State Judges

Lynette Scavo Felicity Huffman cancer bald Above the Law blog.jpgA recent trend: judges who are touchy about courtroom attire. Last week we wrote about Judge William Sosnay, who is no fan of ascots. Now meet Judge Holly Hollenbeck:

Bev Williams of Richland wears a knitted beanie cap to cover her hairless head everywhere she goes, but not in Judge Holly Hollenbeck’s courtroom.

The District Court judge told Williams, 43, to take her cap off or leave his court in the Benton County Justice Center on Friday morning.

“I was embarrassed. It made me cry,” said Williams, who recently underwent six months of chemotherapy for cancer.

But Judge Holly Hollenbeck — who’s a man, by the way, so he ain’t no Hollenbeck girl [FN1] — has a rebuttal:

“I ask everybody to remove hats,” he said, noting the only reason he has allowed one — once — was for a religious reason.

Hollenbeck said, “I am very understanding with people who battle with cancer. My own mother died from cancer. I’ve had hundreds of cancer victims come through my court, and I’ve never had one not remove their hat, ever.”

He added, “Refusal to remove shows contempt for the court and for the judge.”

So what do you think? Is Judge Hollenbeck’s position reasonable? Or is this s**t bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s?


By the way, with respect to our earlier poll, almost 55 percent of you don’t think an ascot is appropriate courtroom attire.
[FN1] Nor should Judge Holly A. Hollenbeck be confused with motivational speaker Holly H. Hollenbeck, author of Sex Lives of Wives: Reigniting the Passion, and proprietress of PassionSeekers.com.
Judge’s strict no-hat rule upsets cancer patient [Seattle 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!

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?”

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