Too often, though, ‘no nonsense‘ and ‘tough talking‘ are merely euphemisms for rudeness and disrespect. And unfortunately, it’s only much later when such hubris is belatedly acknowledged and then deemed unpardonable by judicial disciplinary panels or judicial oversight commissions.
‘No-nonsense’ talk of vegetables and vaseline.
The latest so-called ‘no nonsense‘ jurist brought to heel by such a commission is DeeAnn Salcido, a San Diego judge who agreed to resign after censure by a state judicial panel.
The Decision and Order Imposing Public Censure Pursuant to Stipulation by the California Commission on Judicial Performance resulted in San Diego County Superior Court Judge Salcido’s voluntary agreement to resign. By also promising to never seek judicial office again, she also saved the public from herself since her courtroom conduct was deemed rude, lewd and unprofessional.
For some reason, she also manifested a penchant for portraying court personnel as produce. “In open court, the judge ridiculed and belittled litigants, referred to court clerical staff as “cucumbers” who “aren’t even potatoes because potatoes have eyes” or “corn because com have ears,” ridiculed a deputy district attorney, and made several disparaging remarks about an assistant public defender, often in the presence of his potential client.”
When I grow up, I want to be like Judge Judy.
Judge Salcido, a former prosecutor appointed to the bench by former governor Gray Davis, also used her courtroom to audition for a job as a reality television judge, ala Judge Judy. (Why do some judges aspire to be like the Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining Judge Judy Sheindlin? O.K., I know. Forbes.com says Judge Judy’s renegotiated contract with CBS upped her annual salary to $45 million).
“The judge’s showmanship behavior together with her statement to the producer that she would line up her more interesting cases for the day of the filming created the appearance that she was more interested in promoting herself for a role in a television show than in delivering justice to those who appeared before her.”
Mentoring through paddling.
At least Judge Salcido didn’t take a paddle to defendants like Mobile, Alabama former circuit court judge Herman Thomas. Judge Thomas was disciplined last year for paddling defendants in his courtroom. This was after an ugly criminal indictment on other alleged offenses, including sex abuse.
Judge Thomas was found not guilty of paddling and sex abuse allegations but an Alabama State Bar disciplinary board nevertheless disbarred Thomas twice “after finding that he paddled and spanked criminal defendants on his court docket in “sexually motivated assaults,” according to the board’s order.” See Former Judge Herman Thomas appeals disbarments | al.com. The judge said he was only “mentoring.”
Last month, a well-known Phoenix lawyer opining in the state bar’s public relations mouthpiece, the Arizona Attorney magazine, was in ‘high dungeon,’ indignant over his perceived mistreatment of King County, Washington Judge Judith Eiler.
Writing for the column, The Last Word, Grant Woods was aghast that the Washington State Supreme Court had disciplined this Pacific Northwest version of reality television’s “Judge Judy” for “rude, discourteous, and impatient behavior.” See No. 200701-5. – IN RE: the Disciplinary Proceeding Against Judith R. Eiler.
It apparently didn’t matter to Woods that Judith Eiler had priors, having previously been called on the carpet for courtroom unprofessionalism. This was but the latest instance of the King County judge again being punished for rudeness. However, unlike the last time when she was merely censured, this time Seattle’s ‘Judge Judy’ was suspended without pay.
Woods was unhappy that the jurist’s brand of ‘tough talk’ was called into question. Defendants are “whiners” who “need straight talk” and not “coddling,” he wrote.
Notwithstanding Woods, the discipline was well-founded. Consider the following,
“Several litigants – and even some attorneys – reported being “embarrassed” by Judge Eiler’s “degrading” treatment, and feeling “mocked,” “attacked,” and “uncomfortable” in her courtroom, the Supreme Court wrote in its decision.
“One litigant testified that Judge Eiler “chose to interrupt me and insult my education and insinuate that I didn’t know how to read instead of listening to me.”
Maintaining the judiciary’s honor.
Fortunately, most lawyers and judges I know would beg to differ with Woods. You don’t teach respect through disrespect.
For example, take Reno, Nevada Second Judicial District Court Judge David Hardy. Judge Hardy hears cases in family court and he consistently gets top judicial performance marks from lawyers who appear before him. In the latest Judicial Survey results, he garnered a 96% retention approval, the highest score among his peers.
Writing about judicial ethics in the September 2010 The Writ, a publication of the Washoe County Bar Association, Judge Hardy took an opposite tack. Coincidentally, he mentioned Judge Eiler’s disciplinary travails and several other jurists suffering lapses of professionalism. He did not applaud their “straight talk.”
Judge Hardy is a frequent contributor to the bar association newsletter, writing on Judicial Ethics. But as he explained it, he came to this particular topic, because he’d had a bad day in court. And so by way of recompense, he revisited the way judges should and should not conduct themselves in court. “Every person within the courtroom deserves to be treated as if his or her case is the single most important event on the judge’s docket.
“A judge’s courtroom behavior symbolizes the power of law. Judges place the rule of law at risk when their behavior falls below the standards required by the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
Judge Hardy concluded his essay by stating, “No judge is perfect. Nonetheless, the standard is clear: judges must respond dispassionately to disagreeable conduct, case theories, and arguments. Anything less betrays the honor of the judiciary.”
A final postscript to Seattle’s Judge Eiler came this past November 2nd. That’s when Judge Eiler really got the “last word” when The County’s Embattled ‘Judge Judy,’ was sentenced to early retirement by the voters.
As for Judge Salcido, after her discipline was announced, she was hardly chastened. She said that “her intention behind my less traditional style was to connect with the offenders, the victims and others in the courtroom to help (create) positive change for the community.”