State Judges

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!

marijuana pot cannabis doobie Above the Law blog.jpgWith the police, who pulled you over for a traffic infraction. But the good news is that you’re getting it back. From CBS:

Eight grams of medical marijuana seized from a Garden Grove man during a traffic stop must be returned to him, according to an appeals court ruling directing local law enforcement to uphold state, not federal law.

A three-justice panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal [in California] weighed in on the issue in a published decision that sets precedent for future cases on similar issues.

The marijuana, which belonged to Felix Kha, 22, was confiscated during a traffic stop on June 10, 2005.

The city of Garden Grove tried to argue “that to the extent state law authorizers or mandates the return of Kha’s marijuana, it is preempted by federal law.” The appeals court didn’t see it that way:

Kha’s attorneys argued that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution effectively prohibits federal interference with California’s medical marijuana laws, and the three-justice panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed.

The justices found that because, under state law, Kha was lawfully entitled to possess the marijuana, “due process and fundamental fairness dictate that it be returned to him.”

Indeed. Pass the bong, Your Honors!
P.S. The headline that CBS gave to the story is wrong. It was a state court, not a federal court, that issued the ruling.
Federal Court Rules Pot To Be Returned To Driver [CBS]

Ira Robinson Judge Ira Robinson fights off mugger Above the Law blog.jpgCompared to their colleagues in the trial court, appellate judges have a reputation for being delicate, academic creatures, with less in the way of “street smarts.” But don’t lump New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Ira Robinson in that group.

From the Albuquerque Journal (subscription):

New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Ira Robinson expected the worst Tuesday night when he fell to the ground as he tried to fight off a man lunging at him with a knife.

“I really thought the son of a gun was gonna stab me when I was down,” he said.

So how did it all unfold?

Robinson, 65, said in an interview Wednesday that the ski-mask-wearing assailant demanded valuables from him and two cousins visiting from San Diego as they walked to their car parked near La Fonda about 10 p.m.

But Robinson refused the robber’s demands:

“He said ‘Give me your money, (expletive)!’ I said, ‘I’m not gonna give you a damn thing!”’

Nice. But we do wish the judge had invoked his judicial office. Maybe he could have held his assailant in contempt?

A little more, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Judge of the Day: Ira Robinson”

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”

Judge Mary Barzee Flores Above the Law blog.jpgIn our earlier post about the recusal motion filed by one Robert Seitz — a Florida pro se litigant seeking recusal of Judge Mary Barzee Flores, claiming that he once received a pre-judicial BJ from Her Honor — we noted that his claims were mere allegations.
We expressly disclaimed any independent knowledge of his claims. We were simply passing along allegations made in a publicly filed court document — which, by the way, has circulated widely via email. (It was forwarded to us by maybe half a dozen different tipsters.)
Now we bring you Judge Barzee Flores’s side of the story. From an omnibus order filed in the case, denying Seitz’s motion to recuse:
Robert Seitz 3 crazy guy blow job Above the Law blog.jpg
You can read the full order, after the jump.
Earlier: Legal Ethics Question of the Day: If the Court Has Gone Down on You, Is Recusal Required?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Seitz v. Bareille: Blown Out of Proportion?”

Judge Mary Barzee Flores Above the Law blog.jpgWe reiterate what we observed yesterday: “When it comes to generating ATL material, the University of Miami School of Law tops the rankings.”
It appears that the undergraduate school at UM also sees its fair share of shenanigans. Check out this motion to recuse (PDF), which has been making the rounds by email. It involves one UM alumnus seeking the recusal of a former college classmate, now on the state bench.
Pro se plaintiff Robert Seitz asks Judge Mary Barzee Flores (at right), of Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit, to recuse herself from hearing his case. The grounds for recusal are, er, interesting. Here’s what he alleges (alleges — we’ve undertaken no independent investigation of his claims):
Motion to Recuse Judge Mary Barzee Flores recusal Above the Law blog.jpg
You can read the entire motion by clicking here (PDF).
Update: For Judge Barzee Flores’s response to these allegations, in her ruling on the motion to recuse, click here.
Seitz v. Bareille: Motion to Recuse [PDF]

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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