State Judges Are Clowns

Lynette Scavo Felicity Huffman cancer bald Above the Law blog.jpgHere’s a quick update about yesterday’s Judge of the Day, the Honorable Holly Hollenbeck. From the Tri-City Herald:

A Benton County judge has apologized for telling a woman with cancer to take a knitted cap off her bald head or leave his courtroom. “Words can’t express how sorry I am,” Judge Holly Hollenbeck told the Herald on Monday, a few hours after he spoke with Bev Williams by phone and offered an unconditional apology.

Hey look! It’s an ATL shout-out:

The story was picked up by Seattle news media, then was spread across the country by The Associated Press. The Drudge Report website, published as a digest of headlines across the nation, reported the story Sunday. A website called Abovethelaw.com also invited comments about the incident, and had drawn more than 60 by Monday evening.

“I’m being vilified,” Hollenbeck said. “I made no excuses to her for my behavior. What happened to her was inexcusable.”

And what about the headgear rule?

Hollenbeck, who is presiding judge for the District Court, said each judge retains discretion on how to enforce rules about hats and appropriate attire in court. “The rule has been changed (in my court),” he said.

So if you ever get to wear your hat in Judge Hollenbeck’s courtroom, you have ATL to thank for it (in part).
Judge apologizes for telling woman with cancer to remove hat [Tri-City Herald]
Earlier: Judge of the Day: Holly Hollenbeck

Elliott Maynard Justice Elliott E. Maynard Don Blankenship Don L Blankenship Above the Law blog.jpg
The men pictured above are not gay lov-ahs. But their relationship may be too close for comfort. On the left: Chief Justice Elliott E. Maynard, of West Virginia, and today’s Judge of the Day. On the right: Don L. Blankenship, chief executive of Massey Energy. The setting: exotic Monaco.
From a piece by Adam Liptak in today’s New York Times:

A justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court and a powerful coal-company executive met in Monte Carlo in the summer of 2006, sharing several meals even as the executive’s companies were appealing a $50 million jury verdict against them to the court.

A little more than a year later, the justice, Elliott E. Maynard, voted with the majority in a 3-to-2 decision in favor of the coal companies.

Insert West Virginia joke here.

Justice Maynard, who is now West Virginia’s chief justice, and Don L. Blankenship, the chief executive of Massey Energy, were “vacationing together,” according to a motion seeking Justice Maynard’s disqualification, which was filed on Monday.

A spokesman for Massey Energy disputed that characterization.

“Both Blankenship and Justice Maynard were separately vacationing in the Monte Carlo area,” said the spokesman, Jeff Gillenwater. “They were not vacationing together. They did meet occasionally for meals — lunches and dinners.”

And maybe on other occasions, too?

The motion included photographs showing the men together. The time stamps on the photographs, apparently taken by someone who had joined the men during their time together, indicated that they met on July 3, 4 and 5, 2006….

Ten of the photographs attached to the motion were filed under seal. They showed, the motion said, “two females apparently traveling with them as companions.” The men are single.

Motion Ties W. Virginia Justice to Coal Executive [New York Times]

Colleen Hartl Judge Colleen Hartl Above the Law blog.jpgMunicipal court is not exactly the pinnacle of judicial office. But we think that Colleen Hartl, until recently a (rather attractive) municipal court judge in Washington state, is still a worthy Judge of the Day. From the AP:

A Federal Way [that's a WA city name] Municipal Court judge has resigned after hosting a holiday party at which she claimed to be having an affair with a public defender who routinely appeared in her court.

Judge Colleen Hartl quit Dec. 19, less than a week after telling her guests — including five court employees — that she had sex with public defender Sean Cecil and displaying a text message in which he complimented how she looked in “tight jeans,” Michael Morgan, the court’s presiding judge, said Wednesday.

So she’s proud about how good her butt looks in tight jeans. What’s so wrong with that?

Even after admitting the affair at the Friday night party, Hartl showed up for work the next Monday morning and presided over several cases handled by Cecil, Morgan said. At lunchtime that day, Morgan — who attended the party but left before Hartl’s admission — was advised of the relationship by a court staff member who witnessed the statement. Morgan suggested that Hartl not sit on any cases that afternoon, and she resigned two days later.

Judge Hartl, we like your style.
Update: More here from Federal Way News.
Federal Way judge quits; talked of affair with lawyer [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
Affair with lawyer linked to judge’s resignation [Federal Way News]


Congratulations to former judge Roger Wall, who’s getting a belated holiday gift. From the Springfield News-Leader:

After three indictments and nearly three years, a former Douglas County judge will not stand trial on child pornography charges, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. That’s because repeated delays on the part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office violated Roger Wall’s right to a speedy trial.

In a stinging order dismissing the case, U.S. District Court Judge Richard E. Dorr called the government’s handling of the case “disappointing” and “out of control.” And unlike Dorr’s dismissal of the same charges against Wall in September, Tuesday’s ruling was “with prejudice,” meaning attorneys may not refile charges.

So that’s the end of that. What was Judge Wall accused of?

The case against Wall began in early 2005, when the government alleged the man was in possession of three tapes showing, among other things, a female minor having sex with her boyfriend. Acting on an anonymous tip, federal agents had seized envelopes containing the videos from an Ava woman’s residence. Wall was alleged to have given the items to the woman for safe keeping.

It’s especially troubling when a judge stands accused of such offenses, since they have no excuse for such behavior. If they have a weakness for youthful flesh, they ought to just stick to their clerks.
Earlier: Former judge will not face trial in porn case

gavel judge Above the Law blog.jpgToday we bring you not one, but two Judges of the Day. We can’t decide who is more deserving of the honor. From the Florida Times-Union:

Twelve days before Christmas, Circuit Judge Aaron Bowden fired his 17-year judicial assistant, who had been on leave since August with cancer. The Jacksonville judge said he feared her prolonged illness would leave him without an assistant at a time when the state had implemented a hiring freeze.

But his decision left Christine Birch, 54, with no medical, life or disability insurance and has created a firestorm at the courthouse.

Chief Circuit Judge Donald Moran responded by calling Bowden “a no-good son of a bitch,” prompting Bowden to respond with a blistering e-mail (PDF) defending his decision and calling Moran’s criticism irresponsible, unprofessional and unseemly.

Other judges’ assistants were also appalled by Birch’s firing. They raised money to pay her rent this month….

Birch declined comment Thursday. But she thanked Moran in a handwritten note last week for putting her back on the courthouse payroll in a rotating judicial assistant’s position. Birch was paid about $3,275 a month in her old job, and the state paid her health insurance premium. Her new rotating position pays $750 less a month and requires her to pay her own premiums.

Our tipster writes:

Best quote from the article: “He said if she died while on the payroll, he would have been without an assistant for two months, ‘not an ideal situation for a judge.'” I guess dying wouldn’t have been an ideal situation for her, either.

To get both sides of the story, check out the email from Judge Bowden in which he defends his actions (and rips Chief Judge Moran a new one). You can access his message — in which he benchslaps Chief Judge Moran for his “effrontery” and his “irresponsible” comments, made “precipitously [and] without authority” — by clicking here (PDF).
P.S. Speaking of cancer, here’s a PSA from ATL, and bad news for Biglaw associates and paralegals: according to cancer researchers, overnight work and sleep deprivation may raise your cancer risk.
Judge fires his assistant, draws criticism [Florida Times-Union]
Email from Judge Aaron Bowden (PDF) [Florida Times-Union]

John Hagler Judge John B Hagler Above the Law blog.jpgLast month, Judge John B. Hagler, a state court judge in Tennessee, stepped down from the bench. Here’s why, from the AP:

A Tennessee judge resigned last month after making a recording of fantasies so lurid that when the tape fell into the hands of the police and FBI, they thought they were listening to a torture session and believed it might be linked to a murder case.

Police have cleared the judge in the murder case. But a hearing started yesterday over whether they must release the tape.
So, pray tell, what exactly is this tape about?

“It sounded like someone being tortured,” Chattanooga police Sgt. Alan Franks testified Wednesday, offering the first details of what is on the tape.

Franks said the recording was investigated in relation to a still-unsolved 1997 murder. He gave no other details on the murder case.

“The content was so shocking. I have been a police officer for 24 years,” Franks said before his testimony was cut off by an objection.

Well! What does Judge Hagler have to say for himself?

Hagler said that he had done nothing wrong but that the recording had caused great embarrassment to friends, family and the courts. Hagler, who is 65 and married, has been a circuit judge in Cleveland, Tenn., since 1990 and served three terms as president of the Tennessee Trial Judges Association.

“The description of it as containing ‘graphic fantasies’ … is an accurate and sufficient description and all any decent person would want to hear of it,” the judge said in a statement.

Should we be troubled by the trend of excessively scrutinizing the unorthodox sexual practices of judges? See also Judge Herman Thomas, aka the Spanking Judge, who resigned a few months ago.
Aren’t judges entitled to be a little kinky too? If judges have to worry about their personal lives being placed under the microscope, will the state and federal benches lose out on potentially talented jurists, who just happen to have a little sumthin sumthin going on under those robes?
Update: More coverage, from the ABA Journal.
Tenn. judge resigns over fantasies tape [Associated Press]
Ex-Judge Fights Release of Lurid Audiotape [ABA Journal]

Grafton Minot Biddle Judge Grafton Biddle Above the Law blog.jpgColorado judge Grafton M. Biddle has been the subject of a prior ATL shout-out. But he has never been officially named a Judge of the Day. We think it’s about time.
From the Rocky Mountain News:

A former Douglas County judge who had an affair with a prosecutor that included a rendezvous in his chambers and in the women’s courthouse showers was suspended for three years Monday.

Grafton M. Biddle’s punishment comes almost a year after he resigned his judgeship in a short Dec. 18 letter signed simply, “With regrets,” that gave no reason for his decision.

But by then, rumors of his affair with Deputy District Attorney Laurie A. Hurst — who used the last name Steinman at the time — had been circulating in the courthouse.

From one of the paper’s online commenters:

“Just another black mark on the Colorado Judicial System…… Would this be prostitution??? You know, lawyers have billable hours for everything they do… Screw the judge or screw the neighbors… Someone is paying the price for getting screwed, and an attorney is involved.”

If you use the Douglas County courthouse showers, wear flip-flops.
Judge suspended over affair [Rocky Mountain News]
Earlier: Let’s Get It On, Counselor!

This episode gives new meaning to the term “flip phone.” A cell phone that went off during court proceedings caused one judge to, well, flip out. From the NYT’s City Room blog:

Robert Restaino Judge Robert M Restaino Rob Restaino AboveTheLaw blog.jpgThe next time you pass through the city court system in Niagara Falls, N.Y., remember to turn your cellphone off.

Today, the Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended the removal of a judge in Niagara Falls City Court who had, what the commission’s chairman, Raoul L. Felder, called, “two hours of inexplicable madness” when a cellphone rang in his courtroom.

Specifically, on the morning of March 11, 2005, the judge, Robert M. Restaino, was presiding over a slate of domestic violence cases when he heard a phone ring in his courtroom. He told the roughly 70 people in the courtroom, according to the commission’s report, that “every single person is going to jail in this courtroom” unless the phone was turned over.

Look, we hate cellphones ringing at inappropriate times as much as the next guy. But was Judge Restaino’s reaction a tad over the top? We suggest — with respect, Your Honor — that you’re a few beeps short of a ringtone.
Read what happened next, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Judge of the Day: Robert Restaino”

James Shull Judge James Michael Shull James M Shull Above the Law blog.jpgOn some days, the posts just write themselves. From Blogonaut:

James Michael Shull is no longer a Virginia Judge, thanks to the decision of the Virginia Supreme Court that unanimously upheld his removal from the bench.

Shull’s misconduct on the bench included ordering a woman to pull down her pants in open court during a hearing—ostensibly to view a claimed injury—exposing everything not covered by a pair of g-string panties the woman was wearing.

If she was humiliated, she deserved it. What was she doing in a g-string? Everyone knows that acceptable courtroom attire is a sober black skirt suit — with granny panties underneath.

Schull also decided child custody matters by tossing a coin in the air, initiated ex-parte contact with witnesses outside the presence of the attorneys for either side in a dispute, and was discourteous to litigants.

Independent of making them strip in open court, of course.
Judge Defrocked for Deciding Cases by Coin Toss, Making Woman Pull Pants Down in Court [Blogonaut]

halverson.jpg
Hello and good morning everyone. This is Billy Merck once again (yes, yes, “we hate you” and so forth; get it all out on the first post), filling in for Lat today. Don’t worry, we’re still going to be on the lookout for associate bonus announcements, so send them in if they happen and we’ll get them up pronto.
But we don’t know of any new announcements yet this morning, so we’ll start with an update on your favorite Nevada state judge, the immeasurable Elizabeth Halverson.
Yesterday the Nevada Supreme Court upheld an interim suspension of Judge Halverson by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline. The slip opinion can be accessed here.
Our favorite part is the section dealing with Halverson’s propensity for falling asleep on the bench:

The deputy district attorney in the child molestation case testified that Judge Halverson had fallen asleep on the bench during the trial testimony before the jury. According to this witness, by that time, Judge Halverson had generated a reputation for falling asleep on the bench. Additionally, Judge Halverson’s former bailiff testified that Judge Halverson fell asleep on the bench virtually every day. Although the former JEA’s testimony did not reflect that Judge Halverson consistently slept while on the bench, the former JEA did testify that she had seen Judge Halverson dozing on a few occasions, and that on one occasion, she was called in by the former bailiff and a former court clerk because they could not awaken her.
With respect to this one occasion, the former bailiff and former JEA gave differing accounts as to Judge Halverson’s views on why she had fallen asleep. The former bailiff testified that she claimed that her blood pressure “must be going up” and that she “did not feel well.” The former JEA testified that Judge Halverson blamed the problem on medication “that did not agree with her” and also on the former JEA’s failure to “let her take a long enough nap” in chambers before trial proceedings recommenced. Judge Halverson did not testify at the hearing, but she did submit an affidavit to the Commission, which indicated that she lapsed into slumber on one occasion because of low blood sugar arising from her diabetes and her failure to eat. Although the record demonstrates that the occasion of sleeping described in Judge Halverson’s affidavit did not occur during the criminal trial, as depicted by the deputy district attorney, the record does not specify whether or not this instance of sleeping was the same as that described by Judge Halverson’s former staff.
The only testimony contradicting the testimony about Judge Halverson’s propensity to sleep while on the bench was the statement given by the JEA working for Judge Halverson at the time of the hearing that, in her two months with the judge, she had never seen the judge fall asleep on the bench.
The Commission’s written order noted that one confirmed occasion of falling asleep on its own would not warrant an interim suspension, but that when added to the other conduct, her sleep issues formed part of the basis for its decision. Additionally, the Commission noted that although a physical reason could explain Judge Halverson’s sleep issues, the judge had not offered any proof regarding the possible etiology of this tendency.

Come on, Halverson, don’t let pride make a fool of you. We suspect there are “physical reasons” for most of your difficulties. You should have embraced this as an ADA case, and you probably would’ve been able to stay on the bench.
As it is, you’re just obnoxious and large, and most definitely not in charge.
Prior ATL Halverson coverage
Slip opinion upholding Halverson’s suspension [Nevada Supreme Court (PDF)]

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