Judge’s Decision Results in Tragedy

BarristerHave you ever thought about how judges make decisions? Frankly, I rarely think about this as my focus is simply on persuading a judge to see it my way. But learned scholars have studied and researched the psychology of judicial decision-making with interesting results.

The authors of “Blinking on the Bench: How Judges Make Decisions”* say that judges are predominantly intuitive decision makers, a characteristic that unfortunately can lead to flawed decisions. Of course, some intuitive decisions are accurate, but as between those kind of decisions and  the more academically rigorous “deliberation” method,  acting on gut feelings or hunches can be a dangerous way to adjudicate matters of critical importance to participants in the justice system.

A case this week out of Madison, Kentucky highlights the impact of judges’ “getting it right”.

Local prosecutor Chad Lewis was in court in Madison on October 6, 2016 seeking an arrest warrant against Laura Russell’s husband, Anthony Russell, age 51. The couple was divorcing and it was going far from well. Charged in August 2016 with strangulation and domestic battery for allegedly attacking his wife on several occasions. Mr. Russell was out on bond of $500.00 and subject to a restraining order, that he apparently ignored.

This court appearance was scheduled after Ms. Russell advised the police that her husband was continuously stalking her. She was upset, intimidated and frightened.

Judge Michael Hensley presided at the hearing, however, he refused to issue a warrant for Mr. Russell’s arrest and instead issued a summons requiring Mr. Russell to attend court on  October 11, 2016 after the three-day long weekend.

Mr. Russell did not show up at court on October 11 and neither did his estranged wife. They were both dead. Mr. Russell went to Ms. Russell’s home on October 7 and stabbed her multiple times. He then  committed suicide, blowing his head off with a pistol…a tragedy that devastated Judge Hensley.

The judge released a statement to the press expressing his condolences to Ms. Russell’s family, saying he felt “horrible about her death” and understood that his sincere regret would not “bring her back”. He explained that he didn’t believe there was “probable cause” to issue a warrant and said “I made what I thought to be the correct legal decision…obviously I made a decision that had the most tragic result possible”.

Prosecutor Lewis criticized Judge Hensley for failing to accede to his request for a warrant for stalking. Meanwhile, Ms. Russell’s lawyer suggested that it was Mr. Lewis’ fault as he could have asked for a warrant for multiple breaches of the restraining order, instead of seeking a probable cause hearing for a new charge of stalking.

Judge Hensley also announced that he would institute a new procedure in respect of arrest warrants, by ensuring that a hearing be scheduled for the day the warrant request is made.

 Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

*Chris Guthrie,  Jeffrey J. Rachlinski & Andrew J. Wistrich

Another Crazy American Judge Story

DSC00507 (2)There will always be debates about what it is like to be a judge. Some say it’s a highly stressful position, while others argue it is a “cushy” power job, with no one looking over your shoulder as you command your courtroom. When a judge directs a lawyer or a litigant to “jump”, they jump, no ifs, ands or buts!

I lean towards the view that a judge’s job is very stressful. They deal with the most important issues in society: where should a child live? how much jail time should a convicted offender receive? and, how much money do innocent victims  of a car accident need to reclaim their lives?

Of course, there is much anecdotal evidence about the stressful nature of the judicial role, often used as a reason to excuse bad behaviour. Or does unprofessional conduct  abound because  some judges begin to believe they are untouchable, simply because they are judges?  A recent case of a “runaway” judge tends to support the “arrogant judge” theory.

Judge Arnette Hubbard, age 81 (yes, still sitting at 81!)is a silver-haired African-American jurist who presides in Chicago. One sunny July morning Judge Hubbard left the court building to smoke a cigarette in Daley Plaza, adjacent to the court facilities. Businessman David Nicosia was nearby using his cell phone and became annoyed at the second-hand smoke wafting in his direction.

Judge Hubbard and Mr. Nicosia, a white man, had an unpleasant exchange that resulted in Mr. Nicosia’s arrest for aggravated battery and a hate crime. Mr. Nicosia was at the law courts that morning to obtain a marriage license. Instead he ended up in jail, cancelled the wedding plans, and awaited his day in court.

His trial last month turned into the ever popular “He said/She said”.  Judge Hubbard testified that when Mr. Nicosia asked her to stop smoking she replied that she wasn’t permitted to smoke indoors. She said that Mr. Nicosia then spat in her face and yelled “Rosa Parks move!”. She cried out to nearby deputy sheriffs and tried to stop Mr. Nicosia from leaving the scene, whereupon she alleged he flung her off and slapped her.

Mr. Nicosia described a different series of events. He testified that after he complained the judge intentionally blew smoke in his face and said she could smoke wherever she liked. He replied “It’s not like you’re the Rosa Parks of smoking”. At that point an angry Judge Hubbard said she had something for him. She opened her mouth and delivered a projectile of tobacco-laced spittle that landed in his mouth, on his glasses, and on his shirt.  He quickly spit out the nasty “goober” which inadvertently landed on Judge Hubbard. He testified that the slap was accidental and occurred when the judge moved toward him to stop him from leaving.

Trial Judge James Obbish acquitted Mr. Nicosia of all charges, saying he believed that Mr. Nicosia would never have faced the felony charges if the alleged victim had not been a judge. He said that Judge Hubbard ought to have moved away from Mr. Nicosia once he complained. He also added that Mr. Nicosia  didn’t deserve a medal as he “didn’t act in a way that a man should act to a lady”.

Clearly the court did not believe Judge Hubbard’s version of the truth and her credibility was also damaged after she testified she had to take 17 months off work  after the “assault” for post-concussion syndrome, although she presented no medical evidence to support her claim.

Judge Hubbard has a civil lawsuit against Mr. Nicosia pending. As for me,  I think she should retire from the bench, drop her civil suit,  and pay back the 17-month salary she milked  from the citizens of Chicago.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

Lawyer Jailed for Refusing to Remove “Black Lives Matter” Pin

GeorgiaLeeLang100Ohio lawyer, Andrea Burton, was handcuffed and led out of a courtroom by an attending sheriff when she refused to comply with Judge Robert Milich’s  multiple requests that she remove her Black Lives Matter pin.  After her refusal, the Judge and Ms. Burton  adjourned to his chambers to discuss the impasse created by Ms. Burton’s position. She argued that the Court’s ruling was an unjustified infringement on her First Amendment right of free speech.

Judge Robert Milich reminded Ms. Burton  that based on Supreme Court case law, he had authority to prohibit any symbolic political expression in his courtroom. He later spoke to the media declaring, “There’s a difference between a flag, a pin from your church or the Eagles and having a pin that’s on a political issue”.

Judge Milich emphasized that his personal opinions had nothing to do with his decision.

“A judge doesn’t support either side, a judge is objective and tries to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a fair hearing, and it was a situation where it was just in violation of the law.”

Burton was sentenced to five days in jail for contempt of court, although she was later released and her jail sentence “stayed” pending her appeal of the Judge’s contempt finding and  jail sentence.

Upon her release she told the local media that she believed that her First Amendment right overruled the Supreme Court law and Judge Milich’s discretion, and that she ignored the judge’s instructions because she didn’t want to remain neutral to injustice.  “To remain neutral becomes an accomplice to oppression, ” she remarked. She also said:

“It’s an act of civil disobedience, I understand that. I’m not anti-police, I work with law enforcement and I hold them in the highest regard, and just to say for the record I do believe all lives matter. But at this point they don’t all matter equally, and that’s the problem in the justice system.”

Not surprisingly, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced they would be following Burton’s case and believe her civil rights may have been violated.

My view is that judges have full authority and discretion to determine what is said and what is worn in their courtrooms. They  have jurisdiction to make findings of contempt for behaviour that does not comport with the required decorum and solemnity of our courts of law.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

Tough Judge Fines Lawyer $4,000 for Being 8 Minutes Late

GeorgiaLeeLang025A three-day murder trial in Arkansas was aborted this week when defence counsel , Jim Morris, showed up eight minutes late, and failed to telephone the court to advise he was on his way.

Judge Bynum Gibson had requested that counsel appear at 8:30 am to deal with several preliminary motions. The trial was set to commence at 9 am with the selection of a jury. At 9:08 when  Mr. Morris arrived, the potential jury members and witnesses, numbering 60 to 70, had been already been dismissed by the judge.

Counsel Morris told the Court he had to drop his daughter off at camp in Little Rock and was unable to call the Court due to bad cell phone reception. Judge Gibson,  who was also an AT&T subscriber, didn’t believe him.

Judge Gibson said: “I would have given you some lee-way, if you had called,” adding that 60-70 jurors had to be paid, and multiple witnesses had to be reimbursed.  “I’ve had defendants not show up, but never had attorneys show up after 9 o’clock. It’s killed 3 days of court time.”

Judge Gibson levied a fine of $4,000 against Mr. Morris, despite his protestations that he couldn’t pay such a large fine. Judge Gibson told him that initially he had considered jailing him, but decided a fine would suffice. Lawyer Morris replied “I merely made a bad decision, trying to be a good father.”

Demarcus Veasey’s first-degree murder trial was adjourned to July 2016. While Judge Gibson’s treatment of Mr. Morris was harsh, what is most notable is that accused Mr. Veasey, who allegedly committed the crime in January 2016 was set for trial only 6 months later, and the trial was set for a mere 3 days. I’d say the State of Arkansas knows how to get down to business, wouldn’t you?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Judge Threatened With Removal From the Bench for Her Religious Beliefs

GeorgiaLeeLang057Pinedale, Wyoming is a town with a population of just over 2,000 people. It is considered a gateway to the more famous Jackson Hole and sits surrounded by over 1,300 lakes. In such a small town everyone knows everyone else, and their local judge is beloved by all.

Her name is Ruth Neely and her career is in jeopardy after she gave an interview to a local newspaper admitting that her religious beliefs would prevent her from officiating at a same-sex marriage, an interview she gave shortly after Wyoming legalized same-sex marriage in 2014.

Mind you, Judge Neely is a municipal judge and circuit court magistrate whose cases involve traffic offences, bylaw breaches, and the like. Her judicial role does not include performing marriages of any kind, and she has never been asked to perform a same-sex marriage.

Nonetheless, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics is seeking to remove her from her position and wants her to pay $40,000 in fines as well, because they allege her media comments manifest a bias and make her unfit to be a judge.

The Casper Star Tribune reported that the Wyoming Commission told Judge Neely  they would drop their prosecution of her if she would resign, admit wrongdoing, and never again seek a judicial position in Wyoming. Later the Commission suggested she could stay on, but only if she publicly apologized, and agreed to perform same-sex marriages. Judge Neely declined their offers and is now fighting to maintain her religious convictions.

Judge Neely’s dilemma has engendered a groundswell of support, including from members of the local LGBT community.  An oft-repeated sentiment is that “it would be obscene and offensive to discipline Judge Neely for her religious beliefs about marriage.”

The Commission’s persecution of Judge Neely is particularly egregious as they admit she has served the community well for twenty years,  and is a well-recognized and well-respected judge.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington, D. C. have come to Judge Neely’s aid. Their mission is to “protect the free expression of all religious traditions. Their clients have included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.

Lawyers from the Becket Fund filed a brief on the judge’s behalf which declared “This would be the first time in the country that a judge was removed from office because of her religious beliefs about marriage.”

It seems wrongheaded to oust a judge for her religious views when those views do not interfere with her judicial duties. There is something very strange going on here.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

$500,000 Custody Case Garners Harsh Criticism

 

Another day…another courtroom, but the same insanity…. a custody battle that has cost two parents $500,000 in legal fees. This time it’s an exasperated Ontario Superior Court judge from Hamilton who asks the question, “How does this keep happening? What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?”

Mr. Justice Alex Pazaratz presided over a 36-day trial, awarding sole custody of an 8-year-old child to her father, a Toronto police officer. The Court’s Reasons for Judgment begin with the recitation of an email sent by the husband to his wife, a year after their separation, and before litigation commenced:

“We are both reasonable people and I really think we can work this out without spending $40,000 to $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees only to have a judge tell us something we could arrange ourselves. Please I’m begging you to be reasonable.”

It only takes one parent to turn a family law case into a hellish nightmare, and according to Judge Pazaratz that’s what an angry, foolish woman did. Consider the optics: Father wants generous parenting time, and mother refuses, turning the child against her father. In these situations, fathers will get nowhere unless they ask a court to intervene. At this point, most right-thinking parents would instruct their lawyers to negotiate a parenting plan, or attend mediation, with the goal of maximizing each parent’s time with the children, focusing always on the child’s best interests.  Sound so simple, doesn’t it?

In this case, dad spent $300,000, while mom spent $200,000. Judge Pazaratz said:

“Pause for a moment to consider the overwhelming tragedy of this case,…These are nice, average people. Of modest means (now considerably more modest). They drive old cars and probably pinch pennies shopping at Costco.”

The harshest criticism was leveled at the child’s mother, who the Court found had manipulated and falsified evidence, engaged in provocative and dangerous behaviour, and poisoned the child against her father. Judge Pazaratz described her conduct as “emotional child abuse… with their only child caught in the cross-fire”. Her deviant behaviour was triggered when her estranged husband began to move on with his life and began a new relationship.

The Court ordered the mother to pay costs to the father in the amount of $192,000, wryly concluding:

“In retrospect, (the father’s) sombre warning about ‘spending $40 – $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees’ now amounts to wishful thinking.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late for Court? Go to Jail!

BarristerJudge Amanda Sammons of Campbell County, Tennessee has a strict rule that if defendants don’t arrive at court before 9 am, or 1 pm for her afternoon session, they can’t come in! When she first started this practice she instructed the court bailiffs to lock the doors. Later she agreed the doors could remain unlocked, but no one could enter after the prescribed court commencement times.

More than a few people have been caught by her rule, which is antithetical to the concept of open courtrooms and transparent justice.

Case in point: Suzanne Webb, age 39, arrived at the courthouse at about 1 minute to nine for a hearing in a misdemeanour vandalism case. She was barred from entry and waited in the hallway. Once the doors were opened she entered, took a seat, and read a book until her name was called. Judge Sammons asked her why she was late. She replied that she was not permitted to enter, whereupon Judge Sammons said, “That’s no excuse. You’re going to jail, you violated your bond.”

Ms. Webb was handcuffed and led to the jail holding area adjacent to the courtroom. Her only previous charge was for driving with a suspended license, a charge that was dropped after she paid an outstanding ticket.  She remained in custody waiting for her aunt to bring her the funds to pay the new bond, and then was released.

A few months later she was back in court where the vandalism charges were dropped in exchange for the forfeiture of her $424.00 bond. Coincidentally, the fine for a vandalism conviction? $424.00!

Other “victims” of Judge Sammons include Ryan Daniel Currier who was held without bond for 24 hours and Laura Hatfield who was ordered to post $15,000. One unlucky lady was arrested on a bench warrant, and Jason Inman was ordered held pending his posting of a $75,000 bond.

Not surprisingly, Judge Sammons, whose nickname is “the blue-eyed assassin”,  is not a stranger to controversy. She has been accused of refusing to sign orders for accused persons who are entitled to have their records expunged, and ordering children into foster care in the absence of any request from the Department of Child Services.

Formerly a kick-ass prosecutor, Judge Sammons’ election website says:

“With a low tolerance for foolishness, Mandy’s tough approach to prosecuting crime has earned her a reputation as hard-nosed prosecutor who “goes for the jugular” and doesn’t quickly back down from a fight.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang