State Judges

Something odd is going on in the great state of Minnesota. The deadline for filing to run for judicial office in the North Star State was this past Tuesday, June 1, at 5 PM. Incumbent judges usually face no challengers, since it’s practically impossible to unseat an even marginally competent incumbent.

One such incumbent was Judge Thomas G. Armstrong (10th District Court 3), a 30-year veteran of the bench who first became a judge back in 1980. As of Tuesday morning, Judge Armstrong was running unopposed. No surprise there.

But then something strange occurred. Shortly before the deadline, Judge Armstrong’s law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, filed to run against her boss. Meanwhile, before anyone realized what was going on, Judge Armstrong withdrew from the race — leaving his law clerk, Dawn Hennessy, running unopposed for a Minnesota district court judgeship. Who says chivalry is dead?

And then things got even more strange….

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Southern Florida has been hit by a storm of insensitivity that has achieved gale force — Peggy Gehl force. Complaints about Judge Peggy Gehl and inappropriate comments she allegedly made from the bench were recently lodged with Chief Judge Victor Tobin of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit.

(The story broke last week in the South Florida blogosphere. But it hasn’t received much attention beyond the Sunshine State, perhaps because it happened right before Memorial Day weekend.)

On May 26, Howard Finkelstein — public defender for Broward County, as well as a television personality with his own show — sent a letter to Chief Judge Tobin, describing “four incidents wherein Judge Gehl made racist comments.” Here’s the first fun allegation:

Maybe Judge Gehl should have asked Wright Muir for a Red Stripe too?

This was just one of four incidents. We describe the other allegations against Judge Gehl — and interview PD Howard Finkelstein, a colorful character in his own right — after the jump.

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Floridian jurist admires Jews; Jamaicans, not so much.

Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold

Ohio judge Shirley Strickland Saffold got Judge of the Day honors here last month for nasty comments made anonymously on the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s website by someone with the handle “Lawmiss.” After Lawmiss made a comment about the mental state of a relative of a reporter, the reporter decided to find out who the person behind the account was. The AOL email address associated with the account was Judge Saffold’s. The Dealer outed her, running a story about all the things Lawmiss had said about trials Saffold had overseen and about specific attorneys, defendants, and other judges.

Saffold denied making the comments. Instead, Judge’s Saffold’s 23-year-old daughter claimed she was the one snipping about the antics in her mom’s courtroom, saying that she shares the AOL email address with her mother. The Plain Dealer got a hold of the browser history from Saffold’s courtroom computer, though, and discovered that she had accessed certain articles at the same time that Lawmiss made comments on them, which made her denials seem a bit dubious.

One of the attorneys described by Lawmiss as a “buffoon” with an “Amos and Andy mouth” is currently appearing before Judge Saffold, defending Anthony Sowell, an alleged serial killer. He has filed multiple motions that Saffold recuse herself from the case. She both refused to step down and sued the Plain Dealer for $50 million for invasion of her, ahem, daughter’s privacy. Saffold wrote to the court yesterday arguing that she not be removed from the case.

The Ohio Supreme Court was not convinced, though…

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Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold (aka Lawmiss?)

When weighing in on cases, it’s best for judges to limit their opinions to their Opinions. They’ve been warned before to be careful on Facebook and on blogs they author. But the case of Ohio judge, Shirley Strickland Saffold, shows they should exercise caution with anonymous online commentary as well.

An online commenter named “lawmiss” registered on the Cleveland Plain Dealer website with Judge Saffold’s AOL e-mail address in 2007. Since then, Lawmiss has had some critical things to say on articles about cases that came before Judge Saffold.

In one, Lawmiss threw one of the attorneys defending a bus driver in a vehicular homicide case… well, under the bus. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“Rufus Sims did a disservice to his client,” the Nov. 21, 2009, post reads. “If only he could shut his Amos and Andy style mouth. What makes him think that is [sic] he insults and acts like buffon [sic] that it will cause the judge to think and see it his way. There are so many lawyers that could’ve done a much better job. This was not a tough case, folks. [The bus driver] should’ve hired a lawyer with the experience to truly handle her needs. Amos and Andy, shuffling around did not do it.”

Sims is now appearing before Judge Saffold defending, in the words of one of our tipsters, “the most notorious serial killer in Cleveland history,” Anthony Sowell. Sims is not pleased to see this evidence of possible bias against him.

When accused by the Dealer of making these comments, Judge Saffold threw her daughter under the bus. Sydney Saffold, 23, “a one-time law student” claims she made the comments associated with her mom’s account.

Judge’s children might lie, but a computer’s browser activity history doesn’t…

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Verla Sue Holland Judge Thomas O'Connell Jr old people having sex is gross.jpgWe previously named Verna Sue Holland, a retired judge from Texas, an Ex-Judge of the Day. Now the ex-judge — or should that be “sex judge” — is back in the news.
Writes Adam Liptak, in the New York Times:

Charles Dean Hood was sentenced to death in 1990 by a Texas judge who had been sleeping with the prosecutor in his case. It took Mr. Hood almost 20 years to establish that fact.

But he finally managed to force the two officials to testify about their rumored affair in the fall of 2008. They admitted it.

Sounds like a conflict of interest that would justify overturning the conviction, right?
Not so fast. Not in Texas.

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judge herman_thomas.jpgWe’re taking some trips down memory lane this week at Above the Law. Yesterday we wrote about Peter John, a Lawyer of the Day from 2007.
Today we bring you news about Herman Thomas, a Judge of the Day from 2007. He was accused of improperly paddling prisoners, but was acquitted at trial.
Now he’s exploring new opportunities in the political realm. From WKRG:

Three months after he was found not guilty of paddling and sexually abusing inmates, former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas is running for State Senate.

“I wish to continue my commitment to serve my community that has done so much for me and my family,” Thomas said.

Like acquitting you on charges of spanking male prisoners and trading favorable treatment for sexual favors?
Herman Thomas isn’t the first former judge to go into politics. Over the years, there has been significant movement between the judicial and the legislative branches. (Linda Greenhouse has this nice write-up of the phenomenon.)
But ex-Judge Thomas’s move still seems a bit… random. Could there be another reason he’s running for elected office?

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donald jackson.jpgWhen Judge Donald Jackson enters a courtroom, the bailiffs may ask that “all kneel” instead of rise. The Texas county judge has been found guilty of offering to help a woman accused of DWI if she was willing to serve time in the bedroom.
From the Dallas Morning News:

A 28-year-old woman charged with driving while intoxicated accused Jackson of offering her a better court-appointed attorney if she’d agree to a romantic relationship. A jury found Jackson guilty Friday of official oppression.

Photos of the criminal temptress in a video after the jump.
Judge Mark Kent Ellis told Jackson, “We are all tarnished by your stupidity.” Then Judge Ellis gave him a sentence that he “wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy.” What’s that?

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kevin_moriarty.jpgEarlier this year, Kansas lawyer Kimberly Ireland filed a lawsuit against state judge Kevin Moriarty, accusing him of masturbating while overseeing her divorce mediation. After we wrote about it, her ex-husband came to Judge Moriarty’s defense, saying his wife’s accusations were limp.
Ireland is now recanting her claims as well, issuing a public apology.
Excerpt and links, after the jump.

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Elizabeth%20Halverson%20small%20Judge%20Elizabeth%20Halverson%20Liz%20Halverson%20Above%20the%20Law%20blog.jpgOn her motorized Rascal scooter. From the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

A one-time legal assistant to ousted District Judge Elizabeth Halverson won a $50,000 judgment Tuesday in the defamation case she filed against Halverson in 2007. District Judge David Wall on Tuesday ordered Halverson to pay the money and to return files to the assistant, Ileen Spoor….

Wall denied Spoor’s claim for $100,000 in punitive damages. Halverson did not attend the proceedings.

Had Her Honor attended, would the outcome have been different? As an oral advocate, she’s not half-bad.
So, what were the allegations against Elizabeth Halverson?

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indiana judge michael edwards.jpgMany ’08 law school grads are about to take a step up to second year associate level at Biglaw firms across the land. You’re feeling pretty proud? And lucky to have a Biglaw gig these days, right?
Well, eat your hearts out. Michael Edwards, Georgetown Law ’08 grad, has already been appointed a judge. He took his seat on the bench in Indiana City Court on Tuesday. From WTHI TV:

The Indiana Supreme Court appointed a new attorney to become a temporary judge in a southern Indiana City Court. Michael Edwards is a Naval Academy graduate, former Marine, and now the city court judge in Bicknell.

A Georgetown classmate tipped us off to the news:

This is one of my friends from GULC’s class of 2008. Already a judge! Ridiculous!

So how’d Edwards come to the attention of the Indiana Supreme Court? Judge Edwards’ ascension to the bench is a result of malfeasance by a prior judge, but was also due in part to a pushed back start date at a Chicago Biglaw firm.

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