Maybe it’s because I come from a writing background, as opposed to a legal background, but there’s almost nothing better about my job than reading legal opinions where a judge drops the usual formality and format. To my mind, judicial opinions are best when they include passion or empathy or even simple frustration.
And once in a wonderful blue moon, I stumble across something even better: an opinion that reads like a the product of too much whiskey and night terrors.
We have come across a recent Midwestern state court opinion that reads more like Hunter Thompson than Learned Hand. It doesn’t hurt the metaphor that the defendant, convicted of multiple theft charges, is also a long-term abuser of methamphetamine, marijuana, and alcohol.
I would call this a benchslap, but that might be too nice a word…
Jessica Mikuchonis has spent way more than her fair share of time in court. The Nebraskan has been in trouble several times for drugs, including for shooting meth while pregnant. Most recently, she landed in Judge Gale Pokorny’s Lancaster County courtroom, convicted of in shoplifting a sack “full of clothing” from Walmart and a down comforter from JCPenney’s. She has a checkered background, to say the least, which Judge Pokorny explained in a chaotic, comma-less style that would make Hemingway proud:
Ms. Mikuchonis started drinking at 11, routinely drinking to intoxication by 16. She started to smoke mariijuana at 15 then crack cocaine. But her drug of choice became methamphetamine which she was smoking on a daily basis by 2006 and 20O7, injecting it twice a day. A very expensive form of recreation necessitating continuous large sums of cash.
To say Judge Pokorny was unsympathetic is like saying the state of Arizona has a slight preference for humans of Caucasian origin. The judge spends a large chunk of the February 2 opinion (PDF) railing on the fact that Mikuchonis has been in and out of rehab for several years:
Today, Ms. Mikuchonis presents yet another letter wherein her welfare worker(s) have lined her up with yet another program at Origins Behavioral Health that she expects the taxpayers to pay for.
That isn’t going to happen.
As a sentencing judge, one wonders from time to time just what does the court system or the community or a citizen owe his fellow human being in terms of charity and rehabilitation. In difficult economic times when the community’s taxpayers are having their own problems, how many times should we expect/ask decent people who want to do the right thing to dig into their pockets and pay again and again for rehabilitation services repeatedly squandered by Ms. Mikuchonis.
And there are always treatment facilities lining up at the courtroom door offering letters promising that their program will produce magical results regardless of a given participant’s complete lack of motivation and a half dozen or more prior failed treatment experiences.
Judge Pokorny did not respond to our request for comment, but he has a history of punching defendants in the mouth with the hard truth.
In 2008, Pokorny told a man who secretly videotaped everyone who used his home bathroom, “The sheer depravity, sir, is just staggering.”He sentenced the man to six months in jail.
In 2006, Pokorny sentenced a 21-year-old man to 30 days in jail for letting a house party get out of control. In his opinion he explained why, according to the Journal Star:
Reason #1. People can die at these parties…
Reason #2. People can die at these parties.
Holy hell, Pokorny gives new meaning to the term “no-nonsense judge.”
The Mikuchonis ruling is peppered with footnotes, creative syntactical choices, and at least one reference to Peter Pan. Still, as our tipster points out, it’s hard to top the very last line:
After waiting far too long here for Ms. Mikuchonis to do something for herself, this Judge concludes Ms. Mikuchonis has had her opportunities. Whether or not she chooses some day to take advantage of them or dies face down in her own vomit in some gutter somewhere… is a decision that ultimately only she can make. Her treatment providers are not the ones to claim they can make it for her.
So if anyone still believes America has gone soft because of West Coast lefties (like me, I guess), here’s proof otherwise. Old-school justice still lives — with a goddamn vengeance — in Lancaster County, Nebraska.
The State of Nebraska v. Jessica Mikuchonis [County Court of Lancaster, Nebraska]