Judge of the Day

Hot House Flowers John H Wilson Above the Law.jpgMost judges exhibit an excess of caution in their out-of-court comments. While understandable, given judicial ethics and decorum, it’s disappointing (at least to those of us who write about the judiciary). When judges do speak out, the results can be both informative and entertaining.
Consider the literary exploits of Judge John H. Wilson, a criminal court judge in Brooklyn, New York. From the New York Daily News:

Criminal Court Judge John Wilson’s “Hot House Flowers” warns of “effects of unregulated immigration” in a plot line about beautiful flowers that wither when dandelions sneak into their greenhouse.

“It’s intended to describe defense of home and defense of country, and the reasons for that defense,” said Wilson, who self-published the book, listed on Amazon.com at $15.99.

The story tells of jealous weeds that hog all the water and soil in the greenhouse. The other flowers suffer, but don’t do anything until it’s almost too late – because they don’t want to appear intolerant.

While Judge Wilson’s creativity is commendable, we quibble with the greenhouse metaphor. Without illegal immigrants, all flowers, bushes, and lawns in America would die within a week.
We zipped over to the book’s listing at Amazon.com, where we enjoyed this comment, by one Jonathan Cohen:

The best story of the dangers of out-of-town dandelions coming in and destroying the greenhouse with their Camaros, mosques, and ethnic cooking flavors.

You’ll be flipping the pages until the climactic finale where the hot house flowers, who love the dandelions despite the different colors of their petals, burn a vitamin spike on the dandelions’ front lawn. Highly recommended.

Judge is in immig groups’ bad books [New York Daily News]
Brooklyn Judge Wants To Make Sure Kids Learn To Hate Immigrants Before Kindergarten [Gawker]
Hot House Flowers – John H. Wilson [Amazon]

oil rig big ship.jpgJudge Thomas Porteous Jr., of the Eastern District of Louisiana, is no stranger to bad publicity. We’ve written about this New Orleans judge before (see item 2(b)).
Well, Judge Porteous’s exploits continue. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

In 2003, a seaman named Robert Hanna sued his employer, an offshore drilling company, after stairs on one of its ships collapsed beneath him and dropped him several feet to the floor.

His case against the Rowan Companies went to trial in U.S. District Court in New Orleans in August 2005. Within two days, attorneys announced they had agreed to a settlement, the judge dismissed the jury and everyone appeared to walk away satisfied.

What Hanna might not have known, however, is that while his personal injury suit was pending, well before trial began, Rowan treated the presiding judge, Thomas Porteous Jr., to a $1,000 hunting trip.

This calls to mind Justice Antonin Scalia’s controversial duck-hunting trip with Vice-President Dick Cheney. What is up with all these federal judges going hunting with litigants?
Now, let’s not overreact. The Times-Picayune puts the latest allegations in context:

There is no evidence that Porteous showed Rowan favorable treatment in court. Nor is the trip known to be a subject of the lengthy criminal investigation into the judge’s conduct, including a personal bankruptcy case he and his wife filed in 2001, under false names; his handling of a hospital suit involving several of his friends; and his relationship with former bail bonds magnate Louis Marcotte III, who pleaded guilty to corrupting two state judges at the Gretna court, where Porteous was a jurist until 1994.

In other words: “Sure, this looks bad. But hey, the judge has done worse stuff before!”
The article then quotes a bunch of legal ethics experts who opine that it probably wasn’t a great idea for Judge Porteous to accept a free hunting trip from a litigant appearing before him. We won’t bother excerpting them here — anyone who’s passed the MPRE could tell you that.
Company Facing Suit Took Judge Hunting [New Orleans Times Picayune]
UTR News and Views: August 23, 2004 [Underneath Their Robes]
G. Thomas Porteous Jr. [FJC]

We worship federal judges — for their brilliance, their probity, and their service to our nation. We have a somewhat lower opinion of state court judges.
Many state judges are talented and dedicated public servants (and some of them later serve on the federal bench). But some of them are like the Not-So-Honorable Glenn Staege:

Two women have slapped a former municipal judge with 18 felony charges on grounds that he allegedly made them sign a contract to live on his property and have control of their prescription medications. He then required sex acts in exchange for the medicine.

Glenn A. Staege, 67, was charged with two counts of compelling a person to prostitution and 16 counts of possession of prescription drugs with intent to deliver.

van trashy.jpgDo you really want to know the particulars? Okay, read on:

One of the women said she and her boyfriend had been homeless when Staege agreed to let them live in a van on his property. She adds that the former judge coerced her to perform sexual activity 18 times to get her prescription medications while he recorded the liaisons.

Having a van lying around your property: SKETCHY.
Having a van lying around your property, which you turn into a halfway house for homeless drug addicts: VERY SKETCHY.
Having a van lying around your property, which you turn into a halfway house for homeless drug addicts, whom you force to prostitute themselves in exchange for drugs, in sexual acts that you record on videotape: STATE COURT JUDGE.
Women Charge Ex-Judge Of Sex For Prescription Swap [All Headline News]

The political blogosphere, including our former home, is having tons of fun with the downfall of Mark Foley — you know, the House Republican from Florida who sent smutty emails and IMs to underage male pages.
Well, the legislative branch doesn’t have a monopoly on naughty talk. This latest story is about a state rather than federal judge (of course), but it does show that judges know how to get down ‘n dirty:

Justice of the Peace Sam Harris, who blew the whistle several years ago on a colleague viewing pornographic Web sites on the job, admitted Monday to using profanity and graphic language in an online chat room.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, he wrote: “When in doubt, show Sam ur titties. But you don’t have those, so lol (laugh out loud) away.”

joystick.gifIt might violate principles of comity, but can some federal judge out there please enjoin state court judges from using “LOL”? (Yes, we use “LOL” sometimes in email correspondence — but we’re bloggers, so that’s okay.)

The chat room is connected to an online video game called “Gore.” In August, Harris wrote in the chat that he played the game on the Web site one to six hours a day, running up more than 5,000 hours of play.

Well! It seems that this is one judge who likes to play with his joystick, in addition to banging his gavel.
And Judge Harris also has no qualms about giving people a peek beneath his robe:

At 5:06 p.m. Monday, March 6, Harris wrote to a friend about a vasectomy: “Jesus God help me, but it just hurts thinking about it. I know you would rather I didn’t hope’ anything about ur balls, but still hope it ain’t that bad. I get ALOT of pressure to get clipped. Scared. Very scared.”

TMI. Additional excerpts from Justice Harris’s chat room postings are collected over at the Electric City Weblog. This quote is our favorite:

Harris said the gay porn images [he caught his colleague viewing] “will remain with me for the rest of my life.” He said he “couldn’t sleep that night and kept visualizing another of the screen images of ‘one man giving another man oral sex.’” Earlier Harris had said that, as a result of viewing the images, “my stomach has been upset and I am having difficulty sleeping.”

Methinks Sam Harris doth protest too much.
Weblogs Expose Judge’s Vulgarity [Great Falls Tribune via How Appealing]
History Lesson, QED [Electric City Weblog]

porno judge.JPGOkay, maybe he should be “Judge of Yesterday,” since this was in yesterday’s paper (and was picked up by How Appealing yesterday too). But it’s Saturday, and we’re still working hard to entertain you, so stop your quibbling.

A judge who repeatedly viewed pornography on the computer in his chambers apologized Friday after receiving a public reprimand from the Florida Supreme Court for violating judicial ethics.

Circuit Judge Brandt C. Downey III of Clearwater told the high court he was “sorry” after Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis called his conduct “truly shocking” and an embarrassment to his friends, his family, the judiciary and the citizens of Florida.

It may have been, er, somewhat imprudent for Judge Downey to check out porn in chambers. But at the risk of sounding like libertines, we have to ask: What’s the big deal? Millions of Americans enjoy pornography.
As for the workplace aspect, we say: If he’s keeping up with his judicial workload, who cares about de minimis use of his computer for, um, other activities? Is it that different from, say, making flight arrangements online for your Hawaiian vacation, while on your lunch break?
To put it another way: What’s wrong with a judge admitting he shares something in common with at least 14 percent of American men? (A figure that’s surely on the low side, due to the study’s reliance upon self-reporting.)
What’s next? Judges getting censured for banging their own gavels? What century are we living in? Or, for that matter, what country — a theocracy?

[At the hearing, Judge Downey] added that he believes God has forgiven him. He said his family and friends also have forgiven him and urged him to seek re-election, but he declined to avoid further embarrassment and publicity, Downey said.

So we don’t think judicial porn viewing is such a big deal. These allegations are far more problematic:

Downey allegedly showed inordinate interest in a young state attorney, asking her to approach the bench to tell her that she “looked nice today.”

He also was accused of asking another female lawyer to approach the bench for personal conversation and sending her an e-mail saying “it was nice seeing u in court looking so pretty.”

“What were you thinking?” Lewis asked.

Using “u” instead of “you” in an email? Now THAT warrants censure.
(Final observation: What is up with these Florida state court judges? See Wednesday’s Judge of the Day.)
Judge Apologizes, Gets Reprimand for Viewing Porn in Chambers [Associated Press via How Appealing]
Earlier: Judge of the Day: Richard Albritton Jr.

richard albritton judge.jpgAs we noted yesterday, federal judge Manuel Real (C.D. Cal.) is facing an impeachment inquiry (more details here). But when it comes to egregious judicial misconduct, state court judges win handily over their federal counterparts.
Check out this AP report about a recent disciplinary hearing for a Florida state judge:

A judge who admitted to 14 ethics violations, including unconstitutionally ordering a probationer to go to church, was scolded Monday by the Florida Supreme Court.

“Your behavior is unacceptable,” Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis told the accused, Circuit Judge Richard Albritton Jr. “It’s a stain on all of us.”

Accusations against Albritton include jailing a young mother because she was unable to remember her address; soliciting gifts and invitations to lunch; getting hunting trips from lawyers; and demeaning a Department of Children and Families staffer because of her young age.

Alas, the AP report omits some of the more colorful allegations against Judge Albritton. They can be found in this TSG report from last year:

A Florida judge is facing a disciplinary hearing for a host of allegedly inappropriate behavior on the bench, including the recommendation to one female defendant that she “needed to close her legs and stop having babies.”…

Among the commission’s many allegations is the claim that Albritton once demanded that a teenage mother identify the father of her baby. When the girl declined to answer, Albritton told her that he would “put her back in juvenile detention” if she did not give up the dad’s name.

Here’s our favorite quote from the disciplinary hearing for Judge Albritton:

During the reprimand, Lewis said Albritton had told a staff lawyer that he realized ordering a probationer to go to church was unconstitutional but that the defendant didn’t know that. The order violated the First Amendment prohibition against the government endorsing a religion.

“You abused your position by placing yourself above the law,” [Chief Justice] Lewis told him.

The Honorable Richard Albritton, Jr.: a judge after our own heart.
Florida Judge Scolded for Ethics Violations [Associated Press]
Injudicious Judge May Be Benched [The Smoking Gun]

stanley mills judge parking.JPGThis is pretty awesome. Of course it’s from Florida, from whence all fabulous things come.

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger.

And you never, ever, pull into Circuit Judge Stanley Mills’ parking spot.

Nichole Delameter spent all day Monday learning that lesson while cooling her flip-flops at the West Pasco Judicial Center.

Mills made Delameter sit in his courtroom for much of the morning after she parked in his reserved spot. He used his 2005 Cadillac to block in her 1990 Oldsmobile until he left at the end of the day.

Some people accuse the judge of overreacting. But let’s view his actions in context:

For the second time in two weeks, the Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge arrived for morning court to find another vehicle in his spot. And just like last week, he pulled behind it, parking perpendicular to the offending vehicle and blocking it in.

Last week he didn’t move his car, the judge said Monday, until the errant driver got this lecture in court: “There’s two perks to the job,” Mills said. “I have my own bathroom, and I have my own parking spot, and you’re not going to get to use either.”

Darn tootin’, Your Honor! And here’s our favorite detail:

It was 3:30 p.m. in the parking lot when remorse gave way to anger. While Judge Mills was still working, his judicial assistant kept moving the Cadillac to let other judges get in and out of their spots. But Delameter’s car was still stuck.

That’ll learn her! And will someone please tell her to buy some closed-toe shoes?
Judge Sentences Car in His Spot to Lockdown [St. Petersburg Times]
A Judge Overreacts [St. Petersburg Times (editorial)]
Judge Stanley Mills [Sixth Judicial Circuit of Florida]
(Gavel bang: How Appealing.)

Diane Boswell Judge Diane Boswell judicial diva cellphone cell phone Above the Law blog.jpgInappropriate cell phone use — we’ve seen them used during wedding ceremonies — has gotten out of control. So it’s great to see a tough-minded jurist take a stand against this growing problem:

A judge detained and questioned a row of spectators when a cell phone rang for a third time in her courtroom, later ordering two people to serve community service for contempt of court.

When no one admitted having the ringing phones Wednesday, Lake County Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell told all five people in the row to sit in chairs reserved for jail inmates. They stayed there for more than an hour until the morning court call ended.

Boswell found three people in contempt of court because they initially refused to say who had the ringing phones.

Ah yes — a time-honored technique for disciplining second-graders. But if people are going to act like discourteous morons, we can’t fault Judge Boswell for treating them as such.
Judge Detains Five Over Ringing Phones [Associated Press]

baseball player.gif

California Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach is apparently a big baseball fan. So take him out to the ball game, take him out with the crowd?
Actually, on second thought, don’t:

A Riverside Superior Court judge who delayed the taking of a verdict in a murder trial because he was attending an Angels playoff game in Anaheim was publicly admonished yesterday by the Commission on Judicial Performance.

Judge Paul Zellerbach violated ethics rules requiring that judges give precedence to their duties above all other matters, dispose of their cases promptly and efficiently, and promote public confidence in the judiciary, the CJP found in a 6-4 decision….

A few more details — including how the game went — after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Above the Law Judge of the Day: Paul Zellerbach”

beverly grant judge.jpg

Who says going to court has to be so serious? Uh, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct, that’s who. They just admonished a judge for this behavior:

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Beverly Grant asked about 100 people in court to say “Go Seahawks” before taking their seats on Feb. 3. Dissatisfied with the low volume of the response, she repeated the request.

And then she made them “do the wave.”
If Judge Grant had been hearing some boring contract dispute, her drumming up enthusiasm for the local sports team might have been fine. But her docket was a bit different that day:

That same day, Grant sentenced Steve Keo Teang to 13 1/2 years for manslaughter in the 2005 shooting death of Tino Patricelli, 28.

The Seahawks played in the Super Bowl that weekend. Patricelli’s stepmother said she was offended in part because the game fell on the anniversary of her stepson’s death.

Oops…
Some denizens of the bench think that “wearing a black robe means never having to say you’re sorry.” It takes a big judge to own up to her mistakes. But Judge Grant did just that. She apologized for her in-court cheerleading — and then filed a judicial conduct complaint against herself.
Forget the Seahawks. Go Judge Grant!
Judge Admonished for ‘Go Seahawks’ Cheer [Associated Press]

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