Senior Judge Admonished for Facebook Posts

GeorgiaLeeLang009Hard to believe that a Senior Judge in Minnesota would post frank comments about cases he was hearing on his Facebook page, even though he believed only his 80 “Friends”, made up of family and close associates, would see them.

However, the posts were available for all the world to see and Judge Edward W. Bearse, who has an exemplary record, was formally reprimanded this month by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards, the Board noting that even to disseminate his private views to his family and friends was unacceptable.

In the evening, after the first day of trial in a case alleging the accused had engaged in sex trafficking, Judge Bearse wrote:

“Some things I guess will never change. I just love doing the stress of jury trials. In a Felony trial now State prosecuting a pimp. Cases are always difficult because the women (as in this case also) will not cooperate. We will see what the 12 citizens in the jury box do.”

Three days later the accused was convicted, case closed. However, the prosecuting attorney saw the judge’s Facebook post and alerted the accused’s defence counsel to the posting. On application by defence counsel another judge vacated the guilty verdict and ordered a new trial. The Court found that Judge Bearse’s Facebook remark implied that the accused was guilty of the charge and that the victim of sex trafficking was a prostitute.

While hearing a felony case without a jury the accused’s lawyer was taken to hospital by ambulance after experiencing a panic attack in the courtroom. Judge Bearse posted this:

“Now we are in chaos because defendant has to hire a new lawyer who will most likely want to start over and a very vulnerable woman will have to spend another day on the witness stand. . . . I was so angry that on the way home I stopped to see our District Administrator and told him, “Michael, you are going to have to just listen to me bitch for awhile.” . . . [W]e know the new lawyer (probably quite justifiably) will be asking for another continuance. Terrible day!!!”

The Chief Justice asked Judge Bearse to delete the post. He did and then recused himself from the case.

In another posting, the judge wrote:

“My day yesterday in the Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis: . . . Criminal Vehicular Homicide where defendant stoned on Xanax supplemented it w/a lot of booze and then drove wrong way down a freeway colliding w/an innocent citizen driving the right way down the same freeway killing him. . . . and most interesting — three kidnappings . . . where the three were physically tortured to try and find the drugs.”

Among other postings Judge Bearse made pejorative remarks about offenders with long records saying “We deal with a lot of geniuses!” He also referred to his courtroom as a “zoo”.

While a judge’s work is both interesting and challenging, it is also often exhausting ( as he or she listens to marginally relevant evidence ad nauseam), and brings with it a degree of public and social isolation to ensure that judges cannot be said to be biased.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang



Judge Must Follow the Law Despite His Personal Beliefs

GeorgiaLeeLang100Under international media scrutiny and political pressure Utah judge Scott Johansen reversed his recent decision to remove a 9-month old foster child from the home of  April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, a married lesbian couple in Price, Utah.

Ms. Hoagland and Ms. Pierce had fostered the baby for three months and expected to adopt the child. They had the approval and consent of the child’s mother and the local department of child welfare. During the initial hearing when Judge Johansen ordered the child welfare authorities to remove the child within seven days, he  remarked that he had read literature stating that children were better off being raised in a home with a mother and a father.

But the intervention of Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert and the media maelstrom, including tweets from Hilary Clinton and a variety of anti-discrimination organizations led to a follow-up ruling from Judge Johansen who amended his original order and scheduled a hearing on December 4, 2015 to determine the best interests of the infant.

Judge Johansen is no stranger to controversy. In 1995 while interviewing a 16-year old young offender in his chambers, he slapped the youth after he tired of the boy’s belligerent insults. More recently, in 2012 a female child appeared in juvenile court for cutting the hair of a 3-year old child. Her punishment included cutting off the juvenile’s own pony tail, a sanction that led to the filing of a complaint by the juvenile offender’s mother.

While judges have significant discretion, where a legislature passes laws legalizing same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, it is not open to a judge to inject his personal views into the decision. Only the Supreme Court of Canada and the Supreme Court of the United States can do that, although if asked, I suspect they would vigorously deny it.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge Releases Wrongfully Convicted Man (And Gives Him a Pumpkin Pie)

GEO#1While British Columbia’s Ivan Henry fights to receive compensation for his 29-year wrongful imprisonment, this week a Texas judge released Steven Mark Chaney, a man who served 28-years for the murders of John and Sally Sweek, on the basis of now-discredited “bite-mark” evidence and the almost commonplace charge of prosecutorial misconduct. The latter allegations have yet to face scrutiny in a court room.

In 1987 Dentist Jim Hales was one of two dentists that testified at Chaney’s trial that there was a “1 to a million” chance that someone other than Chaney made the bite marks found on the male victim’s body.

The jury, like other juries before and after this trial, relied on the expert evidence to convict Chaney. It is not uncommon that medical testimony from seemingly qualified doctors is considered to be scientifically infallible because of the elevated positions physicians hold in society. This, despite alibi testimony from nine of Chaney’s friends who said they saw him the day of the slayings and he couldn’t have killed the Sweeks.

Chaney’s attorney and the New York-based Innocence Project asked Judge Dominique Collins to overturn their client’s conviction after prosecutors admitted that bite-mark analysis was unreliable and flawed. Chaney received a pumpkin pie from the judge who wanted him to enjoy the taste after eating bland prison food for so long.

Steven Chaney is among a group of alleged murderers and rapists whose convictions were secured by bite-mark evidence. Since 2000 at least 24 men in the United States have been exonerated of heinous crimes after convictions based on this junk science.

The field of forensic odontology captured public and media attention during the televised trial of serial murderer Ted Bundy in Florida in 1979 when dental experts testified that Bundy’s crooked teeth matched a bite in one young victim’s flesh.

In 2009 the United States Department of Justice released a report titled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward”. The authors criticized the use of bite-mark evidence. Since then the FBI will not rely on it and the American Dental Association will not recognize it as bonafide science.

Nonetheless, as recently as 2013 a judge in New York accepted it as evidence in the trial of Clarence Dean, a registered sex offender accused of killing a woman near Time Square in 2007.

Meanwhile Chris Fabricant, director of litigation with the New York Innocence Project says “Bite mark evidence is the poster child of unreliable forensic science.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Personal Injury Lawyer Jailed for 20 Years For Judicial Bribery and Fraud

BarristerIn an audacious criminal conspiracy Texas personal injury lawyer Marc Garrett Rosenthal was sentenced to 20 years in prison for paying Austin, Texas Judge Abel Limas to hand down court rulings favourable to his clients. He also “bought” witnesses, coaching them in their testimony; fabricated evidence; and manipulated the court system to ensure his cases were heard by his judicial co-conspirator.  This week his appeal of conviction was dismissed. Judge Limas, who was the prosecution’s star witness, had earlier been sentenced to a six-year jail term.

The Appeal Court’s Reasons set out Rosenthal’s misdeeds, several of which involved lawsuits brought by Rosenthal against Union Pacific Railway. In one instance, he acted for the estate of a man who was killed when a train struck his vehicle at a railway crossing.

Rosenthal and his legal assistant Gilbert Benavides persuaded Benavides’ cousin to make a false statement in an effort to force Union Pacific to settle the case. The cousin falsely swore that he was present at the accident scene and witnessed the train hitting the stopped vehicle without sounding its horn or warning of its approach. Attorney Rosenthal used the false testimony to induce the train corporation to pay his client a sum in excess of $1 million dollars. He also paid a kickback of $5,000 to his assistant’s cousin and $4,000 to another of Benavides’ relatives.

In another Union Pacific court action, Rosenthal represented a woman who was severely injured when she fell from the train while attempting to board illegally. The evidence revealed that Rosenthal directed his assistant to bribe the deputy sheriff present at the accident scene to testify that the train’s engineer invited the woman to board the train. The sheriff was also told to say that he overheard the train engineer say that the company “did not care if its train ran over wetbacks.”

In his effort to induce a settlement Rosenthal also advised Union Pacific that in the absence of a settlement he would erect billboards displaying Union Pacific’s alleged comments about illegal Mexican immigrants. Not surprisingly, Union Pacific settled for $575,000. The deputy sheriff was paid $4,000.

Rosenthal expanded his fraudulent scheme when he hooked up with former state legislator, Jim Solis, who began working as associate counsel in Rosenthal’s office. Solis was instructed by Rosenthal to connect with a court clerk to circumvent the regular assignment of judges to cases and obtain Judge Limas for two of Rosenthal’s pending cases. At the time Judge Limas was running for re-election. He received thousands of dollars in donations from Rosenthal and other partners in the firm.

Wiretap evidence at Rosenthal’s trial provided convincing evidence of conspiratorial ex parte conversations between the judge, Rosenthal, and Solis, and revealed payments to Judge Abel for his cooperation. He received a total of $235,000 in bribes during his eight years on the bench.

Rosenthal’s defence team suggested that Jim Solis was a rogue employee who acted without firm approval, a submission that received short shrift. Solis was sentenced to four years in prison.

Rosenthal was also placed on probation at the conclusion of his prison sentence and ordered to pay $13 million dollars in restitution.

Sadly, in the eyes of the public the greed of these men undermines all the good work that lawyers and public officials do in their communities across North America.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” 1 Timothy 6:10

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Politically Incorrect Judge Faces Disciplinary Charges

GEO CASUALWhat’s wrong with a judge discretely complimenting a civil servant witness in a guardianship case? Plenty, according to New Jersey’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, who have Superior Family Court Judge Joseph A. Portelli in their cross-hairs for passing a note to a family service specialist who was testifying, that read “You look nice today.”

He is also accused of inviting a deputy attorney general and her supervisor into his chambers during a break in court proceedings, putting his arm around the deputy AG’s shoulders and telling both of them they were doing a great job. On the same occasion he also said that he liked how she was “shoving it up the law guardian’s ass”.

Now the latter comment may be vulgar but is it really so outrageous that formal discipline is required?

Other allegations include Judge Portelli’s practice of making children more comfortable in his courtroom by inviting them to visit his chambers, engaging in small talk, and permitting them to sit behind the bench on his lap and use his gavel. On one occasion in 2013, Portelli invited a child to sit on his lap and then jokingly turned to a deputy attorney general who was present in the courtroom and said to her, “No…you can’t come and sit on my lap next.”

The judge, age 60, has been on the bench for nine years with an impeccable record and no complaints. Nonetheless the PC police say his comments show poor judgment and a lack of dignity and respect for his office.

Somebody needs to get a life!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Arrest Made in Thirty-Year Old Cold Case Called the “Family Court Murders”

49afd8240a58bf0fb97d4a86105572c1The notion that your wicked past will eventually catch up with you is one motivating factor for investigators following up on unsolved crimes, even decades after the abhorrent acts were committed.

There’s a story about “consequences” out of Australia that is sure to warm the cockles of any police detective’s heart… and yours and mine!

Between 1980 and 1985 a series of horrific crimes took place in Sydney, Australia that terrorized the city, particularly the legal community. Media pundits called the case the “Family Court Murders”.

Firefighter Leonard George Warwick seemed to be the link between a number of homicides beginning in February 1980 with the shooting of Stephen Blanchard, Mr. Warwick’s brother-in-law.

A few months later Justice David Opas heard the door bell ring at his home and opened the door to be greeted by a bullet that took his life. He was the judge who presided over a hotly disputed custody case involving Leonard Warwick, his then-wife, Andrea Warwick, nee Blanchard, and their one-year old daughter.

With Judge Opas’ violent demise a new judge was appointed, Justice Richard Gee. He too was the victim of violence when his home was bombed, injuring him and his family.

In April of 1984 the courthouse in Parramatta was bombed. Thankfully no one was injured but you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that it was in Parramatta that Mr. Warwick’s custody trial took place.

During Judge Gee’s convalescence, another judge was directed to take over the Warwick case. Justice Ray Watson presided until July of 1984 when his wife Pearle was killed by a bomb placed on the doorstep of their home.

In February 1995 Andrea Warwick’s lawyer, Gary Watts, was the target of another bomb attack. However, Mr. Watts no longer lived at the address targeted. When the new tenant opened the hood of his car parked outside the home to do some minor mechanical work, he saw the bomb and called police. He was a very lucky man.

But there was more to come, much more. Six months later a bomb was detonated at a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in a suburb of Sydney, killing minister Graham Wykes and injuring 13 other parishioners, who were at the church for a service. The connection to Mr. Warwick? Andrea Warwick’s sister attended the church and had been a shoulder for her to cry on.

And then the violence stopped, coincident with Andrea Warwick’s decision to relinquish custody of their now 7-year old daughter to Mr. Warwick.

All of this occurred with nary an arrest despite a reward of $500,000, until a cold case squad picked up the investigative mantle in 2012 after decades of dormancy.

Last week police in Sydney laid 32 charges against Leonard Warwick, including four murder charges and attempted murder charges. New South Wales deputy police commissioner, Nick Kaldas commented:

“The evidence that we’ve gathered includes significant new evidence, historic evidence enhanced using technology not available 30 years ago, witness evidence that was historic and new witness evidence.”

It boggles the mind that Mr. Warwick was not arrested 30 years earlier, but as the police commissioner remarked:

“We won’t give up!”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Sleepy Judges: Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod

DSC01152_2 (2)_2Every trial lawyer has their own story of a judge falling asleep on the job. Before I was called to the bar I was a law clerk for an elderly judge and would accompany him to court to take notes.

On more than one occasion I observed him nodding off during counsel’s tedious argument. During “tea” breaks in his chambers he would also rest his head on his chest for more than just a few minutes He retired at the mandatory age of 75 and went on to hold several high-profile government positions until he retired for the last time at the age of 85.

I’ve also heard stories of lawyers dropping large books on their podiums or the floor to awaken the sleeping judge who will decide their client’s fate.

Of course, the precursor to sleep is yawning and closing one’s eyes. That is fairly routine in long cases where a lawyer consistently meanders away from relevant evidence, or has the habit of repetition, a trait I abhor.

The “precursor” is only welcomed when it is opposing counsel who is causing the judicial condition.

Judge Ian Dodd, age 56, of the New South Wales District Court, endured a media frenzy when his judicial sleepiness was thrust into the spotlight in 2005. The allegations included incidents in 2002 when Judge Dodd fell asleep during a corporate fraud trial and a criminal matter involving weapons offences. In 2003 it was reported that Judge Dodd was sleeping and snoring during the evidence of a rape victim.

In 2004 Judge Dodd, now nicknamed Judge Nodd, fell asleep numerous times during a seven month drug smuggling trial. Defence counsel took to passing notes to the court clerk to gain her assistance to wake up the judge. This was a jury trial and several jurors admitted they were taken aback by the judge’s behavior. Judge Dodd sentenced the convicted offenders to 24 years in jail.

On appeal the accused argued that Judge Dodd’s demeanor was prejudicial to them as it signalled the Court’s disinterest in their evidence and their case.

The Court of Appeal agreed, but refused a new trial and merely reduced their sentences.

Later in 2004 Judge Dodd initiated a medical examination for himself that revealed he had sleep apnea and he began treatment that reportedly cured his condition.

But the media attention did not subside and eventually the State Judicial Commission launched an investigation.

As a result of now seven separate complaints a public hearing was scheduled and Judge Dodd also lost his driver’s license. The hearing was averted when Judge Dodd opted to resign, thus terminating the investigation.

Major changes were made to the legislation governing judges in New South Wales including granting power to the State Judicial Commission to compel a judge to undergo a physical or mental examination, even where there has been no complaint.

The story of Judge Dodd eventually faded from view with a last headline “Sweet Dreams as Judge Retires”. After eight years on the bench, Judge Dodd left with a $152,000 annual pension.

He’s probably out surfing on the Gold Coast!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang