Judge of the Day

Elizabeth Halverson Judge Elizabeth Halverson.jpgState court judges are like bratty kids, or pets that aren’t housebroken. You can’t take them anywhere.
Because they’ve probably already been banned from where you were planning to take them. Even if the place in question is the courthouse.
Consider the Honorable Elizabeth Halverson (at right). From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

The District Court chief judge on Thursday banned District Judge Elizabeth Halverson from the county courthouse.

In an administrative order, Chief Judge Kathy Hardcastle said Halverson jeopardized security at the courthouse this week by bringing her own two bodyguards into the courthouse and allowing them to bypass security checks.

As for why Judge Halverson needs two (2) bodyguards — and no, we won’t make the obvious joke — there’s quite a backstory, full of juicy judicial infighting. You can read all about it here.
Fred Axley Judge Fred Axley Above the Law blog.jpgAnd Judge Halverson isn’t the only state judge getting banned from public places these days. Meet the Honorable Fred Axley.
From the Legal Reader:

A Memphis judge is banned from a Florida resort. He is accused of sexually harassing an employee. Eyewitness News Everywhere uncovered this is not the first time Criminal Court Judge Fred Axley has been accused of sexual harassment….

Now he has been banned from a resort in Destin, FL, after an employee there says he sexually harassed her last week….

When we called the resort, an employee who asked not to be named, told us Axley had propositioned a massage therapist there for oral sex.

We commend the resort employee for having the courage to turn down the judge (and report him). Because saying “no” to a judge isn’t easy — even if the request involves sucking his gavel.
You can read more about Judge Axley’s history of alleged harassment, including incidents that led his law clerks to file lawsuits, by clicking here.
Judge Halverson banned from courthouse [Las Vegas Review-Journal]
Memphis Judge Banned From Florida Resort For Harassment [Legal Reader]

suit pants Judge Roy L Pearson Roy Pearson Above the Law blog.jpgJEEZ. What a tool.
An administrative law judge, Roy L. Pearson, is suing his dry cleaners. Over a missing pair of pants (subsequently found). For the insane sum of $65 million.
We kid you not. More details here.
Okay, we’re not completely shocked. Clownish antics from an ALJ? Heaven forfend.
No, we don’t have the highest opinion of administrative law “judges.” Roy Pearson should be flattered that news stories about his idiocy identify him as a “judge,” instead of a “petty and lame-ass federal bureaucrat.”
The defendant dry cleaners are represented by one Chris Manning. Is he Christopher C.S. Manning, of Manning & Sossamon, or Christopher N. Manning, the newly-minted Williams & Connolly partner? We’re guessing the former; but we’re hoping for the latter. We like the idea of the mighty Williams & Connolly steamrolling this prick pseudo-judicial moron.
More commentary from Overlawyered, here and here, and the WSJ Law Blog, here and here.
The second Overlawyered post provides a link to a reported opinion arising out of Roy Pearson’s divorce. The opinion reveals that Pearson and his ex-wife were having sexual relations very infrequently. Guess Pearson decided to go screw his dry cleaners instead.
And screw them he has. The Chungs have been so traumatized by the ordeal that they are thinking of closing their dry cleaning shop and moving back to Korea. Happy now, Your Honor?
Judge Sues Cleaner for $65M Over Pants [Associated Press]
Roy L. Pearson, Jr. [Office of Administrative Hearings]
The $65 million pants: Judge Roy Pearson [Overlawyered]
Judge Sues Dry Cleaners for $65 Million [WSJ Law Blog]

John Merrett Judge John Merrett gun pistol Above the Law blog.jpgWe’re giving this guy our “Judge of the Day” award, ’cause there’s no telling what he might do if he didn’t get it. From the Florida Times-Union:

A Jacksonville judge pulled a handgun in his courtroom after a spectator attacked a defendant.

The fracas occurred Friday after a crime victim’s father hurdled a railing and punched the handcuffed defendant.

Circuit Judge John Merrett then handed his gun to a clerk for safekeeping when he realized bailiffs had subdued the attacker. He met with the man in his chambers and later ordered him released without bail even though he was charged with a felony and two misdemeanors.

Judge Merrett is awesome. When he ran for office, he pledged that he would “do whatever was necessary to give defendants and the public speedy trials.” And that includes whipping out a pistol in open court!
Of course, a whiny PD complained about Judge Merrett exercising his Second Amendment rights:

Most judges in Duval County have concealed weapons permits and have gone through firearms training even if they don’t carry a gun. Merrett, a former assistant state attorney, said he has had extensive firearms training.

Duval County Public Defender Bill White said the incident was scary enough for lawyers in the courtroom that he plans to talk to the chief judge about disarming the judges.

Thankfully, this effort probably won’t get much traction:

The chief judge said he encourages all the judges to receive firearms training and obtain concealed weapons permits.

Let’s hope this trend of judges packing heat under their robes continues. There are some encouraging signs. We hear that a certain elderly female judge, in the Southern District of New York, has a fondness for firearms (and carries a concealed weapon). Fantastic!
P.S. We can’t say we’re entirely surprised by this story. Doesn’t Judge Merrett look like a bearded version of Scott Savol, the former American Idol contestant who was charged with misdemeanor assault?
Judge Pulls Pistol in Court [Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville)]
Merrett takes lead as new judge in the 4th circuit [Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville)]

Until recently, Justice Emily Goodman was probably our favorite member of the New York Supreme Court — mainly ’cause she was nice enough to write to us.
But Justice Goodman has been displaced; we’ve found a new object for our affections. From Judicial Reports:

Is Carol Berkman the least popular Supreme Court Justice in Manhattan? We know a slew of attorneys who have put her at the top — or perhaps that’s the bottom — of their lists.

To say that Acting Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman of Manhattan is unpopular among litigators would be an understatement. More than a dozen lawyers recently cited her penchant for extraordinary verbal abuse of counsel.

One called her “ornery.” Another said “nasty.” Still another opined that she was “vindictive.”

In 1999 the Legal Aid Society took the highly unusual step of publicly petitioning against Berkman’s reappointment to Criminal Court. The society wrote a letter to the Mayor’s Committee on the Judiciary that accused the justice of “systematic rudeness and mistreatment of both defense and prosecution lawyers and defendants (and occasionally even belittlement of other judges).”

We love Justice Berkman: she’s smart, and she’s tough. On the smarts front, note her impressive resume, including Cornell and Harvard Law; her low reversal rate (5.4 percent); and the attorney testimonials in the Judicial Reports piece, noting her intelligence.
The Judicial Reports article also contains ample evidence of Judge Berkman’s tougheness — especially with respect to her handling of psychiatric evidence she perceives to be dubious. You can read the report in its entirety by clicking on the link below.
Wielding a Mean Gavel [Judicial Reports]

Ronald Kline Judge Ronald Kline Above the Law.jpgState court judges are still icky. From the Legal Reader:

A former Orange County Superior Court judge collapsed in court Tuesday upon learning he was being sentenced to 27 months in prison for possessing child pornography on his home computer.

Ronald Kline fell into his attorney’s arms as Judge Consuelo B. Marshall was announcing his sentence shortly after noon. Court proceedings were temporarily halted and paramedics summoned.

Kline, 66, was revived and the hearing resumed a short time later.

We agree with John’s take:

He’s not only a perv, he’s a wimp. I wonder how many people he sentenced to 27 months — or more — while he was on the bench? Did they faint?

In other words: Your Honor, get a pair. And don’t play with them under your robe — that’s unwise, too.
OC Judge Collapses as He’s Sentenced to 27 Months for Child Porn [Legal Reader]

Deborah Cook Deborah L Cook Judge Deborah Cook 6th Circuit Sixth Circuit.gifFederal judges represent some of the best and brightest minds the legal profession has to offer. Although there are exceptions, federal judges generally have incredible credentials and adhere to the highest ethical standards.
In contrast, state court judges tend to be icky. When you read in the news about a judge who sexually harassed a secretary, got arrested for drunk driving, or used a penis pump behind the bench, the odds are high that it will be a state rather than federal judge.
When a former state judge gets confirmed to a federal judgeship — as is increasingly the case, since state court judges are often “safe” picks in these politically charged times — does she shed her icky ways?
Not necessarily. Consider the tale of Judge Deborah L. Cook, a member of the Sixth Circuit since 2003. From Muckraker/CIR:

A federal judge identified by the Center for Investigative Reporting for making campaign contributions while on the bench has apologized for violating the judicial code of conduct.

Judge Deborah L. Cook of Ohio made two political donations after she was appointed by President Bush to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. A CIR report and story for Salon.com on Oct. 31 revealed that both Cook and a Clinton-appointed judge, Dean D. Pregerson of California, had apparently given campaign contributions, though federal judges are prohibited from doing so.

A pretty dumb-ass mistake. The limitations upon political activity by members of the judicial branch are familiar even to rookie law clerks. It’s something you learn about at clerk orientation.
Ah, orientation — that’s where Judge Cook lays the blame for her mistake:

“I violated this proscription against federal judges making political contributions early in what I hope will be a long tenure,” Cook wrote in her letter of apology [to Chief Judge Danny Boggs], which was filed with Judge Boggs’ order [resolving the complaint]. “Though not an excuse, my misstep here resulted from habit and a lack of awareness of the prohibition.”

Cook wrote that she was used to making contributions as a state judge. According to her letter, she did not attend the “New Judges School” after she was confirmed as a federal judge and “thus missed being alerted there to the federal canon.” The “Baby Judges School,” as it is often called by judges, is a non-mandatory training and orientation for newly appointed judges.

“Baby Judges School”: Ignore it at your peril.
A little bit more, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Judge of the Day: Deborah Cook”

dirty old man.jpgJudges can get themselves in trouble when they get too involved in the lives of the individuals they supervise as part of probation. Remember Judge Manuel Real (C.D. Cal.), who almost got himself impeached for being a little too supportive of one Deborah Canter, attractive female probationer?
Well, at least Judge Real never took Ms. Canter home with him (as far as we know). That’s more than can be said for today’s “Judge” of the Day, Justice George Head, of Keeseville, New York. From the NYT:

Like many teenagers in this bleak old mill village near Lake Champlain, Michael C. Burrell had been in trouble before. But when an attempted assault case landed him at age 19 in the courtroom of the village justice, the experience was unlike anything he had faced before….

He said the justice, George J. Head, insisted that they meet each week outside court, in what people around here call his “judge’s probation” program.

There is no such thing as judge’s probation, and private sessions between a judge and a defendant facing jail violate the rules of judicial conduct.

But Justice Head seems to have stretched the rules in a number of ways. When he sentenced young men to regular probation, he sometimes drove them to their appointments. One young man was discovered driving the justice’s car, and others say they met with the justice at his home. One said he even wound up moving in for eight months.

Read the whole article. Okay, are you done? Here’s what we want to know: Is it just us, or is there a “Chester the Molester” subtext here?
Ah, the MSM. You must resort to subtext, since you can’t just shoot your mouth off, blogger-style. You’re required to rely upon actual facts to back up your statements. What fun is that?
* We put “Judge” in scare-quotes because Justice Head is not a lawyer by training. He’s a retired state trooper with no legal background. The position of village justice is an elected one in Keeseville that is not restricted to lawyers.
** Also, this is not a picture of Judge Head. It’s what we got when we went to this image database and entered “dirty old man.”
Small-Town Judge’s Personal Justice Stirs Concern [New York Times]
Judge Tells Congress He Did Nothing Wrong [Daily Journal via How Appealing Extra]

drunk driving dui dwi Above the Law.jpgJudges don’t have enough fun. Overly concerned with “judicial decorum,” they don’t let down their hair very often. They try to hide the reality that, beneath their robes, they’re ordinary people just like the rest of us. Perhaps they fear that this truth might undermine their legitimacy.
But a pair of Illinois state court judges may have taken things too far in the “fun” department:

A judge driving with his boss was charged with drunken driving after a wreck that sent another motorist to the hospital, and the other judge was seen by an officer pouring out a can of beer, police said.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Patrick Young, 58, was handcuffed and arrested and charged with drunken driving after the Sunday crash, about 20 miles from St. Louis. He refused a sobriety test, authorities said.

Another officer, Jeffrey Sheary, reported seeing Young’s passenger, Chief Judge Jan Fiss, 64, pour out an open beer can on the road and try to hide it in his coat.

If the allegations are true, who acted more stupidly? Judge Young, for driving under the influence, with a senior colleague as a passenger? Or Chief Judge Fiss, for getting into the car with an inebriated colleague, and then trying to empty his tinnie by the side of the road?

Make Free Online Polls

Illinois judge charged with drunken driving; other judge in SUV seen ditching beer [Associated Press]

Melinda Harmon Judge Melinda Harmon Above the Law.jpgPeople pay attention to a judge’s reversal rate — how often that jurist gets reversed by a higher court. And a high reversal rate is usually regarded as “not a good thing.”
But we kinda admire judges who aren’t overly concerned with their reversal rate. We respect judges who are willing to go out on a limb, who aren’t afraid to take the law in new and interesting directions — no matter what the folks upstairs might think. Such judges play a key role in the evolution and clarification of the law.*
Some of you might criticize such an envelope-pushing approach to judging as improper, even “lawless.” But here at ATL, we call it entertaining!
Meet Judge Melinda Harmon (S.D. Tex.). She’s the trial judge responsible for the jury instructions in the Arthur Andersen prosecution, which the Supreme Court didn’t like so much. And now she’s handed down another interesting ruling:

In a decision that she conceded flies in the face of previous rulings by other courts, a federal judge in Houston has ordered the law firm of William S. Lerach, a leading class-action lawyer, to pay the legal fees and costs of a company he sued.

The company, Alliance Capital, a money management firm, was sued by Mr. Lerach’s firm as part of a large Enron class-action case. The lawsuit argued that Alliance should be held responsible for the Enron fraud because an Alliance official was also a director of Enron.

The federal rules permit awards of fees and costs. But these are usually paid by the parties, NOT by their law firms.
More about this groundbreaking ruling, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Judge of the Day: Melinda Harmon”

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]

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