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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.
Sound familiar? "With flashes of humour and humility, Canada's newest nominee to the Supreme Court survived three hours on the hot seat yesterday by deftly sidestepping questions on the gun registry, poverty and aboriginal rights. Marshall Rothstein, a federal appeals court judge from Winnipeg, made Canadian history as the first candidate for the high court to undergo a televised grilling by MPs. He vowed to serve as a neutral arbitrator driven by judicial independence rather than a 'personal agenda.'" More (Winnipeg Sun 02.28.2006). Comment. Judicial confirmation in America has become a rite, similar to a New Testament confirmation of faith or an Old Testament bar mitzvah, with the confirmand expected to utter formulaic phrases like "I see my job as judge to interpret and apply the law, not make the law" and otherwise recite "the Creed." Most judges have been so cowed by fear of being called "judicial liberals" that they mouth the accepted phrases -- "Judges shouldn't legislate," blah, blah -- even though the phrases, when used to self-describe every judge in America, have become meaningless. Although it may appear from this story that all judges and judge wannabe's in Canada say the same stuff, in fact there's at least one, Canada's Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, who is gutsy enough to say something different. See, entry titled Chief Justice urges judges to go beyond letter of law, and our comments thereto, as well as a neat picture of her (she's quite photogenic).
Judge charged with PWI (presiding while under influence) resigns. "A Franklin County judge has resigned and agreed not to seek judicial office again amid allegations he presided over court while under the influence of alcohol, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct said Monday. Joseph LaLonde, formerly a justice of the Tupper Lake town and village courts, left office on Feb. 12. He had been the village justice since April 1999. Mr. LaLonde denied he presided under the influence. More (Newsday 02.28.2006). Comment. For my expostulations on presiding while under the influence (as well as on golfing under the influence and performing surgery under the influence), see Hi ho, hi ho,/ it's off to court I go,/ to judge, to judge,/ tra la, tra la.... PWI should be compared and contrasted with NWP (napping while presiding), LWSJ (leaking while secretly judging) and MWP (masturbating while presiding).
Judge resigns after another DUI arrest; another judge goes on trial. "A suburban Kansas City municipal judge who temporarily removed himself from the bench a decade ago after declining to submit to an alcohol breath test has refused another test [and has resigned]. Charles McKeon of Parkville was asked to submit to the breath test early Sunday after police allege he repeatedly hit a vehicle several times while in the drive-through of a McDonald's restaurant in the northern part of Kansas City. He drove away when people in the other vehicle approached him and was arrested later...." More (Belleville News-Democrat 02.28.2006). Meanwhile, according to another story in the same paper, "Five years after former St. Clair County Circuit Judge William B. Starnes was charged with drunken driving, a jury was picked Monday for his trial...."
Retiring judge issues ruling favoring firm, joins firm two days later. "A retiring Bergen County, N.J., judge turned heads this month by issuing a ruling in a case in which the plaintiffs counsel is the firm he planned to join. Neither Gerald Escala nor his new employer, Herten, Burstein, Sheridan, Cevasco, Bottinelli, Litt & Harz, will say when the job offer was made. But Escala announced on Feb. 3 that he would join the Hackensack, N.J., firm -- just two days after signing a judgment in a case in which partner Thomas Herten was the plaintiffs lawyer...." Details (N.J. Law Journal via Law.Com via Biz.Yahoo 02.28.2006).
Judicial candidate charged with theft. "A candidate for Blount General Sessions Court judge was cited in the early morning hours Monday for allegedly attempting to steal a $3 campaign sign of an opponent. Robert Maynard Cohen, 55, College Street, Maryville, was cited at 12:36 a.m. for allegedly stealing an 'Elect Rocky Young Sessions Judge' sign from its location at the intersection of Old Niles Ferry Road and Best Street in West Maryville...." More (Maryville Daily Times - TN 02.28.2006). Cohen, a past president of the county bar association, also displayed signs of intoxication, according to a police report. Cohen issued a combination apology/explanation: "`What I did last night was obviously a mistake. I thought that the sign had been improperly placed. I stopped and picked it up. It was obviously a huge, poor judgment on my part. Nothing was done with malicious intent. I called Rocky Young first thing this morning (Monday) and apologized. As far as I know, we're still good friends. In my opinion, he didn't think it was a big deal.'' The paper says that Young, who described Cohen as "a pretty good fellow," accepted the apology: "He just made a mistake, but unfortunately no one is above the law, particularly those running for judicial positions.'' Comments. a) We love the unfortunate choice of word in the phrase "unfortunately no one is above the law." b) Normally an attorney from the "county district attorney's office" would prosecute but the office is asking for a temporary special prosecutor to present it because i) Young is an assistant in the office and ii) the attorney in the office who normally would present the case is also a candidate for the judicial position. c) In 2004 a 32-year veteran of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Minneapolis DFLer Phyllis Kahn, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft for taking campaign brochures left on some New Hope doorsteps on behalf of Republican house member Lynne Osterman and replacing them with pieces from Osterman's DFL opponent, Sandra Peterson, whom Kahn was supporting. The district court judge ordered the apologetic and remorseful and embarrassed Kahn to pay $200 in prosecution costs but deferred imposing any other sentence for a year and agreed to dismiss the misdemeanor case if Kahn committed no similar offense in the interim. (San Jose Mercury-News, 09.23.2004). For my musings on that case, see my mini-essay Political lawn signs -- law & etiquette (entry dated 10.08.2004) at my political opinion website, BurtonHanson.Com.
Judge quits amid allegations regarding fen-phen setllement. "Bob Wilson received $29,500 of a multimillion-dollar settlement involving the diet pill fen-phen -- a drug cocktail he claimed caused him to have a stroke. News that the judge who oversaw the settlement -- Joseph 'Jay' Bamberger of Florence -- resigned rather than face removal for allegedly profiting from the $200 million fen-phen settlement outraged Wilson. The 67-year-old Buckner resident said he felt violated. Kentucky's Judicial Conduct Commission said Bamberger's actions 'shocked the conscience' of its members...." Details (Cincinnati Enquirer 02.28.2006).
Israel wants more Russian immigrants, Muslims to apply for judgeships. "Members of the Judicial Appointments Committee are launching a campaign to locate candidates among lawyers who immigrated from Russia and the CIS, in an effort to increase the number of new immigrants on the bench...Haaretz reported a month ago that the Bar Association's representatives on the committee are [also] working to locate Muslim lawyers worthy of judicial appointment and encourage them to apply. Israel's Muslim population is considerably under-represented in terms of judges, of which fewer than 2 percent are Muslim...[A] 2001 report by a public committee to examine the judicial selection process, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir, established the "'ransparency principle' according to which all sectors of the population must be part of the judicial system. But the committee rejected the 'representation principle' -- that each sector should be represented according to its share of the population...." More (International Herald Tribune 02.28.2006).
Bomb explodes at Basque courthouse near Bilbao. "A bomb exploded at a courthouse in Basque Country' Mungia, near the Basque port city of Bilbao, late on Monday, injuring a Basque Police officer and a local police officer...." More (EiTB24 - Spain 02.28.2006).
Annals of recusal and replacement. The AG in KY, Greg Stumbo, impaneled a grand jury to investigate whether officials in the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher "broke state law by basing rank-and-file personnel decisions on political considerations instead of candidates' qualifications." Thus far, the grand jury has indicted thirteen people on misdemeanor charges. Fletcher has countered by issuing a blanket pardon for everyone who has been indicted or who might be indicted in the case, except himself. The Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the grand jury may still issue indictments in the case. Two of the seven justices have recused. The KY Const. says the governor is to fill the vacancies with substitutes when two or more recuse. Gov. Fletcher has done so, but the Washington Post quotes the AG as saying it's "unprecedented" for the governor to pick the subs under the circumstances. More (Washington Post 02.26.2006). A KY TV station reports that Stumbo believes both appointees should recuse because they have contributed to the governor's political campaigns. More (WKY-TV 02.26.2006).
Update on federal judge's decision halting rigged judicial elections. In late January U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson "struck down the system that has given state political party leaders a stranglehold over the way top trial judges across New York State have been elected for decades." The judge "found the system unconstitutional and ordered it halted immediately." See, Federal judge halts rigging of judicial elections, linking to NYT story. Now "lawyers [are] seek[ing] to convince Judge Gleeson to stay his order that party primaries be used to nominate candidates to the 25 positions open...this year," and a number of the judges affected have sent letters to the judge "expressing their concern that they or their peers will be ousted from office if they are unable to throw together expensive campaigns in the coming months," one saying that denying the stay may result in "shattered judicial careers." More (N.Y. Sun 02.27.2006). Comment. I guess I find it hard to sympathize with the judges, assuming Judge Gleeson is correct in his determination that the system that led to their selection in the first place was "rigged."
Is this America? No, Cook County. "Loyola University professor Jona Goldschmidt routinely sends his students into Cook County's courtrooms to observe, and he was shocked to find sheriff's deputies at the courthouse ordering his students to stop taking notes. When Goldschmidt and a colleague went to the court and began taking notes, Supervising Judge Gloria Coco told them they could not take notes in her courtroom. 'Why not?' Goldschmidt asked. Coco told him it was her order, asked him who he was, and without waiting for an answer, nodded to a courtroom deputy who escorted them from the room...Goldschmidt and his colleague went to another courtroom and were again removed. They headed to an elevator, but a sheriff's deputy ordered them to stay put and fetched a supervisor who queried them about who they were. Now U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo has ruled that Goldschmidt's resulting lawsuit may go forward on a claim that the no-notes policy violates the First Amendment, rejecting a claim by the court that note-taking might disturb courtroom decorum. More (Chicago Sun-Times 02.27.2006). Comment. In the words of the song made popular in the 1950's by the Cowboy Church Sunday School, "Open up your heart/ And let the sun shine in."
Devaluing the coin of judging. Doron Rosenblum has a terrific piece in today's (02.26.2006) Haaretz titled Three legal etudes. The best of the three, dealing with the devaluation of the role of judge, opens thusly:
Years ago, when soccer referee Yehoachin Pendelovich sued Mr. Kasakh in court, in the immortal "Offside Story" sketch that Yossi Banai wrote for the Hagashash comedy trio, there was no funnier moment than when the ref addressed the distinguished judge with the words: "Your honor...Dear colleague...As one judge to another..." How comic was the ludicrous, startling collegial connection between the lowly, disparaged ref (Poli) and the eminent judge (Shaike) who, at least up to a certain point, tried to maintain a semblance of judicial majesty.
The sketch was funny "years ago" because of the delusionary chutzpah of a soccer referee equating his role to that of a judge. "Back then," writes Rosenblum, "the justices of the Supreme Court seemed to dwarf even God with their power and authority; district judges, and even labor court judges, traffic judges and judges in small claims courts also exuded an air of distinction. They carefully nurtured their honor and even employed unique Israeli 'legalese" -- a mixture of cuneiform, cantillation and a yekke accent." Now, says Rosenblum, the nation holds its breath not to listen to "a polished and learned" ruling by a judge but to listen to the "judgments" of "judges" in TV reality competitions, as in: "'I'm telling you, you have an ass like a cat that was run over by an ice-cream truck driving in reverse...You will not be proceeding to the next stage. Bye!'" Comment. The second "etude," dealing with the emotional public "farewells" given retiring justices of the Israeli Supreme Court is also worth reading. Further reading. BurtLaw on Dog Judging, Jam&Jelly Judging, Etc.
Yet another kind of 'judge,' Texas's 'county judge.' "While sheriffs in Texas wear cowboy hats, county judges wear a wide assortment of hats. They serve as the chief executive officer and chief financial officer for the county. They preside over a five-member commissioners court, which has budgetary and administrative authority over county government operations. County judges handle such widely varying matters as hearings for beer and wine permits and hearings on admittance to state mental hospitals. They're involved in probating wills and economic development. They can even perform marriages...." Calculating, judging, soothsaying all part of county judge's duties (Waco Tribune-Herald 02.26.2006).
Elevation of judge in controversial case sparks criticism. "The elevation of Delhi additional sessions judge S L Bhayana, who acquitted all the nine accused in Jessica Lal murder case, to the Delhi High Court touched off a controversy with a Supreme Court lawyer on Sunday demanding that his promotion be put on hold till the High Court adjudicates upon the verdict...." More (Sify - India 02.26.2006). Further reading. "Jessica Lal [a well-known model] was shot dead in April, 1999 in the Tamarind Court restaurant, owned by the socialite Bina Ramani. Manu Sharma, son of a Congress party leader and minister in Haryana state, Vinod Sharma, was the main accused in the case along with eight others. On Tuesday the court acquitted all nine citing insufficient evidence...." Delhi murder verdict 'shameful' (BBC News 02.26.2006).
A judicial green light for torture? "With the Bush administration claiming imperial powers to detain, spy on and even torture people, and the Republican Congress stuck largely in enabling mode, the role of judges in checking executive branch excesses becomes all the more crucial. If the courts collapse when confronted with spurious government claims about the needs of national security, so will basic American liberties." From an editorial in today's NYT focusing on "the case of a Syrian-born Canadian, Maher Arar, who spent months under torture [in Syria] because of United States action [in using 'extraordinary rendition' to 'outsource' his interrogation]."
Ex-judge will go on offensive in trial for theft-by-deception. "To former Judge William Stewart, looking back, his ouster from the bench began with a silent coup pulled off by his Shelby County courthouse rivals. Now he will get his chance to prove it. Tomorrow, he and his wife, Sarah Dutton, will stand trial on charges of theft by deception...Stewart is accused of authorizing full-time pay for Dutton when she was working half time for him. [T]he couple's lawyers plan to put Stewart's accusers on trial -- the four top officials who Stewart says tried to bring him down for their own gain...." The four are: "District Judge Mike Harrod, then-County Attorney Charles Hickman, Assistant County Attorney Hart Megibben and Commonwealth's Attorney Fielding Ballard III." More (Louisville Courier-Journal 02.26.2006). Comment. If there were a version of People magazine named The Weekly Judge or a version of US titled US Judges, this one might make a splash on the cover. According to the paper, the allegations against Judge Stewart first surfaced in an anonymous letter one of the four, Ballard, wrote in 2004 to the Judicial Conduct Commission "warning of 'blood on the streets' if Stewart stayed in office" a letter that "was signed 'many concerned citizens' and hinted that one would be killed if he went public."
Steed, polygamist, is removed from bench. "[Walter Steed, a] small-town judge with three wives[,] was ordered removed from the bench by the Utah Supreme Court on Friday...Steed has served for 25 years on the Justice Court in the polygamist community of Hildale in southern Utah, where he ruled on misdemeanor crimes such as drunken driving and domestic violence cases...." More (Chicago Sun-Times 02.25.2006).
Judge runs coffeehouse on side. "Business is percolating along Salem Avenue...[T]he North River Coffee House and Eatery opened Friday. 'This is an old-fashioned neighborhood gathering place,' said Dayton Municipal Judge Bill Littlejohn, owner of the coffee house at 323 Salem Ave. 'We're hoping this will be a catalyst for development in the neighborhood.'" More (Dayton Daily News - OH 02.25.2006).
Want more coffee? a) You might try Judicial Flavors. One of Judicial Flavors' "judicially-infused" products is Legal Rush Coffee Beans ("Trouble getting your motor running in the A.M.? Don't violate the Health and Safety Code. Instead, have a cup of the Shyster's Rush. With fine legal beans from Tanzania and Mexican organic, roasted by the Shyster's friends at Depoe Bay, you will make it through the morning rush legally!"). b) How about Judge Paul H. Coffee, Associate Justice, Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 6 (Los Angeles and Ventura) or Coffee County Judge Sylvia Stone (Coffee County, Georgia)? c) Some swear by Alito Bold Justice at T.M. Ward Coffee Co. in Newark. d) Say you're a secretary and you want to put some tasty jam on your judge's crumpet -- why not place an order from Blackberry Patch, located in north Florida, maker and seller of "Southern Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Syrups," which is owned by Geraldine Rudd and her husband John, a retired circuit court judge?
Annals of eccentric judges. "She is sitting with Dickens and Crumpet, her two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, in her chambers in Cincinnati's federal court building downtown. Stuffed animals fill window sills and top book shelves. There are dog clocks, dog prints and papier mache dogs, dog bones and water dishes, a dog bed and even a doggie cart for Dickens and Crumpet to ride in. On a bookshelf are photos of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and John Glenn, juxtaposed with Rocky and Bullwinkle trinkets and Wizard of Oz paraphernalia...." From a 02.17.2002 Cincinnati Enquirer profile of U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott (depicted here with her dogs).
Would you believe lawyers ransacking courts, abusing judges? "Striking lawyers, allegedly of the Delhi Bar Association, today turned violent attacking staff and ransacking courts, including that of the District Judge and of CBI, at the Tis Hazari complex here. According to a police complaint filed by District Judge S N Dhingra, 'hoards of lawyers of Delhi Bar Association entered in groups, manhandled litigants, threw articles at judges, snatched files from litigants and broke name plates.'" An officer of the bar association is quoted saying the "lawyers" were impersonators. More (The Hindu 02.24.2006).
Representative who doesn't like judge's decision wants her impeached. "A state lawmaker [Donald H. Dwyer Jr.] wants the judge who ruled that the state's definition of marriage was unconstitutional to be removed from the bench, meaning Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock would face the same fate as only one other jurist in Maryland history. That Civil War-era judge was punished for getting drunk and falling asleep in court." An ACLU attorney is quoted as saying Dwyer's action represents "a frivolous, dangerous and extremist response from the lunatic fringe." More (Baltimore Sun 02.24.2006). Comment. One of the reasons I prefer the Minnesota Plan to the much-touted Missouri Plan is that it's too easy for the rabble to wage a "do not retain" campaign when a judge who makes an unpopular decision comes up for retention vote. For more on my position, see, e.g., The 'great' Missouri Plan and my extensive critical comments at Blatz blazts politicization of judicial campaigns. See, also, Free speech is a 'bad idea'? and BurtLaw's Law & Judicial Elections.
Free speech okay for judges but not for Prince Chuck? "Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford University, said that Charles 'has a right -- some would say a duty -- to interest himself in public matters and to speak on what he likes.'" But, "Paul Flynn, a Labor member of Parliament," thinks otherwise: "'If he is going to find it irresistible to interfere in politics -- sometimes on the side of sense, sometimes on the side of nonsense -- then the monarchy would be in grave peril with him as head of state,' [he] told the Press Association. He added that if Charles was so interested in politics, 'then he should do what everyone else does who has that urge, and stand for Parliament.'" From a pretty funny piece in the NYT yesterday, 02.23.2006, by Sarah Lyall, The Dissident Prince: Public, Prickly and Very Political ("British monarchs are supposed to be inscrutable to the point of banality. If they have interesting opinions about things like politics and foreign policy -- and it is not always clear that they do -- they are expected to keep them quiet").
More on Alito's politicized clerks. "[T]he politics and ideology informing the clerkship process has never been quite as predictable or ugly as it is in the rest of the political world. Clerks are recent law-school graduates -- tadpoles by Washington standards -- who may grow up to be any kind of frog...Moreover, most law clerks enter and then exit the Supreme Court without political ambitions. They live vaguely normal lives without ego walls, developing fantasies of appearing on Meet the Press, and the other sad symptoms of Potomac fever. Yet there are reasons to think that this may be changing. One small sign is a new trend of hiring clerks already trained at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and thus usually primed to defend the positions of the executive branch. Another is Justice Alito's newest batch of clerks, including clerks of a different kind: They're more like political staffers than law clerks. They're older, dedicated movement conservatives with defined agendas...." From Tim Wu, Clerk-Off - Are law clerks staffers? (Slate 02.23.2006). Earlier. Alito picks experienced ideological soulmate to be one of his clerks and comments thereto.
Judge asks Arnold not to terminate killer. "In a highly unusual development, a judge who condemned a killer to die has asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency. Michael A. Morales is to be executed Feb. 21 for the 1981 killing of Terri Winchell, a Lodi high school student. Ventura County Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath, appointed by Gov. Ronald Reagan, said in a letter to the governor that he believes the sentence was based on false testimony from a jailhouse informant...." More (L.A. Times 02.23.2006). Further reading. BurtLaw on Law and Capital Punishment.
Supreme Judicial Court sponsors essay contest. "In an effort to encourage high school students to learn more about the contributions of John Adams and the Massachusetts Constitution to strengthening the rule of law, the Supreme Judicial Court and the Massachusetts Department of Education are sponsoring the 2006 Supreme Judicial Court High School Essay Contest...." More (Ipswich Chronicle 02.23.2006). Comment. I can't help linking to this piece from the Ipswich Chronicle for two reasons. First, I won $125 in a similar statewide essay contest (on juvenile delinquency) when I was in ninth grade, I think it was. Second, Ipswich, MA is one of my favorite spots in New England, and I used to walk by the paper's office back in the late 1960's whenever I visited there, which typically was in connection with a weekday trip to Crane's Beach, one of my favorite beaches in the world, where I loved taking long, long walks on the same "white sands...lovely as the opal flash of fairy walls" that Justice Holmes spoke of in 1902 in an address at a memorial ceremony in Ipswich. Last time I was there was in September 1995 when I drove my daughter to Harvard College for her third year; we took a drive to Ipswich together and visited the deserted beach.
Prosecutor recommends extradition of judge to Greece to face charges. "A French prosecutor yesterday recommended that former judge Constantina Bourboulia be extradited to Greece, where she has been charged in connection with an alleged trial-fixing ring...." More (Kathimerini 02.23.2006).
The 'bargain' underlying judicial independence. The Aussies are debating the need for a "federal judicial commission." Michael Slattery, in an opinion piece arguing against one in The Australian (02.24.2006) offers the following bit of background:
Judicial independence was finally won in the English Constitution by the Act of Settlement of 1701. Tenure during good behaviour and removal only upon the address of both houses of parliament were its guarantees. Judicial independence and confidence in judicial office were then fostered by a convention that really contained a mutual compact: judges would not normally speak on controversial public issues of the day except to the extent that their judgments required it; the attorney-general as first law officer under the Crown would defend the non-speaking judges from unwarranted public attack. This mutual convention was adopted and observed in Australia until about the 1980s.
Glenn Martin, President of the Australian bar, unlike Mr. Slattery, believes there's a need for an independent body or commission to assist Parliament in handling complaints against federal judges:
Parliament currently has no system in place for the receipt and investigation of serious complaints about federal judges. It needs to provide for the establishment of an independent body, with members appointed pursuant to an agreed protocol, which can investigate a complaint and make a report. Such a body would only need to be constituted when a complaint emerged, but the fact that it was created in accordance with an accepted procedure would allow attention to be directed to the real issues.
More (The Australian 02.24.2006). Meanwhile, Chief Justice Marilyn Warren has denied complaints, noted here yesterday, by a retiring judge of "ignorant interference" by bureaucrats: "Responding to angry criticism of bureaucratic 'interference' in the court by retiring judge William Ormiston, Justice Warren said yesterday that bureaucrats did not tell her what to do. 'Under our system, judges run the court, not public servants,' Justice Warren said. 'The bureaucracy does not tell judges what to do." More (The Age 02.23.2006).
Judge Joan Lefkow issues statement in lieu of interviews. "This written statement reflecting the events of the past year will stand in lieu of acceptance of media requests for personal interviews. The members of the media have been both respectful and understanding of our feelings this past year, and our thanks are extended to them as well." More (Chicago Tribune 02.23.2006). Comment. She's the federal judge whose husband and mother were murdered by a litigant who had appeared before her. In the statement she thanks everyone and vows "to do all in my power to help improve the safety of all judges in the years ahead."
Judge George Epps submits to interview, apologizes. Judge Epps is the South Carolina judge we're familiar with from Judge caught on tape demeaning man with service dog. Now he's issued an "I'm sorry if"-type of apology, "say[ing] he is sorry if he offended a man using a medical service dog by questioning the man for bringing the animal into a courtroom." More (WIS-TV - SC 02.23.2006).
Courts as part of battle for control of city. "[M]any Somalis say that the continuing battle for control of Mogadishu has revealed the Islamic courts to be an increasingly influential power base in a city dominated by rival warlords. The warlords-turned-politicians formed [a] new alliance to curb the growing power of the brutal but efficient courts, which are currently the only functioning law enforcement agency in the war...." More (Monsters and Critics - UK 02.23.2006).
Departing in 'despair,' judge scats on 'ignorant, interfering' bureaucracy. "One of the state's most senior judges has slammed bureaucratic interference in the running of the Supreme Court, saying it has driven him to despair and into retirement. Justice William Ormiston used the occasion of his farewell yesterday to decry the Department of Justice's 'ignorant meddling' in the court...'I could go on and on but the fate of Business Unit 19, as was once the unhappy description of the (Supreme) Court, has left me in despair.'" More (The Age - AU 02.23.2006). Comment. In the U.S. not all the bureaucratic "ignorant" interfering and meddling comes from outside a court; more often than not, at least on the trial court level, particularly in multi-judge districts around the country, it comes from "court administrators" hired by the courts themselves. I remember the day when the judiciary did quite well without the expensive services of these "experts."
Heckler disrupts Scalia during televised public appearance. "Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia grew tired of a persistent heckler Tuesday and asked organizers of a legal seminar [titled "Outsourcing of American Law"] to do something about the outbursts -- gently. 'Don't use force,' Scalia told American Enterprise Institute workers as they grabbed the young man's arm and nudged him toward the door. The workers then let go and the man walked out...Scalia generally bars television cameras and sometimes other press from his events. Allowing the talk to be televised live on C-SPAN was a rare move for one of the court's most conservative justices...." More (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer - GA 02.21.2006).
'The O.C.' - Episode Number.... "An Orange County judge who managed his home-rental business out of his courtroom, using his bailiff to collect rent and sending his clerk to inspect his properties, has been reprimanded by the state for improper behavior. In a letter made public Tuesday, the state Commission on Judicial Performance admonished Superior Court Judge John M. Watson, saying his actions threatened the 'integrity of the judiciary.'...The commission began its investigation after a tenant of Watson's complained in 2004 that the judge used his position to bully her over a maintenance dispute, communicating on court stationery and sending his clerk to check on his property...." More (L.A. Times 02.22.2006).
MN judges deny knowingly 'fixing' tickets for clerk. "The board is seeking a rare public reprimand against Dakota County District Judge Rex Stacey and retired Judge Thomas Murphy for allegedly fixing the tickets by giving them 'special treatment' because they were issued to a clerk's husband and son, according to complaints served on the judges in January...." The judges, who deny knowingly doing anything wrong, have requested public hearings. More (St. Paul Pioneer-Press 02.22.2006). Comment. It's important to keep an open mind on these cases, as on all contested cases. It's entirely possible that in the rush of business the judges signed the orders without knowing they concerned relatives of the clerk, since both relatives had different last names.
Small-town judge wins $850,000 in civil rights suit against state patrol. "[John] Wilder is a municipal judge in [Monte Vista, a] small southern Colorado town. But Wilder, who bucks tradition by not wearing a robe during court or having people stand when he enters the courtroom, said the longer he thought about it [following his own arrest by the State Patrol], the more he became convinced that the State Patrol's drunken-driving arrest standards violated people's civil rights. 'Ultimately, I realized I had a duty to sue,' said Wilder, 63...." More (Denver Post 02.22.2006). Comment. The federal jury awarded him $1 million but the judge vacated $150,000 of it, the part representing economic damage as opposed to punitive damages, etc. The state plans to appeal. It will be interesting to see if the case holds up on appeal.
Two judges to share a full-time district court judgeship. "The recent press release from the Lord Chancellor positively fizzed with excitement. Not only did it boast of record numbers of women and ethnic minority judges -- to a level that is almost twice that ten years ago -- but perhaps more significantly it announced Britainís first judicial case of job sharing. Part-time judicial appointments are nothing new. But Lorna Grosse and Alison Rowley will be the first lawyers to share a full-time post between them -- that of a district judge on the South Eastern Circuit...Neither knew the other before each was appointed...." More (UK Times 02.22.2006).
The state of the judiciary. "During 2005 the Azerbaijani initial claims court system tried 65,500 civil and 12,891 criminal cases, stated Supreme Court Chairman Ramiz Rzayev at a press conference...A total of 13,711 people were found guilty and eight were set free of their charges in the initial claims courts...." More (BakuToday 02.21.2006).
Cavorting in public without an Afghan? "Since the summer of 2002, septuagenarian Fazel Hadi Shinwari has run Afghanistan's Supreme Court like the respected Islamic scholar he is. He has banned the Afghan feminist Sima Samar from holding a cabinet position, after she reportedly said she didn't believe in Islamic sharia law. He has banned an Afghan TV station for showing what he called 'half-naked singers and obscene scenes from movies.' He has also spoken against coeducation; has supported the employment of women (if they wear head scarves); and ordered the arrest of an Afghan journalist who suggested that, in some cases, the Koran was open to interpretation. The charges in this case were blasphemy, punishable by death...." From Scott Baldauf, The West pushes to reform traditionalist Afghan courts (Christian Science Monitor 02.21.2006). Comment. I thought we got rid of the Taliban. Related reading. Historian gets three years in prison in Austria for 'denying' Holocaust (Daily Record - UK 02.21.2006).
President says courts are still corrupt. Romanian President Traian Basescu said yesterday that there "still is a high level of corruption in courts," despite reforms. More (Bucharest Daily News 02.21.2006).
More heroic than The Beatles. "When a gunman shot three bullets at him at close range, Colonel James Graeme Bryson thought his career as a High Court judge was over. He had been sitting in Liverpool and had just made a nightclub owner bankrupt when the aggrieved man opened fire in the court room. But the World War II veteran tackled his attacker, grabbing the pistol from him and earning himself the Queen's commendation for bravery...." From a profile of the 93-year-old Liverpoolian hero (ICLiverpool - UK 02.21.2006).
Judicial extensions? "Tracy Darney has a commercial pilot's license, an M.B.A. and a trim figure. But she never had long thick hair. So she has paid $6,800 to get it. On four different occasions, Ms. Darney has gone to a salon and sat for six hours for the application of human-hair extensions. Her stylist uses a tool that looks like a giant pair of tweezers and applies a protein-based adhesive to the hair near her scalp, giving her 12 inches of natural-looking hair that flows down her back. The extensions last two to six months and cost $1,700 a sitting...." More (N.Y. Times 02.19.2006). Comment. Not that long ago, one of our friends, Klara Fribund Kollevitz, introduced the now hugely-popular "Saturday Judicial Makeovers" for judges who, for whatever reason, find they have an image problem in the courtroom -- judges who do not project authority or wisdom or gravitas or experience -- whatever. Thus, for example, if you're an obviously-young judge or an older judge cursed with a Dick Klark youthful appearance, Klara can use her patented state-of-the-art aging technology -- Gravi-Tox -- to add gravitas to your look. Now she is pleased to announce "Saturday Judicial Extensions." Suppose you're a judge who's seemingly been mired in fast-track knife-crime court for years and you're wondering if you'll ever climb the ladder to the next level of the court system. Have you considered the problem might not be you but your hair? Two months ago such a judge, balding but otherwise not lacking in gravitas (thanks to one of Klara's Saturday Judicial Makeovers), said to Klara, "I think I'd like to add a 'Brandeis Do.'" He was referring, of course, to what Time magazine described in a 1925 article as Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis's "rumpled hair" (top left) and what other contemporaries of Brandeis described as a blue-grey or grey "shock" of hair. (One contemporary, I seem to recall, added that Brandeis, not without justification in my opinion, was exceptionally vain about his hair.) Like Samson, Brandeis knew that his real strength -- indeed, his judicial greatness -- was in his hair (just as Holmes's was in his beard), and he took great pains to attain that "sweet-disordered" controlled-tossled look that captivated President Woodrow Wilson, a captivation that led ineluctably to Wilson's appointing Brandeis to SCOTUS. (With apologies to Robert Herrick, I can't help saying that "A sweet disorder in Lou's tress/ Kindled in Wood' a wantonness.") But I digress. The point is that through skilled use of extensions, Klara was able to help our frustrated judge escape from his judicial hellhole: two weeks after receiving his Brandeis Do, he was elevated from conciliation court to the much more prestigious traffic division. Want fuller (as in Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller, above right) locks? Want 1970's-style "bushy mutton-chop" Rehnquistian (as in Chief Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist) sideburns? Want "gray hair coifed in a formidable pompadour" à la U.S. Circuit Court Judge David Bryan Sentelle (right)? Your choice is clear: kall Klara's at Local 536 for a free konsultation. As always, Judge-appropriate konfidentiality assured.
Annals of SCOTUS 'Firsts.' "For the first time in history a daughter of one of the Justices appeared before the Court to argue a case. She was Miss Susan Brandeis, daughter of Louis Dembitz Brandeis...When his own daughter came to plead before the Court there was no precedent, no regulation covering the contingency, but he voluntarily retired from the bench and did not sit on the case. Chief Justice Fuller, Confederate veteran, the only Roman Catholic Chief Justice, used to remark that he had jurisdiction over the entire U. S. except the Fuller home and family. Justice Brandeis doubtless feels in much the same way...." More (Time 10.19.1925).
How to save £2 million a year. "Crown prosecutors are being told to stop making manuscript records of the outcome of hearings and instead enter them directly into the Compass judicial system. A National Audit Office report on timewasting and inefficiencies in the court process says lawyers entering the data instead of leaving the work to be repeated by administrative staff at a later date, could save £2m a year in staff costs alone...." More (VNUNet.Com 02.20.2006).
Commission to grill 13 justices in probe. "The Judicial Commission [in Indonesia] will question 13 Supreme Court Justices, who have been reported by the public, and who are allegedly 'problematic.'...The plan to question the 13 has triggered an open conflict between the Supreme Court and Judicial Commission. One justice filed a defamation complaint after the commission made their names public before cross-checking on the allegations. But then the two institutions agreed to solve the feud amicably and [J]ustice Artidjo Alkotsar withdrew the complaint...." More (Jakarta Post 02.20.2006). Earlier. Judicial reform in Indonesia. Comment. As we've noted before, Indonesia has been said (by expatriate businessmen) to have one of the two worst judicial systems in Asia. Two sources of pressure toward reform are: a) the desire to fully join and benefit from the world economy, which has been a strong motivating force for judicial reform in other countries, and b) pressure from countries like Australia, from which much of the country's tourist trade comes. Australia, in particular, has focused the sunshine of publicity on Indonesian courts in connection with high-profile drug trials of Aussies, some of whom have been sentenced to death. Indonesia, however, is not in the "Big Four" of countries in judicial execution. Last time I checked, of the judicially-decreed executions, 90% took place in China, Saudi Arabia, the USA (in 3d place) and Iran. See, BurtLaw's Law and Capital Punishment. We keep good company, don't we?
Shooter targets judge leaving courthouse. "Lake Charles [LA] Police say a shot was fired at a state judge overnight. Police Chief Don Dixon say Judge Rick Bryant was the target of the shooter. Dixon says Bryant was working last night at the courthouse. He was attempting to leave for the night and was exiting a rear door. Bryant told police he heard someone make the remark like 'no good judge' and one shot [apparently from a revolver] rang out...." More (KLFY 02.20.2006). Comment. All the sophisticated courthouse security in the world can't provide failsafe protection to judges. Can't get by metal detectors? Just wait outside. As fellow Harvard Law classmate, MN District Court Judge Jack Nordby has said, "If somebody is determined to kill a judge, itís not as if he would have to do it in a courthouse." The View From The Bench (MN Law & Politics - transcript of taped conversation of former U.S. District Court Judge Miles Lord and Judge Nordby). Sadly, 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, and How about a courthouse surrounded by & filled with flowers? One can argue that increased security may make things worse. There are certain troubled folks who focus their obsessive wrath on the well-protected. I still think the best prophylactic for a judge is to treat all people who come before him with the greatest respect and court-esy. Sound naive? So be it. As authority, I offer this from Emerson's essay on Montaigne in his Representative Lives (1850):
In the civil wars of the League, which converted every house into a fort, Montaigne kept his gates open and his house without defence. All parties freely came and went, his courage and honor being universally esteemed. The neighboring lords and gentry brought jewels and papers to him for safekeeping. Gibbon reckons, in these bigoted times, but two men of liberality in France, -- Henry IV and Montaigne.
Law and literature. "For former Maine Chief Justice Daniel Van Wathen, it was an essay by...Montaigne that shed light on decades of bland legal dockets. He was participating in a course for lawyers and judges when he read a passage on how nothing is so universal among humans as diversity. 'I realized how easy it can be, after seeing thousands of cases, to think 'oh, this is one of those,' he says. 'But you really have to consider the complexity and diversity of every human affair -- and when you forget that, you start doing injustice.'" From Sara Steindorf, "A Novel Approach to Work," Christian Science Monitor 01.29.2002, an article on why people in a variety of professions are turning to literature for insight into everyday issues they face. More. We've been recommending it for years. Some of my favorite memories of my 28 years as an aide to the Minnesota Supreme Court are of wide-ranging discussions I had with that fellow lover of Montaigne and Frost, that poet-philosopher among judges, Hon. John E. Simonett, who is still in active practice in Mpls. with the leading firm of Greene & Espel. The late grandfather of my ex-wife, John G. Rauch, Sr., personal counsel to Eli Lilly and a leader of the Indianapolis bar whom I admired greatly, for years was a group leader in the Great Books program. (01.30.2002)
How are we doing? "Attention Floridians: The state Supreme Court wants to know your perceptions of how people are treated by the judicial system. Late last month, the Florida Supreme Court's Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity began distributing a survey asking about such things as the court system's treatment of whites compared with minorities, men vs. women, poor and rich, English-speakers and non-English-speakers...Surveys and ballot boxes have been placed on each floor of the West Palm Beach courthouse. They have also been sent to judges, lawyers and court staff across the state. Jurors and litigants are also being asked to fill them out...." More (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 02.20.2006).
The judiciary as a 'thin black line' of protection. "The man holding the Bush administration's feet to the fire on restoring Columbia Basin salmon, even if it means breaching some hydroelectric dams, doesnít like to eat the Northwest's signature fish. U.S. District Judge James Redden  finds it too oily, unless it has been barbecued in the American Indian fashion on planks around an open fire...But in finding that the Bush administration's latest attempt to protect cheap hydroelectric power from the demands of restoring the Northwest's depleted salmon runs violated the Endangered Species Act, Redden sees himself as part of a 'thin black line' of the judiciary that protects the public from the excesses of government...." More (Olympia Olympian 02.19.2006). Comment. Judge Redden's phrase "thin black line" is a nice play on the phrase "thin blue line" that refers to the police. However, the judiciary has competition in claiming it as an identifying phrase -- see, results of Google search.
Judges defeat lawyers in cricket match. "The judges of the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court led by the Chief Justice of India Y.K. Sabharwal, today took to the cricket field and showed the supremacy of the Bench by defeating the lawyers. Delighted over the victory against the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) XI in a tie at the Ferozshah Kotla ground, the CJI said his team Chief Justice of India XI was confident even to take a challenge from Parliament XI...." More (The Hindu 02.19.2006). Comment. We trust that the match was nothing like the 1974 swimming match involving brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and some aides, who practically had to tread water in order to allow their flailing boss to cross the finish line ahead of them. I saw "the race" on CBS' 60 Minutes but it's also preserved for the ages on a video documentary General Idi Amin Dada (1976). One couldn't blame the aides or call them excessively sycophantic for "throwing" the race -- they'd likely have been killed if they hadn't allowed Big Daddy to win. The cricket-playing lawyers certainly had no need to fear any repercussions if they'd won, right?
Alito picks experienced ideological soulmate to be one of his clerks. "Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., who was so bland and self-effacing at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last month, made a bold decision on arriving at the court. He hired Adam G. Ciongoli , a former top aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft and an architect of the Bush administration's legal strategy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to be one of his law clerks...." More (N.Y. Times 02.19.2006). Comment. The troubles with most clerks include that a) they're inexperienced; b) they have an exaggerated sense of their own worth based typically on having gotten good grades and on serving on law review (a little secret: some of the best law clerks are found in the middle of the class at good law schools among those who have no law review experience and who aren't convinced they're God's gift to the judiciary); they are verbose (writing fifty pages when ten would do), etc. It often takes a year before a clerk is of much use and then, unless it's a two-year clerkship (which many federal clerkships are), the clerk moves on, with the clerk having gotten more from his service than the judge -- which is why a great MN Chief Justice, Oscar R. Knutson, referred to a clerkship as "a year of post-graduate legal education at state expense." Ciongoli clerked for Alito on the Circuit Court ten years ago and thus is a known, proven quantity. It is not surprising that Alito would want him as clerk during his early months on the Court, although it is surprising that someone with Ciongoli's experience would want to return to clerking. That Ciongoli is ideological is not an insurmountable problem. Most clerks are. That a judge would want to be surrounded by ideological soulmates is a problem. I personally would want to surround myself with people of differing views, the better to benefit from the creative sparks that arise from genial conflicts, disagreements, challenges, etc. I would not want to surround myself with people who would be prone to trying to tell me what they think I want to hear. I doubt that Ciongoli is a "yes man," but it's likely that what he reports he believes and thinks are what Alito is primed to believe and think.
The way things work: behind the scenes at 'Judge Judy.' How one woman's case was picked, the economics of the show, the free flight to L.A. with hubby, the two nights in a hotel, the meals, the judgment paid for by the show, the TV party back home in Indy, etc. More (Indianapolis Star 02.19.2006).
Man faces 10 years for threats after seeing judge at hardware store. "A Lawton man...Jermaine Andriese Ford is accused of threatening U-S Magistrate Judge Shon Erwin after encountering the judge at a Lawton hardware store...." Apparently Ford, who'd been sentenced by the magistrate on an earlier occasion, didn't threaten the magistrate to his face. Rather, it appears a woman told the magistrate she heard Ford make the threat while talking on a phone. More (KTEN-TV TX 02.19.2006).
Another judicial relative in trouble. "The estranged son-in-law of Volusia County Judge Shirley Green remained in federal custody Saturday after he was arrested on a warrant issued in May. Alexander B. Hargrove, 34, turned himself in to an Oak Hill police officer Thursday afternoon, according to an arrest report. He was wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service on a charge of violating probation. Volusia County court records show the probation was related to a June 2004 arrest on federal passport fraud charges...." More (Daytona Beach News Journal 02.19.2006). Earlier. Another judge's son in trouble - a trend?
Annals of specialized courts. "The Scottish executive is to set up a network of dedicated knife-crime courts in an effort to tackle the 'booze and blades' culture that has made Scotland the most violent country in the developed world...Currently, offenders have to wait about 12 months between entering a not-guilty plea and being tried. The wait at the knife-crime courts will be less than eight weeks...." More (Sunday Times - UK 02.19.2006). Comment. "Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a judge in the fast-track knife-crime courts."
They're tearing down the scene of many memories. "I thought about all the late nights spent in courtrooms waiting on verdicts, the emotions of disappointed family members looking for justice, the wails of a mother whose son was going to prison for life and the death sentences handed down by judges...." A column of specific memories by court reporter Renee Busby on the tearing down of the old Mobile County Alabama Courthouse. More (Mobile Register 02.19.2006).
The state's 'incestuous judicial selection system.' The phrase is not mine but that of the editors of The State to describe South Carolina's legislature-dominant judicial-selection system in urging the closing of a loophole that allows candidates for judicial appointment to lock-in votes before they've been investigated, vetted, etc. More (The State - SC 02.19.2006).
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Adv. - In response to the "makeover craze" that's sweeping the nation, Klara's Kut 'n' Kurl announces that it will be setting aside Saturdays for judicial makeovers. Many judges, we find, have an image problem in the courtroom. They do not project authority or wisdom or gravitas or experience - whatever. Klara Fribund Kollevitz can help. For example, if you're an obviously-young judge or an older judge cursed with a Dick Klark youthful appearance, Klara can use state-of-the-art aging technology -- Gravi-Tox -- to add gravitas to your look. Judge-appropriate konfidentiality assured. Kall Klara's at Local 536 for a free konsultation.
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