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Archive for the ‘On Judges’ Category

Last week, the State Bar of Arizona launched an odd campaign. It’s a social media contest using the photo sharing, video streaming site Instagram.

Called Finish the Ballot!, the contest is supposed to promote voter information about judicial retention elections. Yeah, there’s a challenge — ginning up excitement for a dull but important topic.

Dangling all of a $250 Visa gift card as the sole prize, contestants vie by creating a 15-second Instagram video that must include the phrase, “Finish the ballot. Vote for the judges!”

Bar employees will pick the winner based on “creativity and originality as they reflect the contest’s theme.” Instead of “Just Say No!” think “Just Say Vote!” 

Undervoting worries.

The goal is to increase voter participation — at least on that really long part of the ballot with all the judicial names expecting retention.

Problem is that voters in Arizona and in other judicial retention states continue choosing not to complete their ballots. The phenomenon has a name. It’s called “undervoting” or “roll off.”

The worry is that for merit selection and judicial retention election proponents, all those non-votes undermine the argument that retention elections are supposedly great at ensuring judicial accountability.

And with ever longer ballots and so many judges listed, it’s not getting any better. In one recent Maricopa County election, for example,

Indeed, according to a June 2014 Arizona Law Review article, “Judicial Performance Review in Arizona: A Critical Assessment,” authors former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch and her former law clerk now attorney Erin Norris Bass, reference Professor Larry Aspin’s studies revealing that between 1964 and 2010, Arizona judges up for retention averaged an undervote of 42.9%.

In his report, Judicial retention election trends,” Aspin highlighted the undervoting increase in the state’s largest county, Maricopa, where it ran “an average 48.8% in the 1996-2006 period, peaking at 54.5% in 2004.”  And citing 2012 Maricopa County Election Results, Justice Berch and Ms. Bass noted more recently that “In the 2012 retention election, Maricopa County Superior Court judges on the ballot had an average 50.7% undervote.”

But besides undervoting, there’s another concern troubling the legal establishment. Justice Berch and Ms. Bass’ law review article, also cited findings that “approximately 30% of the electorate routinely votes ‘no’ in judicial retention elections no matter who the judge happens to be.” 

In Maricopa County, among those taking the time to vote for all the judges, the median affirmative vote in the 2012 county election was 69%. Anecdotally at least, one can speculate this may be a form of protest by restive voters dissatisfied with the present system.

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Photo Credits: 214/365, at Flickr by Morgan via Creative Commons attribution; Making Faces, at Flickr by a2gemma via Creative Commons-attribution license;My Kitty Boys Doing the Big Eye Stare, by joanna8555 at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license;Instagram-logo, uploaded by José Moutinho at Flickr Creative Commons attribution;DeMoulin’s Patented Hoodwink, at Flickr Creative Commons-attribution license uploaded by Arallyn!

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File:Laughing Fool.jpgLike Cher, Article III federal judges answer only to themselves and to God — assuming, that is, they aren’t atheists — otherwise they’re not answering to the Almighty either.

Which leads me to question why given how untouchable they are, some folks, granted mostly lawyers are nonetheless so exercised over Federal Judge Richard Kopf having told the U.S. Supreme Court it should ‘STFU.” One nose-out-of-joint conservative law school professor was so peeved at Judge Kopf he even went for the cheap ad hominem and called him “dummKopf.” I hope Steve Bainbridge doesn’t really think he’s the clever first one to think up that pun when he ranted it was the judge who should STFU.

The 68-year old Judge Kopf is retired but on senior status since December 1, 2011. This means he’s working at-large as a judge but assigned to any inferior federal court while receiving his retirement salary.

Hercules and the umpire.

But besides working as a senior justice, he also has a personal blog called “Hercules and the umpire” where he waxes either eloquent or inappropriate depending on your sociopolitical point of view.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest controversial decision involving a closely-held corporation’s personhood and its attendant religious beliefs concerning Obamacare-mandated contraceptives in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the very opinionated Judge Kopf invoked the acronym, STFU, to argue the nation’s high court is “causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the Court has the power to avoid.” But it was that acronym that got people’s underwear in an uncomfortable bunch.

For the uninitiated, STFU is simply short-hand for shut the F-bomb up. Oh, my, that a judge would deign to use such language? At least it wasn’t in any judicial opinion.

Cebull didn’t blog.

http://lawmrh.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/judge-cebull.jpg?w=181&h=203Maybe if the now retired 70-year old Federal Judge Richard Cebull had blogged instead of emailing on his office computer, he might’ve kept his racist robes and his own senior status another day? Just kidding.

You’ll recall an investigation by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judicial Council revealed Judge Cebull had sent hundreds of “racist, sexist and politically inflammatory” e-mail messages over four years while serving as a federal judge in Montana. Parenthetically, Native American advocacy groups are still petitioning to see all the ex-judge’s racist emails but the 9th Circuit keeps saying ‘No.’ They’re supposedly confidential. Oh well, at least they’re just ‘secret’ and not ‘lost’ like Lois Lerner’s missing IRS emails.

“Dirty old man.”

http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/MjAxMi01Y2Q5Y2I1MGRhMzg5M2Yw.pngIt’s not like Judge Kopf hasn’t been here before. A self-described “dirty old man ever since I was a very young man,” he got people worked up just a few months ago when he posted “On being a dirty old man and how young women lawyers dress.”

In that post, he wrote “I have three rules that young women lawyers should follow when considering how to dress for court: 1. You can’t win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it. 2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury. 3. Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down.”

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a9/Hans_Conried_Uncle_Tonoose_Danny_Thomas_Show_1959.JPG/363px-Hans_Conried_Uncle_Tonoose_Danny_Thomas_Show_1959.JPGFilters? What filters?

Let me first inoculate myself against accusations of ageist stereotyping. I’m well past my middle-earlies. That said, perhaps age should at least, be discussed here.

Besides our own anecdotal evidence about crazy uncles ruining holidays “with outlandish behavior and boorish opinions,” studies support what some of us have long suspected, aging brains not only drive forgetfulness but blunt behavior.

In one study, “Aging, Executive Functioning, and Social Control,” researcher William von Hippel found that physiological changes such as aging-related atrophy of the brain’s frontal lobes, which he calls “the seat of executive functions” are associated with “age-related inhibitory losses.” This can lead to unvarnished prejudice, “off-target verbosity” and “socially inappropriate remarks.” For an unscholarly, inelegant take on the same topic, also see “Old People Saying Shit They Should Not.

Any wonder that 75-year old Federal Judge Richard Posner recommends judges after 70 be required to takea test of mental acuity every five years.”

Judge Robert Malcolm Kerr of whom it was said, “He administers a kind of rough and ready justice that irritates many and pleases few.”

But when it comes to the berobed, the combination of age-related inhibitory deficits with hubristic-minded ‘black robe disease’ also called “Judge-Itis” — why that’s downright pyrotechnic. In some quarters, judge-itis has morphed into Judge Judy-fication. For examples, remember King County, Washington’s real-life Judge Judy Eiler or the very recent Brevard County Florida Brawling Judge John Murphy. As historian Barbara Tuchman said, “A greater inducement to folly is an excess of power.”

So if media-celebrated ‘no nonsense’ ‘tough-talkers’ on the bench can gloss over Model Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2’s sub paragraphs on courtroom decorum and demeanor, why can’t judges with personal blogs?

“Everyone was thinking it, I just said it.”

Not to say that 60-somethings and older have cornered inhibitory deficits. Take San Diego California’s Judge DeAnn Salcido, a member of Generation X who was reprimanded for using her courtroom to create audition tapes for a Judge Judy-style television show.

http://lawmrh.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/e15ef-filter.jpg?w=327&h=227Unabashed, she said, “I have a big mouth. I don’t know when to be quiet. I’m telling you everything I know. That’s just the way it’s going to be. I don’t know how to change that. It’s a defect in my personality.” Methinks she needs a blog, too.

And then over the weekend, I finally had enough. I’d been following an anonymous Millenial and once-upon-a-time wanna-be lawyer turned author/blogger. I once thought his blog was refreshingly funny even with all the profligate F-bombs. But then his profane posts kept crossing the line from witty real-world impertinence to nasty hyperbolic meanness. And after reading his last post describing what he’d be willing to do if someone paid off all his student debt, I finally said “No mas” and unfollowed.

No filters.

So when it comes to blurting out whatever pops in your head regardless of the consequences, I’m now inclined to think age is irrelevant. As a society, thanks to social media, online anonymity and no-longer-taught etiquette, we have no filters.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/72/The_Wounded_Angel_-_Hugo_Simberg.jpg/298px-The_Wounded_Angel_-_Hugo_Simberg.jpgWhich gets me back to Judge Kopf. In his latest post, “Please stop,” the blogging judge says he’s reconsidering his blog after all the fallout from his STFU post. In his post, he reprints a communication received from a Nebraska lawyer who he says has his “highest respect.” In his missive, the lawyer appeals idealistically to Judge Kopf’s ‘better angels of our nature’ and asks him to stop blogging — lest it bring discredit on the public’s understanding of the judicial system.

But from my quick unscientific review of the comments to this post, it seems most readers favor his continued blogging. So as Judge Kopf contemplates what he’s going to do, not to worry. It’s not like public confidence in the Supreme Court isn’t already at a historic low or that judicial irreverence means the public will think as Dickens’ Mr. Bumble did that “the law is an ass.” I think he should keep blogging.

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Photo Credits: Laughing Fool, source http://www.wellesley.edu/DavisMuseum/collections/provenance_research.htm at Wikipedia Commons, public domain;American magazine ad for the film Hercules (1959), HerculesMagazine.jpg, Wikimedia Commons, public domain;Hans Conried as Uncle Tonoose, Wikimedia Commons, public domain;Robert Malcolm Kerr, Vanity Fair, 1900-11-22m Wikimedia Commons,Public Domain; The Wounded Angel,Hugo Simberg, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.


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I love juxtapositions. It’s an odd personality trait. Or maybe, it’s the heat. Or it’s niggling sleep deprivation now that I’m up earlier than usual — before 4:30 AM to walk our dogs before the summer sun scorches paws and dehydrates lolling tongues. It clears 90°F before 8 AM.

Take, for instance, my frequent lumping together of ‘Old Skool’ rhythm and blues with otherwise unrelated substantive topics. Regular readers know, for example, I especially like Old Skool’ Riffing on Godfather of Soul James Brown.

So when news hit that Brevard County Florida Judge John C. Murphy was back but handling civil cases after less than 30 days of paid vacation leave for reportedly scuffling outside his courtroom with Assistant Public Defender Andrew Weinstock, you’ll understand why “Get Up Offa That Thing” started playing in my head. However, I’ll admit that this particular jurist doesn’t strike me as someone who’d channel Soul Brother No. 1‘s happy “I’m back! I’m back!” refrain.

Brawl in Brevard.

You remember the “Stop pissing me off . . . if you want to fight, let’s go out back”  ‘Brawl in Brevard.’ That’s when after ripping the public defender a new one in his court, Judge Murphy irascibly took matters out to the hallway for a more serious heart-to-heart with the surprisingly unintimidated Andrew Weinstock.

I prognosticated then, “I don’t expect much to happen to Judge Murphy.” So he’s back already. Also see “Judge who hit public defender returns to bench, less than a month later.”

People 7442Sure the Judicial Qualifications Commission reportedly opened an investigation. But seeing how the wagons have already circled around Judge Murphy, I still predict, if anything, the gentlest of admonitions. Besides, according to news reports, no criminal charges were filed in the incident.

 

Boy with his hands on his face uidOpen Letter Contrition — but not for all.

In an open letter released “To the Residents of Brevard County,” Judge Murphy has moved to put the embarrassing episode behind him. “I am happy and relieved to be back at work serving the people of Brevard County and I thank [Chief Justice] Judge Harris for his support and the confidence he has shown to me,” he wrote.

Not to worry, I guess, if the Judicial Qualifications Commission happens to make a probable cause determination and the whole thing’s sent for adjudication to supportive Chief Justice Harris and the Florida Supreme Court.

In his letter, Judge Murphy expressed “regret” for his actions. And he “committed to continuing personal improvement” and to “win back” public trust and confidence. He offered “my personal apology” to each of his 18th Judicial Circuit colleagues and to “judges everywhere.” Curiously, he made no mention of Weinstock, the object of his ire, nor did he apologize to him. But at least he left out the standard non-apology apology.

Yet as the New York Times reported a few days ago, voters can expect more judicial contrition in Florida. See “Here Comes the Judge, in Cuffs – In Broward County, Fla., Spate of Judges in D.U.I. Arrests.” Yeah, I know — let he who is without sin hide behind the nearest rock pile.

Dominick/Flickr

And to reassure the county electorate that he hopes will again reelect him, Judge Murphy also added, “I seek to ensure that this sort of unacceptable behavior will never happen again.” The words “seek to ensure” reminded me of that scene from “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” It was where Dan George as Lone Watie described his visit with the other Chiefs of the Five Civilized Tribes to the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary nonsensically tells them “Endeavor to persevere.” I imagine the judge will likewise “endeavor to persevere” not to spar, biff, or poke public defenders on premises.

1158073_paper_emotions_-_hateNot the last angry man.

To assist those aspirations, while on his taxpayer-paid leave, Judge Murphy took part in a favorite bureaucratic fix — anger management. The courts may not have them but I have my doubts about anger management programs and whether they even work.

Of anger management classes, the Health Journal at the Wall Street Journal said, “It’s not clear if the programs work, as few studies have analyzed their effectiveness. There are no licensing requirements for anger-management trainers — anyone can open a business. And since participants don’t usually sign up voluntarily, trainers say it’s possible to complete a program without changing one’s behavior.” Also see NPR’s “The Anger Management Industry – Calming Courses on the Rise, But Do They Work?”

Now really, is there such a thing as curing a propensity to be an angry jerk? Or can counseling graft a nice personality on an overbearing putz? Or can it fix what one blogger hilariously calls HUAD – Head Up Ass Disorder?

Take, for example, that serial biting soccer footballer Luis Suarez who after two previous biting incidents during a game was recommended anger management treatment. Suarez’s now up to three bites with the latest administered on an Italian Player at the current World Cup. He’s been fined and banned for 4 months. Still the psychologists keep recommending anger management instead of bicuspid restraints.

http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/5f/e6/84/5fe684ecb7261693a426fe41022db7c1.jpg

Fortunately, even if anger management doesn’t work, there’s always Dr. Seuss. How about carrying around “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” in your pocket?

Truthfully, when it comes down to it, some people just don’t have the requisite people skills, civility and infinite patience to handle life stresses.

I’m all for reinvention — but as Clint said, “A Man’s Got to Know his Limitations.” If you can’t handle on-the-job anger, find another line of work.

Which to conclude, of course, reminds me of another ‘Old Skool’ golden oldie ditty.

It’s from my East Los Angeles Barrio days: “Are you angry?” So when all else fails — there’s always a song.

 


Photo Credits: James Brown Live Hamburg 1973 by Heinrich Klaffs Heinrich Klaffs – at Wikipedia Commons, originally posted to Flickr as James Brown Live 1702730029; Pin by Debbi Kassin on Anger Management & Conflict Resolution Dr. Seuss, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

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Last October, I reblogged a post by Indiana lawyer Paul Ogden who was then facing a one-year suspension for a private email criticizing a judge.

File:1849 - Karikatur Die unartigen Kinder.jpg

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Ogden’s troubles, however, were bigger than just the possibility that as a politically active lawyer with an unblemished 27-year legal career, he might suffer potentially career-destroying sanctions. No, Ogden’s case was really about another attempt by attorney disciplinary authorities to further muzzle attorney free speech.

It was about how much more an ethical rule can be broadened to spank lawyers for their opinions about judges under Ethical Rule 8.2, which says, in part, “A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge.”

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/88/Two_monks_working_in_the_blacksmith_shop_at_Mission_Santa_Barbara%2C_ca.1900_%28CHS-4070%29.jpg/319px-Two_monks_working_in_the_blacksmith_shop_at_Mission_Santa_Barbara%2C_ca.1900_%28CHS-4070%29.jpg

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

And it was also about a lawyer disciplinary commission with the unbridled temerity to hammer and tong a lawyer with the nerve to persistently criticize it.

The Court decides.

LAW AND JUSTICE uidThis past Monday the Indiana Supreme Court handed down its decision In the Matter of Paul K. Ogden. And while the vocal Hoosier gadfly ended up getting disciplined, it was still a good outcome for Ogden.

The case against him was originally brought in March 2013 because of comments he made in private correspondence about Judge David H. Coleman, a special judge appointed in an unsupervised estate case where Ogden was representing one of the interested parties.

As to the First Count of the Charge, in the words of the Court, Ogden’s “repeated and virulent accusations that Judge Coleman committed malfeasance in the initial stages of the administration of the Estate were not just false; they were impossible because Judge Coleman was not even presiding over the Estate at this time—a fact Respondent could easily have determined. Because Respondent lacked any objectively reasonable basis for (these) statements, we conclude that Respondent made these statements in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity, thus violating Rule 8.2(a)in Count 1, the aggravating facts convince us that a mere reprimand is insufficient discipline in this case.”

As to the remaining Second Count concerning alleged ex-parte communications to Marion County judges to follow recently outlined forfeiture law, the Court ruled the disciplinary commission had not met its burden that Ogden’s letters to the judges were “prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

Caucasian businessman pointing finger beside window uidThe Court instead found professional misconduct only with respect to Ogden’s statements about Judge Coleman. And so it ordered a 30-day suspension starting August 5, 2014 and assuming he keeps his nose clean, at its conclusion, the Court approved automatic reinstatement.

Speaking objectively — despite the sanction, I think it’s a win for Ogden. The Court unanimously found misconduct only concerning the First Count. It imposed only a 30-day suspension with automatic reinstatement — instead of the one-year suspension without automatic readmission that the Commission wanted.

File:Freespeech.jpg

Wikimedia Commons/Luis Ricardo/GNU Free Documentation License.

Vulnerable attorneys.

A few days after, at Disbarring the Critics, Ogden also understandably cast the outcome in a positive light. The perils he’d faced had been daunting.

But all the same, Ogden was disappointed “the Court failed to distinguish between public and private communications, thereby leaving attorneys vulnerable to having their private emails and conversations scoured for Rule 8.2 violations for judicial criticism.”

On a more hopeful note in his post, The Indiana Supreme Court Hands Down Decision,” he added: “Attorneys from across the country are wanting an attorney free speech case to go before the United States Supreme Court to curtail states use of disciplinary rules to target attorney speech critical of judges. I think it’s inevitable that’s going to happen as the U.S. Supreme Court seems to have a keen interest in free speech cases and there seems to be no support among conservatives or liberals on the Court for the types of professional sanctions states are imposing on attorneys for judicial criticism.”

Obstreperous meets obdurate.

Ogden also remains convinced the Indiana Disciplinary Commission overcharged and overprosecuted him for no other reason than his unrelenting criticism of its doings. Optimistically, then, he hopes his case will be “a catalyst” for investigating the Commission’s conduct “and for much-needed reform to the attorney disciplinary process.”

While I wish him well, I don’t know whether such optimism is realistic. The forces arrayed against him are formidable. The Commission is an agency and arm of the Indiana Supreme Court.

Case in point, despite his well-founded longstanding complaints about the Commission’s conduct, the Court adopted its agency’s view that Ogden had been “obstreperous.” Obstreperous is a $10 word meaning stubbornly resistant to control as in “unmanageable.”

Laughing Jackass 10952161246Using my own $9.99 word, if Ogden’s unruly then I think the Commission has been obdurate meaning stubbornly resistant to change. But operating apparently without meaningful oversight or transparency, why should it conduct itself any differently?

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File:RandyOrton-chokehold.jpgHow’s that for an arresting quote? Haven’t heard such talk since my barrio East Los Angeles high school days. But as an instance of failed judicial temperament? Who’d of believed it?

I must need a recollection refresher as it’s been awhile since I last posted on judicial temperament and how justice But having just finished reading Kenosha, Wisconsin criminal defense lawyer Michael Cicchini’s excellent Tried and Convicted: How Police, Prosecutors, and Judges Destroy Our Constitutional Rights and with overnight news that a judge allegedly opened up a can of whoop-ass on a public defender — well, I’m compelled to post today.

The incident caught on courtroom camera, except for the off-camera hallway fracas, took place in Brevard County, Florida. In one corner was Judge John C. Murphy, a Dayton Law School grad admitted to the bar in 1983 and an elected and reelected county judge the past 8 years. And in the other corner and on the receiving end of the judicial ire and supposed fisticuffs was Public Defender Andrew Weinstock. From the raw video, it’s reasonable to surmise some preexisting tension between the two purported combatants.

Tale of the tape.

http://i735.photobucket.com/albums/ww355/btothemo86/CanofWhoopAss375.gif

But what’s also clear, at least from the tape, is that the strained relations went beyond a loss of judicial patience with a public defender. No, it’s my opinion the judge was likely ‘pissed off’ by Weinstock’s unwillingness to plea out his client; and to succumb to court pressure; and to waive his client’s right to a speedy trial. “You know I’m the public defender. I have a right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my client,” Weinstock is heard saying in response to Judge Murphy’s “You know, if I had a rock I would throw it at you right now.” 

Sixth Amendment Right to Speedy Trial.

But what about an accused’s right to a speedy trial? Read Chapter 8 in Cicchini’s illuminating book to learn how that works in the real world. Cicchini calls it another one of our “soft” constitutional rights. Consequently, it’s not so speedy and it’s honored more in the breach than observance. And then there are the consequences visited upon both defense lawyer and accused for presuming to insist on their rights.

Given Cicchini’s other recitations in his concise 163-page book about how government agents (police, prosecutors and judges) routinely circumvent our constitutional protections, I think that rather than an angry jurist, it’s the public that ought to be royally pissed. But we’re not. With civics hardly taught in school; with our fount of knowledge reduced to movies and television dramas; and with our tendencies toward holier-than-thou self-righteousness when someone else’s accused of a crime — our blissful ignorance keeps us pacified.

As for the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, as Cicchini tells it, speedy-trial demands are discouraged. And judges will “not-so-subtly punish defense lawyers who make them.”  That said, I don’t think that when Cicchini wrote those words, even he envisioned what’s supposed to have occurred in Brevard County court yesterday.

But then again, my esteemed brethren and sistren of the criminal defense bar are NOT going to be shocked by such tales told in or out-of-school. Indeed, I bet most of them could add their own chapters and real-life examples to Cicchini’s book. They know all too well about what passes for the preservation of individual rights in criminal court. See for a recent example, Arizona criminal defense lawyer Matt Brown’s latest post, “Real Monsters,” about an octogenarian cancer patient and alleged victim caught up in a dilemma worthy of Franz Kafka. Or take this other instance of what passes for impartiality between a judge and his BFF prosecutor just posted by Pro Publica at “Startling Sidebar: Brooklyn Judge Gave Political Advice.”

man sleeping at deskAs for the rest of us still walking around with our eyes closed about the purported sanctity, inviolability and indomitability of our individual constitutional rights — save for the clueless knuckleheads applauding in Judge Murphy’s court — most of us are taken aback by such unseemly conduct and the report of a Judge accused of hitting attorney.” But most won’t read pass the titillating headlines to understand it was because of the lawyer’s defense of his client’s Sixth Amendment right in all criminal prosecutions to a speedy and public trial. And too bad our attention will be fleeting. Soon our self-assurance and complacency returns.

A teachable moment.

Politics Law & Finance 43Still it was no surprise the story made the newswires and even the morning news shows. Or by necessity that I had to parenthetically refer to Cicchini’s timely and topical take-down of “the world of criminal justice” and about the sorry state of our “soft” and “malleable” constitutional rights.

At the risk of invoking the banality of the ‘teachable moment,’ the stuff he writes about needs to be taught in our schools and not so as to, perish the thought, undermine our rose-colored faith in the system. No, it has to be taught to wake us up “about what really happens to ordinary people on a daily basis” when they’re caught in the maws of the criminal justice machine. Forewarned is forearmed. I urge every person reading this post to get a copy of Tried and Convicted.

And as a final add on the Brawl in Brevard, according to the Statement from Chief Justice John Harris, Judge Murphy will be taking a temporary leave of absence and has agreed to seek anger management counseling. Public Defender Weinstock took some time off. After the din dies down, I don’t expect much to happen to Judge Murphy (and hopefully nothing to lawyer Weinstock) although Florida’s ever tireless lords of discipline will almost certainly be poking proboscis into the matter.

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Photo Credits: Randy Orton chokehold, by Sean Refer, at Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license; can of whoopass, via photobucket, http://i735.photobucket.com/albums/ww355/btothemo86/CanofWhoopAss375.gif.

 

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“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” – Chief Justice John Roberts

For the moment forget my snark two years ago when I riffed on the US Supreme Court and Obamacare. In that post, I parenthetically mentioned how I often confuse two prominent legal ‘talking heads,’ Jeffrey Toobin and Jonathan Turley — a couple of guys I keep inexplicably mixing up about as much as I do Javier Bardem and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

But unlike my categorical preference for Bardem over Morgan, on any given day I might prefer one legal beagle over the other. Today, having managed to keep them apart in my head, there’s good reason for me to like Toobin. It’s because of his timely post at the New Yorker, “Chief Justice Roberts, Meet Bundy and Sterling.”

“It is a sentiment out of touch with reality . . . .” – Associate Justice Sotomayor

It was a post I wish I’d written because it resonated so completely with my views on the state of race in America today. As recently as last January, for example, I’d related my thoughts on how race still matters. That was prompted by the outing of racist ex-judge Richard Cebull andOne more add on a marinated post-racial America.”

Toobin was first to the door, though, masterfully dovetailing ever so neatly Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and their respective racist viewpoints with the stirring stand-up-and-cheer 58-page dissent by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor last week in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. That case involved a 2006 Michigan ballot initiative imposing a state constitutional ban on “all sex and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting.” By a plurality, the nation’s high court ruled 6-2 that voters could ban such considerations of race and sex through the ballot box. See Schuette v. BAMN – Supreme Court of the United States.

Justice Sotomayor wrote, in part, “While our Constitution does not guarantee minority groups victory in the political process, it does guarantee them meaningful and equal access to that process. It guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently, forcing the minority alone to surmount unique obstacles in pursuit of its goals—here, educational diversity that cannot reasonably be accomplished through race-neutral measures.”

And quoting from the dissent and referencing Chief Justice Roberts’ simplistic recipe for ending racial discrimination, Toobin opined: “Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote about a country where the Bundys and Sterlings still hold considerable sway. Indeed, she went beyond the simple bigotry of the Bundys and Sterlings and found that more subtle wounds of racism still exist in this country. “Race matters,” she wrote, “because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’” Indeed, Sotomayor threw Roberts’s famous line back at him. She quoted him—“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”—and then wrote, “It is a sentiment out of touch with reality, one not required by our Constitution, and one that has properly been rejected as not sufficient to resolve cases of this nature. While the enduring hope is that race should not matter, the reality is that too often it does. Racial discrimination … is not ancient history.”

I’d planned to blog about the decision and particularly Justice Sotomayor’s dissent. But no matter. As John Lennon presciently warned, Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” So as it turns out, Toobin has instead captured it all so concisely and incisively that woulda-coulda-shoulda doesn’t matter. I refer you instead to his excellent post.

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Photo Credits: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor by DonkeyHotey at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution;

 

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http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ad/WMATA_third_rail_at_West_Falls_Church.jpg/320px-WMATA_third_rail_at_West_Falls_Church.jpgIn politics, there’s the ‘third rail,’ a metaphor for topics so charged that like a train’s exposed electrical conductor, they’re too dangerous to touch. For at least some lawyers, the profession’s ‘third rail’ is the lawyer discipline system.

The closest most want to brush against lawyer discipline is a glance at the list of sanctioned lawyers in the monthly bar magazine. And that’s just in case there’s someone there they know.

In Arizona, the consumer protection agency also known as the state bar does a good job reminding its lawyers about the consequences of violating ethics rules. The bar’s website prominently features up-to-date news of Arizona lawyers who’ve been disciplined.

By comparison, bar websites in neighboring California, Nevada, and New Mexico don’t have such front-page listings. But true to its express mission of protecting the public from its lawyers, the Arizona bar additionally sends press releases publicly identifying the drubbed and the defrocked.

Afraid of the system.

But ask an Arizona lawyer to explain how discipline works or to state how many bar prosecutors there are or how much money is spent each year protecting the public and chances are good you’ll get a headlight-caught Bambi expression. More than “don’t ask” — afraid of bad karma it’s “don’t tell me — I don’t want to know.”

 

Take the financial piece, for example. Lawyer discipline takes the biggest chunk of member dues. In Arizona, the number runs about $5M annually.

But if there’s a detailed financial accounting explaining how, what, why and where those monies are expended, I wouldn’t know about it.

To be fair, that doesn’t mean such a report doesn’t exist. I may just be the last person in Arizona to know it. All the same, whether you’re talking legal elites or state or local government, transparency hasn’t been big here.

Consequently, it may simply be that run-of-the-mill members even if they’re paying for the whole kaboodle aren’t supposed to be privy to it — sort of like questions above their pay grade.

On the bar’s website, however, at least there’s an 11-page April 30, 2013 Annual Report of the Attorney Regulation Advisory Committee to the Arizona Supreme Court. Admittedly, it’s not a financial statement. It’s a statistical report of admission and discipline cases for the year. It’s also about one-fifth the size, for example, of the Washington Bar’s 2012 Lawyer Discipline System Annual Report. The Washington state report, by contrast, is replete with cost and discipline expense data.

“Ethics allegations about judge . . . .”

woman face 5But the real reason to bring up lawyer discipline today is not because I have a pent-up hankering for self-administered third-rail electrocution. It’s  because of Wednesday morning’s front-page news story concerning a persistent non-lawyer named Mark Dixon and the bone he’s been picking with the state’s lawyer discipline chieftain, presiding disciplinary judge Hon. William “Bill” O’Neil.

According to news sources, Dixon’s been complaining about Judge O’Neil since at least 2009. Indeed, almost 2 years ago Dixon even filed an affidavit in support of Lisa Aubuchon’s disbarment appeal. For those who forgot, Aubuchon was the former deputy county attorney ultimately disbarred for her role in former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas’ prosecutorial misconduct against county officials.

None of this was news to me. I caught a whiff a couple of years ago when Phoenix New Times ran an unflattering account, “Mark Dixon Disses Disciplinary Judge William O’Neil, Who He Says was a “Close” Friend, in Affidavit Filed by Lisa Aubuchon. New Times reporter Ray Stern put Dixon in a less than credible light.

But now comes this week’s news account in the Arizona Republic, “Divorce case stirs ethics allegations about judge.” Talk about an attention-grabber — especially if you’re a lawyer. So naturally, the interest of legal community types was piqued, especially when the allegations weren’t just directed at any judge but the one charged with disciplining lawyers. Even so, these were only allegations and ones that had been previously dismissed out-of-hand. So inasmuch as Dixon’s beeves had been grilling for a while and that he’d become a minor cause célèbre among local Tea Party types, why was the mainstream newspaper now taking this on? Slow news day?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/34/Apatosaurus_skull.jpg/320px-Apatosaurus_skull.jpgI doubt it’s because the Arizona Tea Party and its supporters have that much pull, if any, with the state’s largest newspaper. Moreover, their support of Dixon is colored. They’re still picking their own Brontosaurus-sized bone with the state bar and the court’s disciplinary arm for defrocking their hero, former county attorney Andrew Thomas.

So it’s a mystery to me. But as for the Republic story, writer Dennis Wagner did a terrific job time-lining events and giving equal time to both sides.

Most importantly, in detailing the series of events, coincidences, and timing of the real estate short sale of Judge O’Neil’s mother-in-law’s house to his friend and subsequent business partner and the judge’s purchase thereafter of a half-interest in the home for $25,000, Wagner was smart to raise the relevant “appearance of impropriety” ethics standard.

It’s CANON 2 of the Arizona Supreme Court Code of Conduct,“A judge shall avoid impropriety and appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s actions.” Section A of Canon 2 of the Code; rule 81, Arizona Rules of the Supreme Court, further provides: “A judge should … conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” whereas section B of Canon 2 provides in part: “A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”

To Judge O’Neil’s inestimable credit, though, when asked about the appearance of impropriety involving the short sale transaction and subsequent purchase, Judge O’Neil told the news reporter, “In hindsight, would I have done this? The answer is ‘No’.”

No props, though, for straight-faced zealous advocacy from the judge’s lawyer, who when told by the reporter of the judge’s woulda-coulda-shoulda said, “I hate to contradict the good judge, but . . . there isn’t any appearance of impropriety.”

But no need to go into the rest of the story here. Read Wagner’s account instead.

And while this may not necessarily be open discussion at law firm water coolers, I think even lawyers apprehensive about a ‘third rail’ fan kick might by now found the wherewithal to sneak a peek at the news report — at least from under the covers.

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Photo Credits: “WMATA third rail at West Falls Church.jpg” by Ancheta Wis under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, Wikipedia Commons;”Deer caught in the headlights,” by Harold Neal at Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License; Skull of Apatosaurus, a sauropod by Ghedoghedo at Wikipedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license;

“smirk? sneer?” by makelessnoise at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring;”smirk or smile,” by egreg17 at Flickr under Creative Commons-license requiring attribution.

 

 

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