James M. Brooks

Brooks.jpgATL honored a California trial judge, James M. Brooks, with Judge of the Day last June, when an appeals court ordered a new trial after he created a “circus-like atmosphere” in the original one. On Monday, the California Commission on Judicial Performance gave him the smackdown, issuing a decision and order imposing public admonishment [PDF].
ATL can’t help but be part of the humiliation. These are some of the hilarious awful things he did during the trial in question, which are listed as reasons for the admonishment:

1. “Overruled” Signs
2. The Twilight Zone
3. Comments During the Reading of Stevenson Deposition/ Litton Examination
4. Soccer Cards

The court order is not allowing us to copy text, and we don’t have a court reporter on staff to transcribe. To sum up, Judge Brooks was overseeing an employment discrimination suit, and spent a good amount of the trial exchanging jokes with the defense attorney. He made a hand-lettered “Overruled” sign for overruling the plaintiff attorney’s objections. The defense attorney later provided him with a better one.
Brooks let the defense attorney mock the plaintiff’s testimony by singing the Twilight Zone theme song, apparently off-key, and started using a soccer system of “red cards” to censure attorney behavior.
Judge Brooks, you are officially publicly admonished. But we must say, you sound like a fun guy!
JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE COMMISSION ISSUES PUBLIC ADMONISHMENT OF JUDGE JAMES M. BROOKS [PDF]
Decision and Order Imposing Public Admonishment [PDF]

James Brooks Judge James M Brooks Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgThe Honorable James M. Brooks — a California trial judge and prior Judge of the Day honoree, with a history of getting himself into hot water — might want to leave comedy to James L. Brooks.
Judge Brooks’s attempts at humor didn’t go over too well with the folks upstairs. From On Point News:

A California judge’s jocular behavior backfired as an appeals court ordered a new trial in an employment bias case, ruling that he had created a “circus atmosphere” and “a courtroom is not the Improv.”…

Brooks’s performance in the bias case against Ricoh Electronics suggests the CJP let him off lightly. The jury returned a defense verdict after a 31-day jury trial during which, the 4th District Court of Appeal said, the judge “allowed, indeed helped create, a circus atmosphere, giving defendants’ lawyer free rein to deride and make snide remarks at will and at the expense of plaintiffs and their lawyer.”

Among other things, Brooks flashed a hand-lettered sign saying “Overruled” when plaintiffs’ counsel Michelle A. Reinglass made objections. “It’s lightening things up,” he said when she objected to the sign.

The appellate court was not amused:

[A] courtroom is not the Improv and the presider’s role model is not Judge Judy. We can only imagine what was in the jurors’ minds as they endured a 30-plus day trial in this atmosphere or the impression of the judicial system they took away with them posttrial.

“[T]he presider’s role model is not Judge Judy.” Well, it depends. If the presider wants to be a respectable and responsible jurist, fine. But if the presider wants his own courtroom television show — a la Judge Larry Seidlin, of Anna Nicole Smith case fame — Judge Judy is a veritable Cardozo.
Court Finds No Humor in Joking Judge’s Trial Antics [On Point News]
O.C. judge rebuked for antics [Orange County Register]
Earlier: Judges of the Day: Wilbur Mathesius and James Brooks

foot in mouth.gifToday we have TWO judges of the day. Both win the prize for their honesty and fearlessness. These jurists aren’t afraid to speak their minds, and for that we salute them.
First, there’s Judge James Brooks, of “the O.C.” — Orange County, California.

An Orange County judge with a sharp tongue and a history of making insensitive comments about ethnic minorities was publicly admonished by the Commission on Judicial Performance.

The commission cited [a] contempt hearing where litigant Arnold McMahon told Brooks that he didn’t attend a scheduled Oct. 15 deposition because he had gone to the hospital with chest pains.

“Gee,” Brooks responded. “I wonder what’s going to happen when we put you in jail, Mr. McMahon. Your little ticker might stop, you think?”

Come now — that’s a bit tepid. We’ve heard harsher words from federal appellate judges at oral argument. This was more compelling:

[T]he commission noted that Brooks had been privately chastised three times since 1996 for similar conduct. The commission-cited punishments include: a 1996 advisory letter for referring to Hispanic defendants as “Pedro,” and issuing a bench warrant for an Asian defendant for “ten thousand dollars or twenty thousand yen”…

Second, there’s Judge Wilbur Mathesius, a Superior Court judge in Mercer County, New Jersey.

New Jersey’s Supreme Court on Thursday handed Judge Wilbur Mathesius a one-month suspension without pay for making shoot-from-the hip comments that undermined the judicial system….

[Judge Mathesius allegedly] berated a jury for acquitting a defendant of illegal handgun possession. According to the complaint, Mathesius went to the jury room and said, “What the hell were you thinking?” He then told the jurors the defendant had a prior criminal record and chose to not testify because of that record; that another witness would have testified for the prosecution had he not been threatened; and that the prosecution’s principal witness was the most credible he had ever seen.

This was only one of several incidents for which Judge Mathesius was disciplined. He also made some over-the-top comments about the death penalty. When criticized for these comments before the New Jersey Supreme Court, he responded as follows:

Mathesius observ[ed] that Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner “has written on many of the same subjects,” [and Mathesius] suggested that members of the New Jersey judiciary do the same.

Judge Mathesius, we know Judge Richard Posner. We have corresponded with Richard Posner. And you, sir, are no Richard Posner.
You are a state court judge. In the trial court. In New Jersey. In a word: ICKY.
(We mean no disrespect to the Garden State, from which we hail. But the “state court” and “trial court” aspects are proper subjects of disdain.)
Vociferous Judge Is Suspended a Month Without Pay [New Jersey Law Journal]
Judge Scolded for Insensitive Remarks [NYLawyer.com]