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 "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 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.
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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.
Scottish legal 'big wigs' to pick new 'Lord President.' "The procession of gowns and wigs across the black and white squares of Parliament Hall is more animated than for some time. The Scottish judiciary is to have a new leader and there is a growing belief that the appointment could be the most remarkable in the 197-year history of the post of Lord President." This is the start of a delightfully-written story in today's (07.31.2005) The Scotsman on the Scottish judicial position most like our Chief Justiceship. Two of the four leading possibilities would be "different": one's a woman (who's also Jewish); one's a man who's Catholic. "One senior QC said: 'There are many old dragons in the legal profession and in the upper reaches of the civil service who would prefer not to see too many women in power. In the current political climate, I think most accept they are fighting a losing battle, but there is still a strong resistance in some quarters to having a Catholic in charge.'"
Tabloid: Mendocino Courthouse scene of #1 paranormal event of 2004. "The Mendocino County Courthouse in downtown Ukiah made supermarket tabloids as home of the top paranormal event of 2004, in the Aug. 1 edition of the National Examiner. In an article titled 'The Truth is Out There: The Top 10 Paranormal Events of the Year,' the National Examiner decided a 'ghostly video' captured by high-tech, motion-detecting cameras was the top paranormal event of 2004...." More (Ukiah Daily Journal 07.30.2005). Comment. Every courthouse seems haunted at times & every courthouse is haunted at all times by a "ghost," the "dead hand of the past" that is sometimes called "tradition," sometimes "precedent," etc., etc.
Latest on bare-naked courthouse grannies. This story in the Indianapolis Star is the most detailed one thus far profiling the grannies who have posed "nude" for a "girlie" calendar to raise money in a courthouse preservation struggle. The calendar goes on sale Friday. Click here for earlier story & links to even earlier stories.
Judge's new office, in building owned by friend, costs taxpayers more. "Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier closed his district office in Fairview Heights in June and moved to a new two-story office building that a longtime friend built in Nashville, Ill...." The new space will cost the taxpayers $5,210 a month to rent, $464 more than the old space. More (St. Louis Post-Dispatch 07.31.2005).
Judge as 'clinician'? As 'cheerleader'? As 'mother'? "She spent more than a decade working in medicine, so it is hardly surprising when Carol Erskine slips into medical-speak describing her current profession. A juvenile court judge who splits her time between Worcester and Milford, Erskine has a distinctly clinical approach to the teens she sees in her courtroom. 'I view it like triage, like an emergency room,' she said. 'There are some things you can dispose with really quickly, (and) there are some things you're really going to have to take some time with.'" Sometimes, she says, she takes on the role of "cheerleader," encouraging the troubled teens, & in other cases she finds herself having to "lay down the law." "Most often, though, Erskine adopts an almost maternal persona, peppering teens with questions or issuing stern lectures from the bench...." More (metroWest Daily News 07.31.2005). Comment. This all describes the traditional juvenile court judge, who saw it as his/her main function to try help rehabilitate the troubled kid. Some of the old-time juvenile judges, with their wider discretion, were kings in their courtroom -- even tyrants. Others, including one in my hometown in the 1950s, a nonlawyer named C.A. Larson, was akin to a saint. I've had lots of experience in juvenile law, from multiple perspectives, including -- initially -- the sociological perspective. I think we've lost something in making "reference" or "certification" of juveniles for trial as adults too easy. But we live in a time when cheap politicians have learned too well that "talking tough" wins votes. More at BurtLaw's Law & Kids.
Preserving a still-functioning antebellum courthouse in Louisiana. "Preliminary tests confirm suspicions that the ground beneath the antebellum East Feliciana Parish courthouse is much soggier than it should be, Clerk of Court Debbie Hudnall said. 'The soil underneath is mud,' Hudnall said in describing what preservation experts found earlier this month when they punched two test holes through the floor of the 165-year-old building...." More (Baton Rouge Advocate 07.31.2005). Comment. I've been in Baton Rouge a couple times in my life, also New Orleans. The story brings to mind those old cemeteries in NO where the groundwater level is so high that the dead folks are "buried" above ground.
Fellow judges seek chief's removal. "As many as 15 of the 17 judges in the Gauhati High Court have written to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) complaining against the “whimsical functioning'' of Chief Justice B.K. Roy and seeking his removal....The Chief Justice was involved in a controversy with the judges and lawyers of the Punjab High Court from where he was transferred to Guwahati in February this year...." More (NewIndPress.Com 07.31.2005). Earlier: Lawyers in India complain of local chief judge's 'whimsical functioning.'
Swede judge receives barrage of death threats. "A [presiding] appeal court judge [Bertil Hübinette] has received a barrage of death threats after [the Göta Appeal Court unanimously] reduc[ed] the damages awarded to a girl who watched her mother be murdered and who was then raped by the killer...[T]he court...cut the 14 year old girl's damages payout by 100,000 kronor, to 510,850 kronor...Hübinette has not yet reported the threats to the police but was planning to discuss the matter with his court colleagues, he told DN. 'Many serious threats have come in by telephone and mail,' he said. 'I don't scare easily but this is naturally very unpleasant for me and my family.'" More (Dagens Nyheter, SR via The Local 07.30.2005). Comment. I suppose, since I am a Norwegian-American, some people might expect me to speculate, perhaps in a humorous, derisive way, why Judge Hübinette seems to come off in the news report as so placid in the face of many death threats that he still hasn't reported the threats to police. I might say, e.g., "That's just the way of the Swedes." But that wouldn't explain why so many usually phlegmatic Swedes seem so riled up by the court's decision that they are threatening the presiding judge with death. Earlier stories with a Swedish connection. Bill Rehnquist is 'just-plain folks' - The scandalous past of Bill Rehnquist! - Even tolerant, forgiving Swedes are upset with judge.
Public defender rocks the judicial boat with charge. "In a fiery letter to judges this week, [Broward County Public Defender Howard] Finkelstein charged that defendants who can afford to hire a private attorney get their cases heard first in some courtrooms while the poor with public defenders must wait...Some judges are interpreting Finkelstein's mention [in his letter] of the [Code of Judicial Conduct] as a thinly veiled threat to file complaints against them, says Broward's Chief Judge Dale Ross...." More (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 07.30.2005). Finkelstein has already filed one complaint against a judge, Circuit Judge Leonard Feiner, but on a different matter, specifically, Feiner's allegedly biased conduct in criticizing the Haitian cleaning crew at the courthouse.
TV cameras in English & Welsh trial courts? "TV cameras could be allowed into English and Welsh courtrooms on a regular basis from next year, according to a leaked government document...." More (BBC 07.31.2005).
Slate's regularly-updated list of Judge Roberts resources. Slate has created a John Roberts Roundup, a regularly-updated page of links to some of the better web postings relating to Judge Roberts. Click here.
Clint Stephens, courthouse custodian -- and more. Clint Stephens has been custodian of Dekalb County Courthouse for 36 years. About 20 years ago he "add[ed] flower-keeping to his duties of cleaning, maintenance, snow removal and winding the clock. Now it’s a favorite part of his job -- and the part that draws the most feedback." In fact, "many people visit the Courthouse just to enjoy the bright blooms." From a wonderful story today (07.30.2005) by Stefanie Scarlett in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette -- a story I urge you to read -- about a custodian who has turned an old county courthouse into a place of magic & beauty. D. H. Lawrence, that amazing but still not widely-appreciated poet, wrote in We Are Transmitters that transmitting life takes place "[e]ven if it is a woman making an apple dumpling or a man a stool" if life goes into the making. Giving life "means kindling the life-quality where it was not,/ even if it's only in the whiteness of a washed pocket-handkerchief." Mr. Stephens appears to be a man who puts care and life into his work and in the process has created order and beauty. In doing so he has set an example for others who work in the court system, even judges.
Might Mr. Stephens' flowers lead to better government? More & more courthouses are becoming fortresses & their owners, the people, are being made to feel less & less welcome. See, Building courthouses with security in mind. I worked for over 20 years in Cass Gilbert's wonderful Minnesota State Capitol, where the Minnesota Supreme Court was housed before it moved to a nearby fortress-style courthouse. The capitol, by the way, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. One day back in the 1970s I was giving a puisne judge from Rhode Island, who was visiting the state supreme court, a personal tour of the building. In the rotunda I surprised myself by saying, "This building is one reason we have clean government in Minnesota. It seems inconceivable to me that anyone elected to serve the people in this inspiring building could do anything but try his best to do right by the people." Just as architects, in their public buildings, can contribute to the civic life, so, I believe, can courthouse custodians. The noted depth psychologist, James Hillman, has written (with Michael Ventura) that "Civil courage in an ecological age means not only demanding social justice, but also aesthetic justice and the will to make judgements of taste, to stand for beauty in the public arena and speak out about it." Mr. Stephens hasn't so much stood for beauty in the public arena but gotten down on his knees, literally in the dirt, to help create it.
Longtime courthouse janitor saunters into retirement. "There is a slowness and a deliberateness to Jenkins as he walks through the courthouse. His motions are not the slapdash movements of a man hurrying through his job, but neither does he move with the careless sloth of a man trying to avoid work. Jenkins walks with a proper southern saunter, and pays close attention to his appointed tasks...." From "Closing Up Shop," a story in the 11.20.2002 Daytona Beach News-Journal on the retirement, after 30 years of mopping floors, etc., of Flagler County Courthouse Janitor Willy Jenkins, age 61. Comment. From high school onward, I've enjoyed the company of most janitors more than that of most of their so-called "betters" in my places of study or employ. Some of them, I've even found, are smarter or wiser or funnier or kinder -- or "all of the above." Back in the late '50's, when I was in secondary school, a piece of chicken bone became lodged in my windpipe as I was eating my "hot lunch" with friends in the northside school cafeteria. Not wanting to humiliate myself in front of any of the girls I had my eyes on in those days, I rushed outside, thinking I could cough it up gracelessly without anyone seeing me do so. Turns out I couldn't. Turns out I might have choked to death. Turns out none of my teachers or friends was observant and/or caring enough to follow me out and help. Turns out one of the janitors, Dick Jossart, was. He used the old-fashioned, pre-Heimlich, "Janitor Manuever," well-known in my hometown of Benson, Minnesota, pounding me on the back forcefully until the little bone that was out to kill me popped out. Dick Jossart, whose autograph appears next to his image in the photograph of the custodial staff in my copy of the 1958 Chippewa, the high school yearbook, did something no teacher or friend ever did for me -- he saved my life. (Originally posted at BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else on 11.20.2002)
Justice Todd and the janitors of the world. It says in the Bible "All flesh is grass." What a wonderful egalitarian sentiment. Ultimately, we all are equal, if not always before the law in practice, always before God.
But only some, not all, people know this. Typically, in my experience, the folks who know it are the folks who don't have big titles and don't put on airs, who treat everyone kindly, and not because it will get them points. Folks like "Little Wash," a black janitor at Harvard Law, who used to sit and talk with me, sometimes even buy me a milkshake, on the occasions when he'd run into me in the grille on the second floor of Harkness Commons, to which I regularly went after a night of studying. Wash was the father of "Big Wash," Ned Washington, who was an All-American basketball player at a college in Boston who later played pro ball in the old American Basketball Association. At Christmastime, 1966, when I told him I wasn't going to be able to go home for Christmas, Wash invited me over to his house to spend it with his family. I didn't take him up on it, but I've never forgotten the invitation or his daily kindness.
And I've never forgotten the kindness of "Kelly," the friendly, voluble burger-flipper at the grille, who, like Wash, was a far more significant figure in the daily lives of many of the students than were the star professors, some (but not all) of whom not only were egomaniacs but just plain ornery, nasty men.
I thought of these important men, Little Wash and Kelly and others, when I read an essay, "To see the invisible," by Kevin Merida in the 05.06.2001 issue of the Washington Post. More than two million people are employed as janitors in this country but, as Merida says, "sometimes it's as if the rest of us don't see them," unless, that is, "we are looking down at them." Merida says: "There are many reasons we become what we become -- why some of us argue cases before the Supreme Court and some of us vacuum the court's chambers. But there is no good reason not to embrace, as Dr. King once put it, 'the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality.' A job is just a job, but all lives have value."
I also thought of these men the other day when, pursuant to a request from the State Law Librarian, I was writing "An Appreciation" of John J. Todd for possible inclusion in a volume the Minnesota State Law Library is preparing, partly as a result of a suggestion by me, for presentation at an upcoming ceremony at the Minnesota Supreme Court. I thought of these men because, unlike some, Justice Todd was not one to forgot from whence he came, or the people he had known there, including janitors. Moreover, he never fooled himself into thinking that his title, and all that went with it, somehow made him more important in God's eyes than anyone else. Indeed, the ordinary folks at the court -- secretaries, janitors, law clerks, staff attorneys -- always knew that they could go to him if they had a problem and that he would respond with common sense, fairness and kindness.
Mr. Merida quotes one janitor as telling his own kids, "You don't get nowhere looking down at nobody." Merida adds: "If you do that, you won't see what you need to see." (Originally posted at BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else on 05.10.01)
The trial judge as mender, as meddler -- news with commentary. Two news items, two judges -- one, who just announced he's retiring, is praised for trying to be a "mender," the other, who is now the subject of a formal complaint filed by a probation agent appearing before him, is accused of being, in effect, a meddler for giving a defendant, who like the judge is African-American, what the complainant called a "racial sermon."
a) The first story, in today's Seattle Times, starts: "David Admire is sitting in his near-empty office and reflecting on a 22-year career, filled with tens of thousands of people coming to him with their problems. Whether they had skipped a stop sign or assaulted a spouse, King County District Court Judge Admire says he tried to help mend their lives." If the story is accurate, he seems to have done so without "crossing any line": "At a farewell party in his courtroom this week, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges and court staffers talked about his compassion and his 'long view' of improving defendants' lives. 'He has the ability to blend fairness with courtesy and a great deal of common sense,' said Redmond District Court Judge David Steiner."
b) The second story appears today in the Greensboro (NC) News-Record and involves Forsyth County Superior Court Judge L. Todd Burke. The story speaks for itself &, if true, seems to me to describe an old-style kind of judging, which is less tolerated today than it used to be when judges were lords of their own courtroom & often beyond criticism even when criticism was warranted. The quote in the most recent posting about the now-infamous Judge Medawar in the U.K. bears repeating here: "Rude, brusque judges really went out in the 80s, so it’s quite unusual. Today’s senior coterie of modern judges are all extremely polite and diplomatic." See, More on 'grumpy' judge reversed for third time in two weeks. Interestingly, it appears that a number of attorneys may have objected in private to Judge Burke's behavior & that it took what some may call a courageous act by a "mere" probation agent to file a complaint against him.
Comment. While a judge's primary role is to act as neutral arbiter, to be fair & objective & unemotional, it is expecting too much to expect a judge to be less than or more than human, to always keep his or her mouth zipped. Perhaps Judge Burke's little "sermon" was as well-intentioned, as understandable & as admirable as Judge Admire's (how can one not admire the judge's name?) attempts over the years to help people mend their lives. Much in life depends not on what one is attempting, but how one goes about it. In a typical case the object of a judge's focus knows the difference between a judge who has unintentionally tripped over him and a judge who has maliciously kicked him. As Justice Holmes put it, "Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over & being kicked." At this point, all we have is a complaint. We still don't know if Judge Burke even tripped over anyone, much less kicked anyone. For all we know now, he did nothing wrong.
Ethics complaint filed against KY Chief Justice. "A onetime congressional campaign manager filed a complaint against Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert and his wife, who also is a judge...accus[ing] the chief judge of failing to recuse himself from a 2001 coal case that allowed Pikeville, Ky., coal operator Ross Harris to avoid paying $14 million jury award....Just months before the ruling, Harris arranged for up to $9,000 in straw contributions to the 2000 judicial campaign of Lambert's wife, Debra, the Judicial Conduct Commission complaint alleges...." More (WebIndia123.Com 07.29.2005).
Active death threats against seven of convening state chief justices? That's what South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Toal is quoted as saying in a report today (07.29.2005) in The State. She gives it as a reason why security will be tight as Charleston, S.C., hosts the annual conventions (the judges like to call them "meetings") of the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators. The conventions, at Charleston Place Hotel ("the sister ship of Venice's Cipriani easily tops the roster of Charleston's hotels," the hotel's site quotes the NYT as saying; another site says Condé Nast ranks it as the fourth best hotel in North America) commence Saturday & run through Wednesday. "The State Law Enforcement Division is in charge of protecting the justices, their families and other guests [estimated at around 300] during the meeting, with help from other law enforcement agencies, Toal said." Comment. Ever wondered what goes on at taxpayer-funded judicial conferences, etc.? Do they withstand basic cost-benefit analysis? I don't know the answer. I've never been big on stuff like that. I'm guessing it's hard to generalize. If I were a judge, I wouldn't go to one if you paid me double, but then "that's me." In any event, I personally favor lifting the veil of secrecy that surrounds so much of what judges do, including when attending conventions ("meetings") at taxpayer expense. 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 put its financial books and accounts online. This would include the detailed court system budget, not just the "lite" version the public and legislators are shown, and 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.
While the judges are in S.C., they ought to visit Beaufort... The Mayor of Beaufort -- where The Big Chill, The Prince of Tides and Forrest Gump were filmed -- is Bill Rauch, my ex-wife's cousin. Bill, a graduate of Harvard College, where he wrote for The Lampoon, was press secretary to Mayor Ed Koch of New York City & co-authored two best-selling books with him, including Mayor; Bill also wrote, by himself, the 2004 book Politicking. Bill's wife is Sarah Sanford, a producer/host of outdoor programs on the Outdoor Life Network and ESPN and sister of Republican Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who some have mentioned as a possible Presidential candidate in 2008. They live in a historic house known locally as "The Castle."
Hotel Rwanda revisited. "In the 11 years since the genocide which claimed 800,000 lives, Rwanda's prisons have been filled with genocide suspects. The justice system is so overloaded that up to 30,000 prisoners, most of whom have confessed to a minor role in the mass murder, are to be released today without appearing before a conventional court. Instead, these prisoners and thousands of others accused of murder, violent assault or looting during the genocide will be dealt with through community trials known as gacaca, meaning 'grass' -- on which the trials are usually held...." From Village courts left to unearth the true story of Rwanda's killing fields (The Guardian 07.29.2005). According to the story, which I recommend reading, "The gacaca hearings [which are described in some detail] have yielded up a wealth of detail about what transpired in each neighbourhood; telling people how their relatives died, and even where the bodies are buried, as well as uncovering the mechanics of mass murder; the distribution of weapons and the deathlists...."
Economics of courthouse cafes - SD perspective. "[L]et's be realistic about this. The era of coffee shops, cafes and restaurants in courthouses and office buildings -- catering to the employees who work there -- has been over for a long time. A few still hang on, but mostly such facilities have given way to vending machines and break rooms with microwaves...." More (Argus Leader 07.29.2005).
Judicial response to Tony Blair's warning. "Former Master of the Rolls Lord Donaldson said the London attacks did not affect the judicial world. He said: 'It is the job of the judges to ensure that the government of the day does not exceed its powers, which is a permanent desire of all governments.'" More (UK Mirror 07.29.2005). Earlier: Tony Blair's wife slaps him in face, publicly, over judge comments.
Group asks for ethics investigation of House Judiciary Chmn. "An advocacy group [Alliance for Justice] has asked the House Ethics Committee to open an investigation of Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, alleging that the Wisconsin Republican violated ethics rules by attempting to influence a decision in an appeals court case in Chicago...." More (Chicago Tribune 07.29.2005). Earlier: GOP Rep's interference with individual court cases called into question.
Independent counsel investigating claim against judge over alleged affair. A Fox network official confirmed that it had hired an "independent counsel" to investigate the claim by an American Idol contestant that he had had an affair with Hon. Paula Abdul, one of the competition "judges," during the competition. More (Brisbane Courier-Mail 07.29.2005).
More on 'grumpy' judge reversed for third time in two weeks. "One lawyer predicted that as a result of the latest ruling, scores of criminals in prison would lodge appeals against [Judge Medawar]. He said: 'He would have cracked through about 30 trials a year and anyone who did not appeal before might think it now worth a go on the basis of his rudeness. Rude, brusque judges really went out in the 80s, so it’s quite unusual. Today’s senior coterie of modern judges are all extremely polite and diplomatic.'" More (Times of London 07.29.2005). Yesterday's story, with link to earlier ones.
Courthouse bomb threats & domestic relations. "President Judge Robert Eby remembers a time when he could freely walk in and out of the [Lebanon C]ounty courthouse, even at night, when all he had to do was turn out the lights when he left. Sadly, Eby said yesterday, those times are gone and it's partly because of people such as Brian K. Stoner, 30, of Lebanon, whom he sentenced to 4 to 10 years in state prison for twice calling in bomb threats to the courthouse on Jan. 25, 2004...." More (The Patriot News 07.29.2005). Comment. Apparently, the prosecutor recommended only a year in "county prison." The interesting aspect of the story is the light it sheds on "bomb threats" at one particular county courthouse, not necessarily typical. The story says that "all of the county's six bomb threats in the last three years [including Stoner's] have occurred on days when domestic relations court was scheduled." There have been arrests in four of the six cases. Police suspicion focused on Stoner because he missed a scheduled appearance in domestic relations court the day he called in his threats. Perhaps designers of courthouses ought to bear this in mind & put domestic relations courtrooms, etc., in a separate wing with security features specifically tailored to the problem.
Lawyers in India complain of local chief judge's 'whimsical functioning.' "Gauhati High Court was today thrown into turmoil as lawyers rose in protest against the alleged whimsical functioning of Chief Justice B.K. Roy and sought the intervention of the Chief Justice of India in resolving the row. As many as 161 senior and junior lawyers of the high court today sent a representation to the Chief Justice of India, requesting the latter’s immediate intervention in the matter...." The bar's representation states in part: "Chief Justice Roy, by the manner of his functioning, has considerably vitiated the court’s atmosphere and it has adversely affected the functioning of the high court. His manner of conducting the High Court proceedings leave much to be desired and there is a fear amongst the concerned bar members that if things are allowed to go on as it is, the institution will suffer irreparable damage." More (Calcutta Telegraph 07.28.2005).
Greatest quotes of 'Iggy' Maniscalco, retiring judicial marshal. "'Oyez, oyez,' (pronounced oh yay) is how longtime Judicial Marshal Ignatius 'Iggy' Maniscalco would begin his announcement, letting everyone in his courtroom know proceedings were about to begin. His other equally familiar phrases have included, 'No gum chewing in court' and 'See the clerk.' And, of course, there was always, 'Shhh. No talking while court is in session.'" More (Journal Inquirer CT 07.28.2005).
'Bahamianization' of Bahamas' judiciary. The term in quotes refers to the fact that almost all of the judges in the Bahamian judiciary are now Bahamian. Apparently a good many of them used to be "imports." Wayne Munroe, Pres. of the Bahamas Bar, argues it isn't necessarily a good idea to have only Bahamians as judges because "When you deal with jurisprudence, it is never very good to have a closed pond." Moreover, the local ones often know one or the other of the parties involved. More (The Bahama Journal 07.28.2005).
But how about Bahamas' court facilities? "'No judge would come on the Bench to be in a courtroom where there is water dripping from the ceiling, where the toilet overflows. In the heat of the summer, the air conditioning was out for a month in the Court of Appeal,' Mr. Munroe (supra) said...." More (The Bahama Journal 07.28.2005).
Ethics probe of CA judge. "The Commission on Judicial Performance announced Tuesday it had instituted proceedings against a Santa Barbara, Calif., judge [Diana Hall] over her conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol and accusations that she committed perjury, engaged in inappropriate political activity, and improperly responded to the filing of a peremptory challenge...." More (The Reporter - Law.Com 07.29.2005).
Cartoonist is named judge. "'Mutts' comic creator Patrick McDonnell will choose the top entry in a...contest that's being held by the Humane Society of the United States...." More (Editor & Publisher 07.27.2005). Comment. Isn't he one of the guys that was on Pres. Bush's "short list" of potential nominees to the USSCt? Yeah, but the story has the spelling of the last name wrong: it's McConnell. See, Emily Bazelon and David Newman, The Supreme Court Shortlist - The views of the likely candidates (Slate 07.01.2005). We hope the other also-rans will receive similar recognition and honoraria for having been on the list.
Annals of creative sentencing by judges - a barf for a barf. "A high school student convicted of battery for vomiting on his Spanish teacher was ordered to spend the next four months cleaning up after people who throw up in police cars...." More (Chicago Tribune 07.28.2005).
Tony Blair's wife slaps him in face, publicly, over judge comments. "Tony Blair yesterday denied he faced a domestic rift after his lawyer wife Cherie warned that an excessive response to the terrorist threat could undermine 'our most deeply held values.' Ms Booth said during a lecture in Kuala Lumpur that senior judges should defend individual rights against the decisions of the majority -- public opinion as well as politicians -- to help educate people about 'the real meaning of democracy.'" More (Guardian Unlimited 07.28.2005). Excerpts from Cherie Blair's remarks: Now we need judges more than ever (Guardian Unlimited 07.28.2005). Earlier: Tony Blair warns judges over terror-related cases.
N.J. beach access case -- best argument this summer for judicial activism? "Owners of private beachfront property have been kicking sand in the face of the public for far too long. The [N.J. S]tate Supreme Court came to the public's defense Tuesday, ruling in a 5-to-2 decision that a private beach club may not bar the general public from walking on its sand or spreading a blanket on it.
The ruling in the first beach access case heard by the state's top court in more than 20 years was a major victory for beachgoers. It affirms the principle that all 129 miles of New Jersey's beaches belong to the public...." More (Asbury Park Press 07.28.2005). Comment. I'm skeptic enough to believe that the ideologies or schools of textualism, originalism, judicial neutrality, judicial restraint, etc., etc., in practice often are just masks for the most pragmatic, result-oriented thinking. Each of us has an "operational definition" of "judicial activism": it's okay if we like the result; it depends on whose ox is being gored; etc. I happen to like the form of "judicial activism" motivating the majority judges in this case. I'm a "judicial beach activist," a believer that the true text is often written in the clouds or the sand. Five judges in N.J. looked at those grains of sand and decoded the message written there years ago but washed away until now; they saw, as Thoreau did, that since time immemorial man has had a divine right to walk along that God-created long, thin blue edge of summer where sand meets water meets sky. More: July in My Mind.
Judge Roberts, Judge Friendly & state statutes on assisted suicide. On reading, shortly after President Bush made his announcement, that Judge Roberts had clerked for Circuit Judge Henry Friendly (1903-1986) before he clerked for Justice Rehnquist, and that he ranked Judge Friendly as one of his judicial heroes, I couldn't help wondering if the circumstances of Judge Friendly's death, by suicide (Chicago Tribune, 03.13.1986), might in some conceivable way influence Roberts' approach to the power, say, of Oregon to permit assisted suicide without interference from the federal government. This quote of Judge Roberts that I came upon today, from a 1997 PBS interview, sheds some light on the question: "I think it's important not to have too narrow a view of protecting personal rights. The right that was protected in the assisted-suicide case was the right of the people through their legislatures to articulate their own views on the policies that should apply in those cases of terminating life, and not to have the court interfering in those policy decisions. That's an important right." More at: Assisted suicide quote from Roberts revealing, analysts say (RedState.Org 07.27.2005). Earlier entry: Who was Judge Henry Friendly? Comment. One can read too much into the above quote. It says little or nothing about how Roberts would rule in the case of a federal policy purporting to supersede a state policy allowing assisted suicide. It says nothing about any personal right to commit suicide. BTW, I recall a case where a pro se litigant who was down on life petitioned a state supreme court for "permission to die." The court, through the chief justice, issued an order saying: "There is no right to die. Accordingly, the petition for permission to die must be, and the same is, denied." I've always thought that amusing & have even wondered if it somehow influenced the fellow to hang in there rather than hang himself. For what it's worth, some of my views on suicide are set forth in an essay I wrote in April of 2002 titled "April Storms - Present & Past," posted at Law & Death (scroll down) at BurtLaw's Law And Everything Else.
Thirty-one judges warned on failing to file tax returns. "Thirty-one judges nationwide have been warned by the tax office that they face prosecution if they fail to lodge outstanding returns by Monday. A spokeswoman for the Australian Taxation Office confirmed yesterday that the judges -- predominantly from NSW and Victorian courts -- had been sent final notices to lodge returns for 2003-04 as part of a major crackdown on the legal profession...." More (The Australian 07.29.2005).
Judge John Coughenour & terrorism & human rights. "'He conducted a terrorism trial that will be perceived as fair by prosecutors, by defense lawyers, by the public and by the press,' said veteran Seattle defense lawyer Irwin Schwartz, who said he has appeared before the judge dozens of times. 'There were no closed doors, no secret evidence,' said Schwartz, who was not associated with the Ressam case. 'This was American justice as it was intended to be.'" Profile of outspoken judge following sentencing of convicted terrorist. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 07.28.2005).
'Irritable' judge has third conviction overturned in three weeks. "Complaints over the 'irritable' courtroom conduct of a trial judge [Judge Medawar QC at Snaresbrook Crown Court] have resulted in the quashing of convictions in another of his cases -- the third in less than two weeks...." More (UK Telegraph 07.28.2005). Earlier: Should trial judges be 'frightening' & occasionally show their bias?
Lying to get on, not stay off, jury. We've linked to a number of stories dealing with how frustrated judges and court administrators are with people who don't show up when called for jury duty or show up & then try hard to avoid getting selected. But occasionally a person will try hard to get selected. Sometimes the person is a law-and-order type who is primed to convict the defendant. Occasionally, a person will lie about her arrest record in order to get selected. That's what Celeste Johnson, a Providence, RI, woman apparently did &, once on, was the only juror voting to acquit the defendant. She's been found guilty of criminal contempt & sentenced to 90 days of home confinement. More (Charlotte News-Observer 07.27.2005). Comment. A more appropriate sentence for such an offense might be to watch 900 hours of Judge Judy, but that might constitute cruel & unusual punishment.
Lay off the Calypso judges. "The impact and appeal of a particular performance or display cannot be expected to be the same for all tastes. And this is the reason why adjudication of Carnival competitions is never left to a single judge, but is handled by as large a panel as is reasonable and practicable...." More (Antigua Sun 07.28.2005). Earlier: More on Calypso judging controversy.
Remaining Justices perform ancient ritual after O'Connor's resignation. One of the most ghoulish stories ever published in The Onion appears in today's (07.27.2005) issue; it's titled: Supreme Court Justices Devour Sandra Day O'Connor In Ancient Ritual. Here's a brief excerpt to, ah, whet your appetite: "'The ceremony is said to be quite moving,' said Zachary Katz, editor of the Yale Law Review. 'By consuming O'Connor's mortal body, the other justices seek a communion with her transcendent qualities -- her respect for the discretion of the court, her pragmatism, and her refusal to commit to abstract legal principles.' O'Connor has been prepared for the ritual since January 2005, when Chief Justice Rehnquist sprinkled her desk with the ashes of a virgin law clerk and pronounced, 'Receptum, receptum, receptum.'" Comment. The last line of the "story" reads: "According to legal scholars, O'Connor's skin will be tanned and sewn into a ceremonial cloak, to be worn by the youngest justice, Clarence Thomas, as he lights the pyre upon which members of O'Connor's senior staff are burned alive...." Sometimes the wildest of fictions is closest to the truth. In many appellate courts a judge's secretary has no job security & may find herself 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. I have always compared this 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 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.
Tony Blair warns judges over terror-related cases. "Tony Blair yesterday warned judges who have been 'blocking' deportations and other features of his anti-terrorist legislation that the public mood has hardened against such moves since the London bombings began...." More (Guardian UK 07.27.2005). Comment. Instead of expressly or impliedly "warning" judges, which I think is inappropriate & ought to be beneath a Prime Minister, why not just say that the Government respectfully disagrees with the decisions but is going to continue its vigorous efforts to deport people in appropriate instances.
First female chief justice in Turkey. "Turkey's highest court has elected a woman as its chief justice for the first time in its history. The decision placed a female judge in one of the most powerful institutions in the predominantly Muslim country as it presses for European Union membership. Tulay Tugcu, 63, is the only women to hold such a top judicial position in the Muslim world...." More (The Age 07.27.2005).
Another show from David E. Kelley - featuring retired judges. "Four retired Los Angeles Superior Court judges will be featured in the eight-episode alternative drama series The Law Firm on NBC, debuting Thursday at 9 p.m. Lawrence W. Crispo, Burton S. Katz, Dion G. Morrow, and Martha Goldin will sit on the bench, as real attorneys compete with one another while trying 'real court cases with real clients,' in front of the jurists and 'juries,' the show’s publicists said. The proceedings are in the nature of binding arbitration...." More (Metropolitan News-Enterprise 07.26.2005).
Scalia on why Roberts should answer questions freely. "Scalia supported another definition of judicial impartiality in White: open-mindedness. Nominees often equate keeping quiet with being open-minded; the theory is that the less they say, the less pressure once they're on the bench to make rulings consistent with their previous statements. But Scalia said that to be open-minded a judge must make every litigant feel that he has 'some chance' of winning, not an 'equal chance' of doing so (his italics). And he pointed out that whatever nominees like Roberts do or don't say once they're before the microphone, they usually have long written records that betray their views." From Emily Bazelon, Answer the Question, Judge (Slate 07.26.2005), focusing on Justice Scalia's views as expressed in his majority opinion in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, the free speech case striking down the provision of the Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct barring candidates in state judicial elections from freely expressing their opinions on disputed legal issues. See, our earlier entry dated 07.12.2005 titled Scalia on Senate Judiciary hearings on nominees: O.K. to ask about beliefs?
Judge under consideration for supreme court reveals complaint. We're referring, of course, to a judge under consideration for appointment to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The judge, "Circuit Court Judge John A. Turnbull,...acknowledged Tuesday that he once was officially admonished for inappropriate 'flirtatious behavior with a female court clerk. The Overton County judge is one of three people nominated to become a Supreme Court justice last week by the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission...." More (Knoxville News 07.27.2005).
More about those controversial "mayor's courts." "The typical fare that comes before mayor's courts -- citations for speeding and running red lights and complaints about barking dogs -- usually doesn't attract newspaper headlines or find its way into TV crime shows. But [a Cincinnati Enquirer] analysis of a first-ever report on mayor's courts by the Ohio Supreme Court reveals that these dispensers of small-town justice are extremely active and collect millions of dollars a year in fines...." Crime is money in area mayor's courts (Cincinnati Enquirer 07.27.2005).
Judge seeks $1.92 million in legal costs from judicial board. "Hillsborough [FLA] Circuit Judge Gregory Holder says he racked up a $1.92-million tab fighting charges that he plagiarized an Air Force research paper. Now, a month after the case was dismissed, he wants the Judicial Qualifications Commission to foot the bill...." More (St. Petersburg Times 07.27.2005). Earlier: Plagiarism charges against judge dropped.
Commission recommends censure, retirement of judge. The judge in question, a Brooklyn trial judge named Richard Huttner, steered business to a friend in 11 instances between 1996 and 1999 and presided in a case involving him without informing the opposing side. More (N.Y. Daily News 07.27.2005). And, see NYT story (N.Y. Times 07.27.2005).
ACLU sues N.C. to allow swearing on Quran. "When witnesses are sworn in, the religious texts of non-Christian faiths should be allowed in North Carolina courts along with the Bible, the ACLU argued in lawsuit filed against the state Tuesday...." More (Washington Post 07.26.2005). Earlier: The debate about swearing on the Quran.
Any more work would endanger judges' health? That's what the new head of the Court of Appeals in Australia is quoted as saying. Litigants are experiencing long delays in their appeals to the court but the judge says to expect the judges to work harder would be "unsustainable" & "unsafe." Instead, "he has suggested that appeal judges could be relieved of the obligation to produce detailed written judgements in all cases." More (The Age 07.27.2005). Comment. The problem with relieving yourself of the obligation to put your judgment in writing is that in many cases you really can't know what your decision is until you get to writing it down. You write it one way & you see then, for the first time, that it just ain't write/right. Thus the expressions: "It'll all come out in the writing" & "We'll see how it writes." In the great common law tradition of appellate judging, Might doesn't make Right; Write makes Right.
Three Russian judges convicted of stealing houses. "The Supreme Court on Monday convicted three federal judges of fraud for illegally expropriating more than 100 Moscow apartments, worth some $5 million, in the late 1990s. The court also found Judges Vasily Savelyuk, Nina Ivchenko and Nina Mishina guilty of being members of a criminal gang and of abusing their posts by stealing the apartments of owners who had died but left no will or legal instructions for transferring the property to their relatives...." More (Moscow Times 07.26.2005) Comment. It was bad enough that a majority of the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court held that a municipality may "take" homes from people & turn around & sell the homes to private condo developers. See, my only partly-tongue-in-cheek piece titled 'Liberals' on Court approve taking from the poor to give to the rich. But at least here the municipalities here are required to pay "just compensation." These Russian judges were convicted of "stealing" homes from people.
Which judge named to Supreme Court was a computer dating pioneer? This is a trick question, because although he was named by President Reagan on 10.29.1987 to succeed the retiring Justice Powell, he was never confirmed. Instead, NPR's Nina Totenberg & The Washington Post's Al Kamen reported that in the 1960s & 1970s, including while he was a professor at Harvard Law School, he had smoked marijuana, & -- puff! -- the nomination went up in smoke. See, Judge Douglas Ginsburg's Marijuana Use in "Media Frenzies in Our Time" in the Washington Post. I'm speaking of the man who is now the Chief Judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on which the recently-nominated John Roberts also serves as judge. I refer to Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg (no relation, that I know of, to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg). If you look at his curriculum vitae, you will see under "Employment," among other jobs, the following: "Compatibility Research, Inc., Cambridge, MA, Vice President, Marketing for 'Operation Match' computer service, 1965 - 1968." Operation Match was the original computer dating service in the United States, starting during the 1964-65 school year. See, The Originals - Matching them up (Harvard Magazine March-April 2003), Have You Met Your Miss Match Yet? (Harvard Crimson 04.and Operation Match (Harvard Crimson 11.03.1965). You might say my two children, both adults now, owe their lives to Douglas Ginsburg & his fellow pioneers in computer dating, because I met my wife of nearly 30 years (now ex-wife), their mother, then a Wellesley student, through participating in Operation Match during the 1965-66 school year at Harvard Law School. Did I ever use pot? No, my life has been too boring to have done that. Do I think it should have mattered that Judge Ginsburg used pot? No. Is it likely that Judge Roberts ever used pot? I tend to doubt it, although it likely wouldn't hurt him if it turned out that he had. Now it seems more relevant, at least to some, whether he was ever a member of The Federalist Society. According to yesterday's New York Times (click here), "[Roberts] has no memory of ever joining or paying dues to the Federalist Society,' Mr. McClellan [President Bush's press secretary] said, while conceding that the nominee had taken part in events sponsored by the society." (Transcript of press conference). It sorta sounds as if some people think having been a card-carrying member of The Federalist Society is akin to having been a card-carrying member of the KKK or the Communist Party. Not so, of course. In fact, I rank the Harvard Law chapter's provocative law review, The Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, as one of the top ten law reviews.
Getting caught in 'an overseas judicial nightmare.' "Michael [Shields'] plight [in Bulgaria] highlights how easy it is to become caught up in an overseas judicial nightmare. And now the organisation Fair Trials Abroad -- which only takes on cases where they are convinced that a British defendent is either completely innocent or there are grave doubts about the evidence or trial procedures -- has taken up his case...." More (Liverpool Echo 07.26.2005). Comment. One reason I personally wouldn't visit certain places -- e.g., "Paradise," i.e., Bali -- is I don't believe in visiting places whose court systems are bad. I don't know anything about Bulgaria's system or the case in question (a British football fan arrested & charged with attempted murder), but Indonesia, where Bali is, was recently said to have the worst judicial system in Asia. Fortunately, Asian countries, including Indonesia, appear to be trying to improve their courts. Read on....
U.S. to provide aid to Indonesia to improve courts. "[T]he United States announced a plan to provide $20 million in aid to Jakarta over four years to improve the country's commercial and anti-corruption courts. Indonesia has pledged to revamp its judicial system, the target of constant criticism from foreign businessmen who point to lack of transparency and unpredictable court decisions. A World Bank report late in 2003 said many lawyers were 'apparently often the conduits for bribes to judges, prosecutors and the police.'" More (Washington Post 07.26.2005). Earlier entry: About the drug laws and the courts in Paradise. Comment. There is a largely-unnoticed movement around the world, but especially in Asian countries, including Indonesia and China, toward improved (more transparent, more reliable, fairer, more professional) judicial systems. In my view, the great engine behind it all is the movement toward freer international trade or, if you prefer, the movement toward capitalism. As every law student learns or ought to learn, much of the greatness of the common law tradition is owing to capitalism -- or, some might argue & as Max Weber would say, The Protestant Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism. Max Hartwell, the economic historian, put it this way: "In England the common law was really based on what were the best practices of the merchants, what happened in the past and so forth. It was flexible in a way that Roman law was not. Roman law had to be changed from the centre. Common law was changed in courts by judges listening to people arguing for their rights." Liberalism, Capitalism & Institutional Development, in Policy (Center for Independent Studies, Winter 1999).
Controversy arises after judge says she won't seat "all white juries." "Circuit Judge Evelyn Clay, who is black, made the remarks while meeting with attorneys in chambers, the Chicago Tribune reported in Monday's editions after reviewing court transcripts. 'Folks, you all know I have a rule. I don't seat all white jurors,' Clay said as jurors were being selected for a murder trial last month." More (Washington Post 07.26.2005). Comment. If one follows Holmes' advice to "think things, not words," one can get beyond the indelicate choice of words used by the judge to what is the real and exasperating problem: black defendants in communities with large black populations winding up being tried on criminal charges by juries without any black members.
In case you missed it...Ann Coulter on Judge Roberts. On 07.20.2005 (I just came across it), Ms. Coulter, whose views & style I'm not fond of, speculated that President Bush's pick to replace Justice O'Connor might be "Souter in Roberts' clothing." More (AnnCoulter.Org 07.20.2005). Conservative columnists "sure hope" she's wrong. See, e.g., Edward Daley at RenewAmerica.Us 07.25.2005). Comment. Perhaps she's using reverse psychology: if "the liberals" who might oppose him think I have doubts about him, they'll vote to confirm.
Judge's dog gets loose & chases another judge. "The Broward court administrator has a bone to pick with a judge whose German Shepard got loose and chased a fellow jurist down the courthouse hallway. Broward Circuit Judge Susan Lebow said Court Administrator Carol Lee Ortman chastised her after complaints from the other judge, who Lebow and Ortman would not name. Ortman told Lebow never to bring 5-year old Udah Maccabee to the courthouse again...." The judge says someone let the dog out of her chambers but "won't own up to it" & she says the judge the dog chased made a mistake in running: "'When somebody runs from him, he thinks they are playing and he chases,' she said. 'He's harmless.'" More (Sun-Sentinel 07.26.2005). Comment. David E. Kelley, take note.
Retired judge gets 75 days in jail + house arrest for DWI with injury. "A retired Superior Court judge was sentenced Monday to 75 days in jail and more than five months of house arrest for driving drunk when his SUV collided with a motorcyclist in 2003." The ex-judge, Theodore Millard, who admitted drinking four glasses of wine over dinner at a friend's house, maintains the other fellow caused the accident & is quoted as saying, "I personally think it should have been a misdemeanor." More (San Jose Mercury-News 07.26.2005).
Commissioners vote to remove victims monument near court entrance. "County commissioners voted unanimously Monday to remove a victims monument that was recently placed near a courthouse entryway [in Lubbock, Texas], a memorial that defense attorneys said could prejudice jurors. The black granite monument, funded with a federal grant to a regional victims group, depicts a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: 'Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.'" More (L.A. Times 07.25.2005).
China's courts to 'kill fewer, kill carefully.' China wants its judges to follow procedural requirements rigidly in cases involving the death penalty. Stated differently, China "'plans to decrease the number of capital punishment sentences in order to follow the policy [of] kill fewer, kill carefully,' said Chen Xingliang, a law professor at Peking University." More (Malaysia Star 07.26.2005).
Judicial Hall of Fame: Judge Harry T. Stone. On August 13th at 6 a.m. (EDT) TV Land will begin a 48-hour marathon broadcast of Night Court, presided over by Hon. Harry T. Stone. More (Yahoo 07.25.2005).
167-year-old Maine courthouse to become private art gallery. "Courthouse to become art gallery - Ellsworth couple plans to refurbish historic Bridge Hill building." More (Bangor Daily News 07.25.2005).
Courthouse custodian wins $50,000. "A custodian at the Fulton County [GA] courthouse [in Atlanta] won $50,000 in a Georgia lottery game, officials said. Larry Richardson won the cash after trying his luck with the $100 Million Cash Spectacular...." More (WXIA-TV 07.25.2005). According to the story, he plans to use the money "to move back to his home state of Virginia" (i.e., leave Georgia).
Judge as road fixer? "A Miller County justice of the peace has accused County Judge Roy John McNatt of using county funds and equipment to pave a road near the judge's home. McNatt confirmed the allegation, saying it is part of his goal to improve county roads in Miller County....'I pave county roads. That is the county judge's job. I'm not a crook no kind of way,' McNatt said. 'I know what is needed to be done to fix them in this area of the county. I've lived with them all my life. If you got a road that needs fixing, come and see me. If it is a county road, I will try to fix it.'" More (Texarkana TX Gazette 07.25.2005). Comment. For a description of the strange hybrid office of "county judge" in Texas, click here (Dallam.Org).
'Pulling a Judge Crater.' "[On August 6, 1930, Judge Joseph Force Crater, age 41,] grabbed a cab outside a Manhattan restaurant, waved goodbye to friends and said he was going to a Broadway show. His ticket was picked up at the box office, but no one remembered seeing him there...." Where'd he go? What'd he do? What'd somebody do to him? More (L.A. Times. 07.24.2005).
Contemptuous courtroom attire? According to this piece in the Washington Post (07.24.2005), some judges in northwestern Arkansas are holding parties & witnesses in contempt if they don't wear attire that the judges deem "proper." "[Judge Tom Keith] said suits and ties aren't required, but a full set of clothing -- clean -- is expected. He does not want men wearing earrings or any piercings on the eye, nose or lip." See, also, Fashion crimes draw ire of courts (Charlottesville VA Daily Progress 07.25.2005). Comment. We recently spoke to this subject at length in What's so bad about shorts & tube tops in courtroom? We also have urged judges to look in the fashion mirror & make sure their attire sets a good example. See, On judicial swimsuits & the Rules of Judicial Conduct.
Crooks running for supreme court. "Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks announced Friday he will run for a second 10-year term on the state’s highest court, saying he enjoys his job too much to walk away now. Several candidates had begun to line up for a chance to run for Crooks’ seat in 2006, believing he was ready to retire. But Crooks, now 67, said he has assembled a team of backers and took out papers Friday to start raising money...." More (Green Bay Press-Gazette 07.25.2005). Comment. May I suggest the Smuckers Jelly ad line as appropriate: "With a name like that, he's got to be good."
'Disbarred' judge refuses to resign. "Judge Tiffany Lewis no longer has a license to practice law, but she can still send a person to jail. The State Bar of Texas stripped Judge Lewis of her law license in April after determining that she kept nearly $60,000 from a client's settlement. But she remains a Dallas municipal judge. Judge Lewis, who turns 37 Wednesday, says she has no plans to resign, and the city can't oust her because the city charter lacks a mechanism for a judge's removal...." BTW, she hasn't been convicted of anything & she's appealing the disbarment. More (Dallas Morning News 07.25.2005).
Church turning self into courtroom? "Next week, Mount Sinai Baptist Church will turn into a courtroom. The church will open its doors to fugitives to clean up neighborhoods and make them safer. It’s called 'Fugitive Safe Surrender.' If you’re wanted for a crime, from drugs to murder, you can turn yourself in to Mount Sinai, where authorities will give you favorable consideration...." More (WKYC.Com 07.24.2005). Comment. And the wall (of separation) comes tumbling down?
Wedding & traffic court tales from a West Texas Judge. "The county judge of Cherokee County, Chris Davis, has conducted lots of weddings. He has learned some things. 'A boutonnière will not properly hang on a Budweiser T-shirt. When you have a wedding and one of the groomsmen has on a Budweiser T-shirt, just leave the boutonnière off. It's probably the best thing.'" More (Midland Reporter Telegram 07.25.2005).
Should trial judges be 'frightening' & occasionally show their bias? On 07.22.2005 we posted a link to a story about Nicholas Medawar, QC, who has had several convictions obtained in his court reversed because he was intimidating, rolled his eyes at things witnesses said, etc. We suggested his conduct seemed not that different from that of a number of judges Horace Rumpole regularly faces. See, Judge's animosity to defense counsel & body language = new trial. I now call your attention to a hilarious but seemingly serious opinion piece by Quentin Letts in the UK Telegraph (07.24.2005), that argues the Court of Appeal has it all wrong, that there ought to be more Medawars, that judges ought to be frightening & ought to be free to say things within the jury's hearing like "I have never heard of such rubbish" & "Oh, come off it, the jury wasn't born yesterday!" This piece is priceless & worth copying & saving.
Dept. of Judicial Dangers: Golf. "When it comes to golf, Santa Clara County's  judges have long memories -- and they aren't warm and fuzzy memories. The sore subject came up recently when some of the judges proposed a collegial Friday afternoon golf outing in September. For some judges, both new and veteran, the idea aroused unnerving recollections of a 1998 Mercury News investigation that revealed a group of jurists routinely took off Fridays to hit the links -- with little evidence they were doing so on vacation time...." More (San Jose Mercury News 07.24.2005). The paper obtained copies of a series of e-mail exchanges among the judges that make for amusing reading: "'The 800-pound gorilla in this room is our particular court history on this subject,' Superior Court Judge Pat Tondreau wrote in one...'John Q. Public may not be as sensitive to the fact that this is technically vacation days for the judges when it is done by a group of judges on a normal work day, leaving 15 courtrooms dark, and viewed through the prism of the previous golfing problems on this court.'" Comment. Despite the not inconsiderable danger, the judges bravely voted to proceed with their plans. It is thought that such outings are especially important to help develop a sense of colleageality among the many members of such a large court. It is not clear why the judges could not schedule the outing for a Saturday, as many people do. Perhaps they could not book a golf course on Saturday. In any event, we applaud the judges for their courage and wisdom in extrajudicial decisionmaking.
Dept. of Judicial Dangers: Fishing. "[Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael A. Cicconetti] -- and 75-year-old Ralph Lederer of Willoughby-- were out for a day of perch fishing [in Lake Erie] Wednesday when they motored their vessel away from buoys marking a sand transportation pipe. Instead, their vessel struck a series of underwater stone pilings." As the boat quickly began sinking, they put on their life jackets & swam to shore & contacted the Coast Guard. More (News-Herald 07.23.2005). Comment. It seems to us that, if anything, a judge's taking the morning off to go fishing in Lake Erie with a friend & then surviving the sinking of their boat and swimming to shore demonstrate even more courage than is shown by a large group of judges scheduling a golf tournament. The one is the sort of lone decision that we think of a brave judge making, whereas the other, made by an agglomeration of 79 judges, is arguably more akin to a legislative decision than a judicial decision.
The Rule of Law & beauty pageant judging. "A pageant queen at a local Indiana fair has her crown and title stripped amid claims her aunt rigged the contest. Sarah Rice,18, was stripped of her title by the Fountain County 4-H Council, who named her queen Saturday. Grievances filed claim runner-up Jordan Snoddy had more points...." More (All Headline News 07.23.2005). Comment. It's pretty hard to tell from this brief story who's right & who's wrong, whether anyone did any rigging or whether it was all an honest mistake. We recently wrote a piece titled Judges in high demand; availability trumps other qualifications, in which we argued, inter alia, that given the shortage of judges for county fair competitions & beauty pageants, our state judges ought to incorporate judging such events in the court outreach programs, which include taking the court on the road, reading books to kids in school, etc. We like to think that problems like the one in this case are less likely to occur if law-school-trained, experienced common law judges preside.
Post Office named after 90-year-old judge. "President Bush signed Public Law 109-32, designating the New Bedford post office on Pleasant Street the Honorable Judge George N. Leighton Post Office Building...A graduate of Howard University and Harvard Law School, Judge Leighton is considered one of the greatest legal minds in the country...." More (South Coast Today 07.24.2005). Comment. Since courthouses are often named after members of congress, it makes sense (I think) that post offices are named after judges. But I'm not sure where that leaves particularly outstanding postmasters & postal workers. Perhaps individual mail drop boxes can be named after them.
Changes made in use of senior judges in Georgia. "By this time next week, a lucrative loophole used by some retired judges to obtain substantial salary supplements closes. On Aug. 1, Georgia's Superior Court judges will be held accountable for how and when they want to bring in one of their retired judicial brothers -- known as senior judges - to preside in court. And from then on, each judicial circuit will have to justify the extra expenses for judicial substitutes...." More (Augusta Chronicle 07.23.2005).
Sculpture removed from courthouse lawn without anyone filing law suit. The reason no one filed a lawsuit is the sculpture had nothing to do with the Ten Commandments. Instead, the sculpture, a "bike-rack sculpture," is a "smoothly abstract, needle-nose shape in pink-painted steel by Brad White that has arced over a fountain outside the Jefferson County Courthouse on Fifth Street." The reason for removing the $2,000 commission is it wasn't supposed to be placed there in the first place. More (Louisville Courier-Journal 07.24.2005).
Two judges plead guilty to federal charges involving drug money. "An Edmonds [WA] Municipal Court judge admitted yesterday in U.S. District Court that he accepted a backpack stuffed with $100,000 in dirty money from an international drug-trafficking ring. Judge James L. White -- a former Edmonds city councilman and candidate for the state Supreme Court -- took the money this year from an accused drug kingpin who paid to retain his services as a defense attorney. Instead of giving the kingpin a receipt and depositing it in a bank, he hid it in his home, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Friedman...." White, who pleaded guilty to money laundering, gave $20,000 of it to A. Mark Vanderveen, another attorney involved in the case. Vanderveen, a pro-tem judge in area municipal courts, pleaded guilty to failing to report cash transactions of more than $10,000. More (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 07.23.2005).
New judge 'very serious' about 'the law.' Today's issue of El Defensor Chieftain (07.23.2005) reports that NM Gov. Bill Richardson has appointed a man named Matt Reynolds to fill a district court vacancy. Reynolds is quoted as saying, "I'm not an imposing character, but when it comes to the law, I'm very serious." Comment. It's not news that a newly-appointed judge describes himself as "very serious" about "the law," anymore than it's news that a dog bit a mail person. It'd be news, & amusing, if a newly-appointed judge said, "We all take 'the law' too seriously & need to lighten up. Law ain't everything, it ain't the only thing -- it's really just a small part of life. Every judge, myself included, ought to look at himself in the mirror each morning & say, 'Good morning, your Honor, you old pompous hound dog; don't take yourself so seriously.'"
Canada's supreme court to provincial judges: negotiate before litigating pay. "Provincial judges shouldn't be heading off to court to solve their salary and benefit disputes unless they have good evidence that provincial governments are interfering in the compensation process to curtail judicial independence, the Supreme Court of Canada says." More (The Globe & Mail 07.23.2005). Comment. Under the decision, provincial governments are not automatically bound by a compensation commission's decision; rather, they must consider the decisions as recommendations worthy of considerable respect in negotiating pay packages with the judiciary. Our guess is that that old reliable standard of appellate review -- whether their was an abuse of discretion -- will govern future appeals by judges of a provincial government's rejection of a commission's recommendation.
Afghan judge gunned down while walking to work - Taliban suspected. "Suspected Taliban militants fatally shot a district judge in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, a day after rebels allegedly killed a local administrator in the area, officials said. Two attackers on motorcycles shot the unidentified judge early on Saturday while he was walking to work in Kandahar province's Panjwayi district, said District Chief Niaz Mohammed...." More (Independent Online 07.23.2005).
Ohio Chief Justice disqualifies entire bench of 34 judges from hearing case. "All 34 judges on the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court have been disqualified by Ohio's chief justice from hearing a lawsuit alleging corruption by the Republican party. Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said on Tuesday the unusual move was necessary to eliminate any perception of bias by the court system that's dominated by Democrats. Moyer is a Republican. Moyer said he will appoint a retired visiting judge from outside Cuyahoga County to the case." More (Beacon Journal 07.13.2005). An editorial in the Toledo Blade (07.23.2005), sees the chief's decision as "[m]ore evidence of the arrogance endemic to one-party rule in Columbus," and as "a sharp slap in the face to the entire Ohio judiciary," adding that it's possible that "disqualifying the judges was retaliation for five of six Republican Supreme Court justices -- Mr. Moyer among them - being forced to publicly recuse themselves from the recent 'Coingate' records proceedings because they had accepted generous campaign contributions from the Bureau of Workers' Compensation's $50 million investor, Tom Noe..."
Yet another suggestion for a 'specialized court.' "Rebuffed for two years by the General Assembly in their efforts to limit jury awards to injured patients, Virginia doctors and key legislators are shifting their attention to the creation of courts tailored to address medical negligence...." More (Richmond Times Dispatch 07.23.2005). Earlier entry (with links to earelier entries).
More on calypso judging controversy. "Amidst the discussion and debate surrounding the judges and the judge's criteria used in the calypso competition I rise to give a simple solution to the ongoing problem. I believe that the calypso competition should be judged under three headings, which are: music, lyrics and performance. Each of these headings would have their subheadings for example under lyrics you would judge for composition, relevance, use of figures of speech etc." "Woman Problem Solver," the writer of this letter to The Antigua Sun (07.23.2005), suggests hiring three judges per subheading, "[f]or example, an outstanding English teacher, a social/political analyst, and let's say a poet could make up the team of judges that will judge the lyrical content of the calypso." Earlier entry: Antiguan says, 'No Trinidadian judges, please.'
Life in prison for $88 robbery using pocket knife - Georgia justice. "A man who used a pocketknife to steal $88 has been sentenced to life in prison for the crime. Jeffrey V. Johnson, 43, of Jefferson, Ga., was found guilty Wednesday of armed robbery, possession of a knife during the commission of a crime, theft of a motor vehicle and criminal trespass." The sentence was mandatory under Georgia's "Two Strikes" law, since Johnson had a prior (1987) conviction in FLA for burglary. More (North Georgia Access 07.23.2005). Comment. It's of course just my personal opinion, but this is an "insane" law & an "insane" result. See, BurtLaw on Crime & Punishment & BurtLaw on Capital Punishment for my views. Sometimes "the law is a ass -- a idiot."
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