State Judges

Monica Lewinsky's ex boyfriend's wife for president.jpg* Does the Bush Administration have Blackwater’s back? The U.S. pushes for specific legal protections from Iraqi law for civilian contractors. [New York Times]
* West Virginia: a little less corrupt than last week? WV Supreme Court agrees to rehear Massey Energy case (previously discussed here). [AP; WSJ Law Blog]
* D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg steps down early, to make way for Chief Judge David Sentelle. [D.C. Circuit (PDF) via How Appealing]
* NYT endorses Hillary Clinton (but not for the reasons identified in the bumper sticker at right). [New York Times; New York Times]
* A more detailed report on the Georgetown Law event with Justice Ginsburg that we wrote about last night. [Georgetown Hoya via How Appealing]

David Medina Texas Supreme Court Justice Medina Above the Law blog.jpgIt’s not every day that a member of a state’s highest court gets indicted. So of course Justice David Medina, of the Texas Supreme Court, is our Judge of the Day. Justice Medina and his wife were just indicted in connection with an alleged arson fire that destroyed their home last summer. (We previously discussed the case here.)
But wait — it gets better. District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, a recent Lawyer of the Day, has announced that his office will move to dismiss the indictments. As several tipsters helpfully pointed out to us, both Rosenthal and Medina are Republicans.
This is a little too much bizarreness for this early hour. We’ll turn the floor over to a Texas tipster:

Texas is awesome for many reasons — for example, the locals trying to build nuclear reactors in their garages. And don’t forget the alien visitors.

But the justice system just makes Texas awesomer (even though we already knew that — see here).

First there’s the Texas supreme court justice & his wife who were indicted yesterday and are suspected of torching their house after the bank foreclosed on it.

Then, the DA who says he’ll seek to toss the indictment.

Did we mention the DA’s under investigation himself, and a Harris County judge has requested the AG investigate?

All around, it’s pretty solid legal scandal.

Everything is bigger in the Lone Star State — including the legal scandals.
Update: Here’s an article from the New York Times (via the WSJ Law Blog).
Texas Supreme Court Justice indicted in arson of his Houston home [AP]
Texas Supreme Court justice, wife indicted [Houston Chronicle]
Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina Indicted [Texas Lawyer]
Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina indicted in connection with fire [Dallas Morning News]
Earlier: Did A Texas Supreme Court Justice Burn Down His Own House?
Lawyer of the Day: Chuck Rosenthal

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]

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!

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