Judges can irk you. Sometimes they mess up a decision and screw your client. Sometimes they’re almost negligently slow. Sometimes they turn out to be helping your adversary.
You want to complain about these judges, but you have to be very careful about how you do it because you may end up in front of them again and trial judges have almost tyrannical power to mess with you in court. Most judges — when they think no one is looking — practice Judge Dredd’s “I AM THE LAW!” into a mirror.
But if you’re a lawyer and you’re going to go ahead and criticize a judge, perhaps doing it publicly on a popular radio show isn’t the best option. Especially if it’s a radio show the judge listens to.
Well, that’s exactly what one lawyer decided to do.
Wouldn’t you know it, the judge was listening.
And then he called in.…
WBOK-AM radio was broadcasting an informative chat with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro when Cannizzaro started complaining about Judge Ben Willard, who rendered a not-guilty verdict in the case of a New Orleans police officer accused of beating a handcuffed civilian.
Cannizzaro was the invited guest of hosts Paul Beaulieu and John Slade; the topic was Willard’s acquittal a week earlier of Officer Jamal Kendrick, who faced a charge of malfeasance.
For 10 minutes, Cannizzaro, Beaulieu and Slade questioned the judge’s decision. The trio seemed in agreement: A camera mounted to the dashboard of Kendrick’s cruiser appeared to show the officer slapping a civilian six times as he lay handcuffed and face-down on the pavement.
They were probably just love taps. Anyway, that’s when things took a Springer-esque turn and the show took a call from Judge Willard himself. As you might expect, he didn’t just yell “Bababooey! Bababooey!” and hang up:
“We have Judge Willard on the hotline, I think,” Beaulieu said. “How are you, sir?”
“I’ve been better, sir, I can tell you that,” Willard says. “But I can tell you right here and right now I’m doing fine. My conscience is clear. It’s always been clear.”
He went on to detail his reasoning: The man in the video refused to come to court.
The judge issued a material-witness bond for his arrest, and still he didn’t appear. Willard was “shocked, surprised and appalled” that the state failed to get him there. Without the man, the judge reasoned, he could not identify the victim and thus could not prove that the officer had actually battered him.
That all sounds reasonable. There’s a logic to it. It may not be the right outcome, but I’m no expert in the Napoleonic Code.
The hosts asked Cannizzaro to respond, but Willard kept talking.
“Wait, just, I didn’t cut you off,” Cannizzaro interjected.
“Please, please, please, judge,” the hosts said.
Cannizzaro managed to get in that all the state had to prove was that the officer had battered a human — any human.
Willard also said that three other officers could be seen in the video, but that none of them was charged. Cannizzaro retorted that Kendrick is the only who smacked a handcuffed man.
“I’m at the front door if you gentlemen would like to let me in,” Willard announced.
One of the hosts said no, and they soon cut the line.
Shame on you, hosts. Even if they were arguing, we’re talking about a D.A. and a sitting judge — what did you think was going to happen? They’re educated, professional guys and putting them in the same room isn’t going to create Wrestlemania. And, on the other hand, if it would have come to fisticuffs and you robbed the world of that moment, then you’re just awful people. Either way, they should have let the judge in.
In any event, the public airing of grievances was an embarrassment to both sides. This is the kind of disasterbacle that a lawyer can set off by going to the media to rip a judge. Or hell, maybe it is a good idea… that’s basically how lawyers for New York City got Shira Scheindlin kicked off the stop and frisk case.
Maybe Cannizzaro is crazy like a fox.
Audio: Judge a surprise guest on radio [The Advocate]