fall is turnip season. Each year around this time, I'm reminded of a story...involving turnips, pranksters and the Jasper County Courthouse lawn in the fall of 1933. The previous year, President Herbert Hoover had set up the Reconstruction Finance Corp. to provide more than $1 billion in federal money to initiate projects that would increase employment and help communities recover from the 1929 stock market crash. Some of that help had arrived in Carthage in the form of a beautification project (matched with county money) for the courthouse lawn. As work on the retaining wall and filling in of the lawn neared completion, several men, including Judge Tom Phelps, jokingly discussed what a good turnip bed it would make. August 'Augie' Brueggemann, a stone mason who had been working on the wall, took the joking seriously. He bought 4 pounds of turnip seed from Earl Tucker's seed store, claiming...." Want the conclusion? Read Jo Ellis' column in the Joplin, MO Globe (11.12.2007).
The pathologist with the 'almost magical power to impress people.' "Dr. Smith has an almost magical power to impress people, like a minister who is capable of captivating a crowd. Other pathologists, judges, police, prosecutors and jurors abandoned their usual skepticism and fell under his sway. Jurors were extremely impressed by his testimony. Even some defence lawyers were so taken in by Smith that they did not challenge his credentials, or overly challenge his opinions." -- Journalist Harold Levy on Dr. Charles Smith, the pathologist whose alleged mistakes are the subject of an inquiry in Toronto that begins today into 20 murder convictions in which Smith's testimony played a role. More (Globe & Mail 11.12.2007).
Judge wins gift basket in raffle, donates it to woman who's ill. "A Yuma judge is donating a gift basket he won recently in a raffle to a south Yuma County woman who is suffering from breast cancer...Yuma Justice of the Peace David Cooper....won the gift basket, which is worth about $250, in a drawing held Oct. 29 by the Kofa High School Cheer Boosters...." The presentation of the gift basket will take place on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in the justice court office. More (Yuma Sun 11.12.2007).
Blackmailing judges with sex tapes. "Some of Pakistan's Supreme Court judges and their children were secretly filmed in compromising positions with lovers and prostitutes as part of a dirty tricks campaign by the country's feared military intelligence. Videos were sent out to at least three of the 11 judges in September as they were deciding whether General Pervez Musharraf was eligible to run for president while still army chief. One showed a judge with his young mistress while another was of a judge's daughter having sex with a boyfriend...." More (UK Times 11.11.2007).
The allegations behind the suspension of a federal district judge. "Family and friends of a federal court employee whose sexual misconduct complaint led to the suspension of U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent told a newspaper that Kent repeatedly harassed the woman over four years...." More (Houston Chronicle 11.11.2007).
Mugabe's judges 'turn screws' on white farmers in Zimbabwe. "Zimbabwe's Supreme Court judges this week sent fresh jitters down the spines of the country's few remaining white farmers when they upheld the government's right to forcibly acquire all farm equipment and machinery that belongs to dispossessed farmers. The decision of the Supreme Court judges -- all of whom received farms under President Robert Mugabe's controversial land grab -- was hailed as a landmark ruling by the government media...." More (The Times - SA 11.11.2007).
Despite 'paltry pay,' 36 lawyers apply for two seats on federal court in FLA. "Two openings for a lifetime federal judgeship have attracted 36 applicants...At least 17 are sitting judges including federal magistrates, county, circuit or state appeals court judges from Florida...." More (Orlando Sentinel 11.11.2007). Comment. And who was it who said the pay was so "paltry" that federal judges were leaving in droves and there was going to be a shortage of qualified replacements?
More on courthouse ghosts. "As the story goes, inexplicable activity springs from the fifth floor of the Reno County Courthouse [in Hutchinson, KS] when the sun goes down. Lights turn off by themselves. Candles burn in an empty room inspected just minutes before. Sounds of crying and clanking echo, but no one else is there. And there's just a sense someone is watching...." More (Lawrence Journal-World 11.11.2007). Comment. It doesn't hurt if people in the court system think "someone is watching." Someone is watching.
Those hard-working supreme court justices. "Ever wondered what is common between school-going children and the high priests of judiciary? Saturdays, Sundays and 'a lot of fun-days,' feel a section of lawyers. As per the Supreme Court's calendar for 2007, out of the 365 days a year, the Supreme Court [of India] has only 176 working days. The remaining 189 days -- more than half the year -- are holidays...." More (Sify - India 11.11.2007).
Civil service minister wants judge punished for beating his court registrar unconscious. "Mozambique's Minister for the Civil Service, Vitoria Diogo, has demanded that the presiding judge of the Inhambane Provincial Court, Jose Sampaio, should receive 'severe and exemplary punishment' for the savage beating he gave to his [60-year-old] court registrar...." The judge is quoted as saying the registrar "showed disrespect and I acted in legitimate defence." More (AIM via All Africa 11.10.2007).
Controversy over SCOFLA's decision not to renew retired judge's annual appointment. "When Senior Orange Circuit Judge Frank N. Kaney finished handing out sentences Oct. 18, his 34-year career on the bench ended abruptly. The Florida Supreme Court had decided not to renew the retired jurist's annual appointment to assist with overflow cases in the circuit. The exact reason is confidential under court rules...." But the decision not to renew is controversial. Read on (Orlando Sentinel 11.10.2007).
But did his 15,000 obscene calls set a Guinness record? "A man who posed as a researcher for Marks & Spencer to make 15,000 obscene phone calls to women was jailed for two and a half years yesterday. Paul Kavanagh, 40, started with harmless questions about socks and cardigans before asking about underwear and making obscene suggestions...." More (The Scotsman 11.10.2007).
Judges who didn't file in time for retention are ordered to vacate judgeships. "Today the Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision in the State v. Jeffery case and determined that Barrow Superior Court Judge Michael Jeffery and Anchorage District Court Judge Nancy Nolan should not have appeared on the 2004 General Election ballot for retention, and ordered them to 'vacate their seats within ninety days after this decision takes effect....'" More (SIT News 11.10.2007).
Caught possessing pot, attorney is removed from list of those ok'd to work as part-time judges. "The Court Administrator's office has rescinded Windsor attorney Martha Davis' approval to act as a part-time family court judge...Davis, 61, a longtime attorney with offices on Main Street, was cited by Vermont Fish and Wildlife wardens after they found 32 small marijuana plants and 2 1/2 pounds of dried and packaged marijuana at her home in early October...." More (Rutland Herald 11.10.2007).
A profile of a British circuit court judge. "I catch Keith Cutler in his uniform: black and purple robes, red sash, stiff wing collar and short-bench wig. 'The robes seem to excite more interest than anything else,' says the 57-year-old. Cutler is a circuit court judge in Wiltshire and has just finished for the day at Winchester crown court -- a classic 1970s concrete edifice adjoining Winchester castle's medieval great hall, the court's previous home...." -- From an excellent profile that we highly recommend of one of 630 or so UK circuit judges "who make up what [Judge Cutler] calls the 'meat' in the judicial sandwich. Above them are high court and appeal court judges, who are based mainly in London. Below are the district judges and the magistrates. 'Circuit court judges do the work that you see on television -- the jury trials, the rape cases, attempted murders, woundings, robberies and burglaries,' he says...." Matt Keating, Trials and tribulations (UK Guardian 11.10.2007).
Using art to help save historic courthouses and other buildings. "One of Kami Polzin's treasures, a portrait of the Washington County Courthouse in a gilded frame, will be auctioned at the preview gala for the annual Victorian Christmas at the Historic Courthouse event...." -- From Allie Shah, Stillwater artist uses oils to save historic buildings (Mpls. Star-Tribune 11.10.2007).
Annals of judicial stereotypes: new judge describes self as a 'gregarious redhead.' There was an "investiture" ceremony for two new associate judges, Veronica O'Malley and Luis Berrones, in Lake County Circuit Court yesterday. A news report quotes a state's attorney as saying that O'Malley "was a 'tenacious' prosecutor who 'balanced job and family responsibilities' and is 'a self-described gregarious redhead.'" More (Waukegan News Sun - IL 11.10.1007). Comment. If you're a redheaded judge, it's probably better to be a "gregarious redhead" rather than a "hotheaded redhead." For a discussion of some of the many stereotypes about "redheads," see, section 5 of Wikipedia's entry titled Red hair, including subsections 5.1 Beliefs about temperament, 5.2 Positive attitudes toward redheads, 5.3 Prejudice/Discrimination towards redheads, 5.4 Mythological traditions, and 5.5 Modern fiction.
Three gangsters are banned (literally) from Boston. "A federal judge sent a message to three reputed gang-bangers who pleaded guilty yesterday to dealing cocaine: Get out and stay out. In an unprecedented ruling, U.S. District Court Judge William Young told the three men who allegedly terrorized the Bromley-Heath projects in Jamaica Plain that after serving their prison sentences they would be banned from moving back to Boston for an additional 12 years...." More (Boston Herald 11.10.2007). Comment. As I've noted before, Judge Young is a fellow member of the illustrious Harvard Law School Class of 1967. In fact, we lived on the same floor of Story Hall first year. Contrary to what the Herald story says, Judge Young's banishment of the convicted gangsters is not "unprecedented." In fact, on one day back in August of 2005 we posted several entries dealing with the use of banishment: Canadian judge banishes two accused gang members; Banished from Benson; Playground banishment upheld; Banishment from Houston County, Georgia. I grew up at an idyllic time, the 1950's, in an idyllic town, Benson, MN, 130 miles west of Minneapolis on the main line of the Great Northern Ry. and on U.S. Highway 12, both of which took people from Chicago to Minneapolis to Yellowstone and beyond. I once thought of doing a long essay, maybe even a book, called "Passers-through -- a Small Town on the Great American Prairie and the People Who Passed Through." It would have dealt with all the different categories of people who passed through from the town's earliest days -- the traveling vaudeville acts and theater companies that played at the Opera House, the circuses, the tourists, the Gypsies or Romas, the hoboes, etc. One chapter of such a book would deal with the criminals and other "undesirables." There were a number of ways the community dealt with these undesirables. One way was for the police to "escort them" to the city limits and tell them not to come back, perhaps wiring a warning ahead to the next town. Another way was to take them before the local judge. The judge could provide speedy justice, if needed. His sentence for more minor offenses might give the out-of-town defendants a choice: jail time or banishment. Why banishment? It saved the town the cost of keeping the defendants in jail and it passed on the problem people to other towns, where they'd probably have gone in any event after being released from jail. Banishment isn't used much in most states. (As originally published on 10.21.2001 at BurtLaw on Crime & Punishment at BurtLaw's Law And Everything Else.) Note: Banishment, e.g., in the form of limitations placed on residence as a condition of probation, is not entirely dead in Minnesota as a favored concept by legislators & some judges. Compare, State ex rel. Halverson v. Young, 154 N.W.2d 699, 702 (Minn. 1967), and State v. Franklin, 604 N.W.2d 79, 82 (Minn. 2000). For one point of view, see, in the context of restrictions on residence of sex offenders, Statement of ACLU-MN, Executive Director Charles Samuelson on Senate File 1140 - May 3, 2005. In Minnesota, as elsewhere, it would appear common-sensical that, regardless of the context, the more limited the geographical & durational extent of the banishment, the more likely it will be upheld.
New rules for judges: no shaved heads, tattoos, heavy makeup, 'frolicking' with colleagues, etc. The High Court in Henan China has published a list of 55 rules of judicial etiquette. Banned: heavy makeup, jewels, dyed hair, long hair, shaved heads, beards, tattoos, painted fingernails, holding hands and otherwise 'frolicking' with other judges, and saying things to litigants like "Are you the judge or am I?" Think you won't get caught? Undercover "inspectors" will visit courtrooms and monitor judges for compliance. More (Reuters 11.09.2007). Essential readings on judicial and courthouse fashions. a) Annals of Courthouse Fashion, part I: Another judge tries instituting courthouse dress code. b) Courthouse Fashion, part II: The Viking influence on judicial fashions. c) Courthouse Fashion, part III: Judges voice objection to some lawyers' attire. d) On judicial swimsuits & the Rules of Judicial Conduct. e) Judge-endorsed BurtLaw Bench Pants. f) BurtLaw Super-Privacy Robes. g) Durham courts follow lead of NBA. h) Judge Hlophe speaks out on courtroom dress & decorum. i) Contemptuous courtroom attire? j) What's so bad about shorts & tube tops in courtroom? k) A nostalgic look back at another instance of judicial stickling. l) Judges allowed to go bare-headed during U.K. heat wave. m) Should you beware of a judge who dresses up as a clown or Santa Claus? (scroll down).
Annals of specialized courts -- gambling courts? "An advocacy group in Connecticut, home to two of the world's largest casinos, is pushing for new courts that would provide treatment rather than jail time for chronic gamblers charged with stealing to support their habits...." More (Newsday 11.09.2007). Comment. There is a trend toward creation of more specialized, narrowly-focused single-subject courts -- teen courts, drug courts, gun courts, gang courts, mental health courts, community courts, domestic violence courts, rape courts, tennis courts, etc. In courts, as in everything else, there are fads & fashions. As our regular readers know, I'm generally against specialization by trial or appellate judges. In most instances, the "cons" outweigh the "pros," in my opinion. What the system supposedly gains in consistency, efficiency, and other values associated with specialization, it loses in narrow-mindedness, rigidity, and other assembly-line values associated with "experts" and bureaucracies. For the ABA's views, see, Concept Paper on Specialized Courts (ABA 06.25.1996). For multiple reasons, we strongly oppose the rape court proposal, which seems to be aimed at making courts part of some war on crime. Courts ought never be part of a war on crime. Any war on crime is something best left to the rabble-rousing press, to prosecutors, to police, etc.
Who's affected by lawyers' strike in Pakistan. "The lawyers' strike against the proclamation of emergency rule and Provisional Constitutional Order is adversely affecting litigants, stamp sellers and typists working at the district courts. More than 500 computer operators, stamp sellers and typists are working at the Islamabad District Courts and the strike is affecting their livelihood...." More (Daily Times 11.09.2007). Comment. The independence of a nation's judiciary is at stake, so, while we sympathize with those whose livelihoods are affected by the lawyers' strike, we are a wee bit more concerned at this point with the lawyers and judges who've been detained, fired, etc. Read on...
Judges as heroes. "Justice Tariq Pervez narrated how someone close to him used to address him by name as long as he was chief justice of the Peshawar High Court but had started calling him 'chief sahib' after his removal from the job. He said the person told him that now he had become the real chief justice and therefore he was referring to him as 'chief sahib.'" -- From Rahimullah Yusufzai, Judges as heroes (The News - PK 11.09.2007).
Judge feuds with supreme court's attorney registration bureaucracy over late registration. The judge in question is Toledo Municipal Court Judge Francis Gorman. He says he was sick and gave his daughter his registration papers and the annual $350 attorney registration fee to be mailed Saturday, September 1, the deadline. His envelope wasn't postmarked until September 4, the day after Labor Day. The SCOOH attorney registration bureaucracy insists Gorman owes a $50 late-payment fee. Gorman now has paid it, but he paid it under protest. Details (Toledo Blade 11.09.2007). Comment. While he's at it, why not protest the amount of the annual fee. It's not atypical of that charged in other states. But, at least in one state I know, the high amount of the fee is, in my opinion, excessive.
Annals of courthouse drama. "A 30-year-old Fort Wayne man threw himself headfirst over the marble railing on the third floor of the Allen County Courthouse on Thursday, just moments after a jury convicted him of child molesting... [He] hit his head on the marble railing on the second floor and nearly [fell] all the way to the first floor...." He was hospitalized. More (Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette 11.09.2007). Update. Initially in critical condition, he's recovering (Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette 11.10.2007).
Nader says PA supreme court's decision in campaign case was tainted. In 2004 PA Democrats challenged Nader's nominating petitions. A district court threw out the petitions and directed Nader to pay the law firm Reed Smith $81,000 for costs of transcription and stenography. The PA Supreme Court afformed. Reed Smith is trying to collect from Nader in D.C. Nader is asking the court there to void the supreme court's decision because, among other reasons, five of the seven justices had ties to Reed Smith as clients, former employees or recipients of campaign contributions. More (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11.09.2007). Comment. We don't know where the legal bona fides are on this one, but our hearts are with Nader. States like PA make it way too difficult for third-party candidates to obtain ballot access. Moreover, as Nader argues, imposing hefty costs like this will have a chilling effect on petition drives by third-party candidates who aren't as independently wealthy as, say, Ross Perot. Finally, we refused contributions and endorsement from lawyers (and from everyone else) when we ran for statewide judicial office because in the unlikely event we were elected we didn't want to be beholden or appear to be beholden to anyone. We think the judges, to avoid any conceivable appearance of impropriety, should have recused on their own and that judges without any prior ties to Reed Smith should have decided this one.
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