We’ve received a spate of tips about judges losing their cool lately. Obviously most of them aren’t going around on killing sprees — or maybe they are — but several have plopped themselves into hot water in other ways.
Some argue that judges are overworked, underpaid, and fed up with disrespectful pro se litigants. Maybe, but how does that explain the Vegas judge we recently flagged in Non-Sequiturs for putting a litigant in jail for saying “thank you”? A litigant can’t get much more respectful.
For the judges we’ll profile here, the real culprit might be a potent cocktail of insecurity and a view of the law as their personal plaything….
Let’s start in Alabama, because on my “Judges Who Abuse Power” bingo card, Alabama occupies the center square. Judge Dorothea Batiste has been suspended from the bench with pay in light of an Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission complaint. According to the complaint, Judge Batiste does not care for her orders being ignored — even if those orders were never properly served — and throws people into jail willy-nilly for defying her.
Unfortunately, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission points to some obscure documents like the “Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure” and the “Constitution,” and claims Batiste doesn’t really get to go all Star Chamber on the good people of Alabama.
The whole 38-page complaint, reproduced on the next page, alleges 30 violations of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics in five divorce cases. There are some real gems, but this highlight sums it up.
A witness who was subpoenaed by having papers dropped on her porch asks if the trial will really go forward on the date listed. After receiving no answer, she left town knowing that she was never properly served. Judge Batiste issued an arrest warrant and refused to hear any argument on the matter until the witness spent “some time in the jail.”
The kicker? The trial date was put off anyway, meaning Judge Batiste put someone in jail for failing to show up to a trial that didn’t happen.
I have a feeling Judge Batiste just listens to the Alec Baldwin speech from Malice on a loop, except instead of “an M.D. from Harvard,” it’s “a J.D. from Birmingham.”
Batiste’s defense is that former Presiding Judge Scott Vowell is pushing the allegations and he “has been one big bully, picking on her.” Aww. If she wants to put him on ice, maybe she should try and subpoena him.
Does the job itself get judges so drunk on power or do power drunks just gravitate to the job?
Moving over to Texas, the state you knew we would feature in this post at some point, there’s reason to believe it’s the latter.
Judge Ken Anderson, a Texas grad, rose to the bench after a stint as a “law-and-order” district attorney. Side note, is there such a thing as an “anarchy-and-chaos” district attorney? Oh. Question answered.
In any event, as a prosecutor, Ken Anderson always got his man — even if that man hadn’t done anything wrong. Back in 1987, Anderson got Michael Morton convicted of murder, a conviction that put Morton in jail for 25 years. DNA evidence ultimately exonerated Morton.
We can’t blame Anderson for not having access to DNA evidence in the 80s. But we can blame Anderson for having a whole mess of other evidence that Morton was innocent that he concealed from the court. Specifically:
• The transcript of a police interview revealing that the Mortons’ 3-year-old son, Eric, witnessed the murder and said Michael Morton wasn’t home at the time.
• A police report about a suspicious man who had parked a green van near the Morton home and, on several occasions, walked into the wooded area behind the house.
And here’s where Judge Anderson earns his “power drunk” diagnosis. In his defense, Judge Anderson explained that:
Additionally, as Mr. Anderson explained during the Court of Inquiry, although Brady requires prosecutors to release exculpatory evidence to the defense, as an attorney and former prosecutor, he does not believe in the release of such evidence if it may result in freeing an individual that he believes is guilty.
Brady doesn’t apply if Anderson thinks the defendant is guilty. Good to know he’s a judge. Not only does this hubris suggest a profound contempt for the legal system, it reveals a scary flip side — Anderson believes Brady would only apply if Anderson used the power of the district attorney’s office to prosecute people that he didn’t think were guilty. I’m almost less comfortable with the idea that someone throws around the power of the state on hunches.
I’m not denying that judges are overworked and that litigants are mostly annoying, but sometimes you need to throw out the excuses and figure that a judge acting like a jackhole just might have been a jackhole to begin with.
Oh, and BINGO!
(You can read the complaint against Judge Batiste on the next page.)