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

 

 

 

When Obnoxious Lawyers Converge, Clients Are Not Well-Served

DSC00507 (2)One of the worst possible scenarios for those unlucky enough to be involved in a lawsuit is when their respective lawyers are at each other’s throats. You may think you are being well-served by an aggressive, boorish lawyer whose focus is on denigrating and insulting opposing counsel, but you are not.

On the other hand, as a client you should be happy if you know or see that your lawyer has a good working relationship with opposing counsel, as you can be sure that the resolution of your case will not be hampered by ill-will between lawyers.

Oddly enough, some clients are disturbed when they see cooperation between their lawyers, misreading it as a sign of weakness on their lawyer’s part. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, there are lawyers who are so well-known for their cranky, obnoxious behavior that other lawyers refuse to take on cases where Mr. or Ms. Miserable is on the opposite side.

A recent example of bickering lawyers arose in a courtroom in Chicago, where last week the final act of an ongoing legal saga came to an end, with Judge Raymond Mitchell ordering both lawyers to resign from the case and their clients to retain new lawyers.

Lawyers Joel Brodsky and Michael Meschino treated their clients and the court to months of disturbing behavior while representing their clients in a business dispute, taking potshots at one another in open court, with no concern for their lack of professionalism and decorum.

At one point Mr. Brodsky called Mr. Meschino a “moron” and a “liar”. Meschino responded with words like “fat, short, and bald” complaining that “Brodsky was constantly shaking his bald head, so that a light was shining on me”. Over time, when the lawyers were in court, up to four sheriffs were present in the courtroom and on two occasions Mr. Meschino was escorted out of the courtroom by sheriffs.

Outside of court, threatening and insulting emails were the norm, and discovery of each party took place in the courthouse rather than in the privacy of a court reporter’s office, as is the usual practice.

Judge Mitchell advised Brodsky and Meschino that a copy of his order would be sent to the Illinois Attorney Discipline Commission so that appropriate action could be taken by the Illinois Bar.

Joel Brodsky is certainly no stranger to ethics complaints. He was the lawyer that acted for former police office Drew Peterson, who was accused of murdering his third wife Kathleen Savio.

Before the case was finished Mr. Brodsky was replaced by new counsel, an event that did not sit well with him. His public comments after his departure as counsel “shocked” the trial judge and resulted in an ethics investigation.

After Drew Peterson was convicted, the animosity between Brodsky and successor counsel, Steven Greenberg was so intense that Brodsky sued Greenberg for defamation, suggesting that Greenberg was a “pathological narcissist”.

Not surprisingly, Brodsky also suggested that Mr. Meschino was mentally ill.

While emotions can run high in hard-fought litigation, the behavior cited by Judge Mitchell has no place in our justice system and the harshest punishment should be levied against lawyers who embarrass themselves and the administration of justice. Sadly, it is their clients who suffer most.

Convicted Murderer Teaches Himself the Law, Obtains a New Trial and Acquittal

DSC00275_1Rodell Sanders is yet another victim of a corrupt criminal justice system in America. In 1993 he was a member of a gang called the Gangster Disciples in Chicago, Illinois. In December 1993 a carjacking took place resulting in a robbery and the murder of Philip Atkins, the male driver of the vehicle. His female companion, Stacy Armstrong, was also gunned down and left for dead, but she gained consciousness and managed to drag herself to a neighbor who called 911.

Stacy Armstrong was shown a photo line-up of possible suspects, one of whom was Rodell Sanders. Despite Ms. Armstrong’s description of her attacker as a 6 foot tall, slender, medium-skinned black man, she identified Rodell Sanders as her attacker. He was a hefty 180 pounds and 5 feet 8 inches. The Chicago police arrested Mr. Sanders and another gang associate of his, Germaine Haslett.

Haslett was persuaded by the police to finger Sanders as the guiding mind in the robbery, murder and attempted murder in exchange for a five year sentence. The police knew that Haslett was fully involved in the crimes but were anxious to turn Rodell Sanders into a gang informant with the threat of a lengthy jail term. Sanders refused their plea bargain of 23 years imprisonment and plead not guilty at trial.

Rodell Sanders knew he was being set up as he had a confirmed alibi supported by affidavits of associates who were with him at a party the night of the crimes. He hired a private detective to interview Haslett to determine why Haslett was lying about him. The detective taped a conversation where Haslett admitted that Sanders was not involved at all but that he was pressured by the police to testify against Sanders.

One of the questions put to Haslett by the private eye was “whether the police had urged him to lie on Rodell Sanders and place him at the scene of the crime?” Haslett answered in the affirmative.

Unfortunately, Sander’s lawyer did not call the private detective to testify and did not cross-examine Haslett about his lies. With the eye witness testimony of Ms. Armstrong and Haslett’s corroborative testimony, Sanders was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison. His appeal of the convictions also failed.

But he knew he was innocent and dedicated himself to learning the law, asking his family to save up some money so he could purchase the legal textbooks he needed to turn his case around. Rather than hanging out with his fellow inmates, he spent eight hours a day, seven days a week pouring over the law. He said he did it for his wife and children and because he did not want to die an innocent man in jail.

By 2003 Rodell Sanders was in a position to file a petition to the court alleging incompetent trial counsel in his bid for a new trial. He was successful in a 2006 hearing and a new trial was ordered, but not before the State filed an appeal, losing it, but delaying a new trial until 2010.

At his new trial, the jurors voted 11 to 1 for a guilty verdict, however, without unanimity it was a hung jury. He had a second trial this week where the jury deliberated for only five hours before acquitting him of all charges. He left prison last week, age 49, after serving twenty years on trumped-up charges.

Mr. Sanders has launched a civil suit against police and the justice authorities for their role in the nightmare he has endured.

As always, I wonder how the State, once in possession of the facts involving a rogue police officer, recanted testimony, and bogus eye witness identification, can be so arrogant as to appeal every court decision favourable to Mr. Sanders. Truly disgusting!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Mass Murderer Receives Compensation for Jail Beating

GEO_edited-1It was a horrible day in Palatine, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in the winter of 1993 and it wasn’t just because of the weather. There was a robbery at the Brown’s Chicken franchise where the culprits escaped with a mere $2,000, leaving behind seven corpses and a piece of chicken with human saliva on it.

The case went cold for nine years until a woman told police that her boyfriend, Juan Luna, was involved. Sure enough, with DNA advances, the authorities were able to detect Mr. Luna’s DNA on a piece of frozen chicken and after a trial in 2007, he was convicted of seven murders, narrowly escaping the death penalty by a jury vote of 11-1.

Luna fingered his co-accused, James Degorski, who was also arrested for the murders and upon arriving at the Cook County Jail was severely beaten by jail guard and Cook County deputy, Thomas Wilson.

Mr. Degorski suffered serious facial fractures requiring the insertion of two metal plates in his face. He was also convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole in 2009.

Guard Wilson took a leave and two years later was fired by Cook County, but not before his acquittal for assault causing bodily harm on the basis of self-defence.

Nonetheless, Mr. Degorski sued Cook County and Mr. Wilson in a civil suit seeking damages and compensation for his injuries, a case that saw a jury award this week of almost half a million dollars in his favour.

The jury obviously didn’t believe that Thomas Wilson struck Mr. Degorski in self-defence and despite protestations by Wilson’s lawyer, were not told he had murdered seven people, two store owners, and five employees ages 16 to 46 years old. They were told, however, that he was a convicted murderer.

To say that the families of the victims are unhappy with Degorski’s windfall is an understatement. However, they can take some comfort in the knowledge that Mr. Wilson’s lawyer has agreed to represent each one of the victims’ families for free by filing wrongful death actions against Degorski seeking compensation.

As well, the law in Illinois provides that if an inmate has money, the State can take all funds, with the exception of $15,000, to pay for the prisoner’s expenses for room and board.

What seems like a dangerous precedent is simply the mechanics of the civil law which provides compensation for injured persons, even if they are mass murderers.

As for Brown’s, the store closed after the murders, and almost 100 more franchises in the Chicago area went under after the unspeakable events of January 1993.

Chicago Courtroom Becomes Stage for Donald Trump’s Theatrics

DSC00507 (2)Billionaire Donald Trump is used to running the show, whether it be in business or on television, and his penchant for full control made for an interesting few days in Judge Amy St. Eve’s Chicago courtroom last week.

Trump is a key witness in a lawsuit brought by 87-year-old real estate investor Jacqueline Goldberg, who is suing him, alleging that after she bought two million-dollar hotel rooms in Trump’s Chicago hotel and condo complex in 2006, he unilaterally changed the terms of the contract, thus depriving her of revenue she expected to receive from the ballroom business and valet parking receipts.

Judge St. Eve, who also presided over the trial of Lord Conrad Black, chastised Mr. Trump and Ms. Goldberg’s lawyer, Shelly Kulwin, for their incessant sparring, noting they had turned her courtroom into a boxing ring.

Lawyer Kulwin objected to Trump’s filibustering which he described as egotistical infomercials for Trump’s real estate empire. Kulwin’s impatience with Trump was marked by eye-rolling and heightened vocal volume on his part.

Mr. Trump’s testimony was vague on the details of Ms. Goldberg’s purchase, however, he confirmed that his executives managed all sales transactions and that he looked after the “big picture”, saying “I don’t run hotels, I build them”.

As for Ms. Goldberg’s bait-and-switch allegation, Trump testified that the contract clearly contemplated the possibility of a change in the profit-sharing scheme and noted that Ms. Goldberg had unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate the deletion of this clause from the contract. When Trump exclaimed “This is a disgrace. She’s trying to rip me off”, the judge admonished the jury to ignore Mr. Trump’s outburst.

Outside the courtroom Mr. Trump was even sassier, suggesting that Goldberg had “buyer’s remorse” and was using the “age-card” against the younger Trump.

The irrepressible Trump left the courthouse after a long day of cross-examination, only stopping to charm a throng of reporters by calling out, “I love Chicago!”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

When Obnoxious Lawyers Converge, Clients Are Not Well-Served

DSC00280One of the worst possible scenarios for those unlucky enough to be involved in a lawsuit is when their respective lawyers are at each other’s throats. You may think you are being well-served by an aggressive, boorish lawyer whose focus is on denigrating and insulting opposing counsel, but you are not.

On the other hand, as a client you should be happy if you know or see that your lawyer has a good working relationship with opposing counsel, as you can be sure that the resolution of your case will not be hampered by ill-will between lawyers.

Oddly enough, some clients are disturbed when they see cooperation between their lawyers, misreading it as a sign of weakness on their lawyer’s part. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, there are lawyers who are so well-known for their cranky, obnoxious behavior that other lawyers refuse to take on cases where Mr. or Ms. Miserable is on the opposite side.

A recent example of bickering lawyers arose in a courtroom in Chicago, where last week the final act of an ongoing legal saga came to an end, with Judge Raymond Mitchell ordering both lawyers to resign from the case and their clients to retain new lawyers.

Lawyers Joel Brodsky and Michael Meschino treated their clients and the court to months of disturbing behavior while representing their clients in a business dispute, taking potshots at one another in open court, with no concern for their lack of professionalism and decorum.

At one point Mr. Brodsky called Mr. Meschino a “moron” and a “liar”. Meschino responded with words like “fat, short, and bald” complaining that “Brodsky was constantly shaking his bald head, so that a light was shining on me”. Over time, when the lawyers were in court, up to four sheriffs were present in the courtroom and on two occasions Mr. Meschino was escorted out of the courtroom by sheriffs.

Outside of court, threatening and insulting emails were the norm, and discovery of each party took place in the courthouse rather than in the privacy of a court reporter’s office, as is the usual practice.

Judge Mitchell advised Brodsky and Meschino that a copy of his order would be sent to the Illinois Attorney Discipline Commission so that appropriate action could be taken by the Illinois Bar.

Joel Brodsky is certainly no stranger to ethics complaints. He was the lawyer that acted for former police office Drew Peterson, who was accused of murdering his third wife Kathleen Savio.

Before the case was finished Mr. Brodsky was replaced by new counsel, an event that did not sit well with him. His public comments after his departure as counsel “shocked” the trial judge and resulted in an ethics investigation.

After Drew Peterson was convicted, the animosity between Brodsky and successor counsel, Steven Greenberg was so intense that Brodsky sued Greenberg for defamation, suggesting that Greenberg was a “pathological narcissist”.

Not surprisingly, Brodsky also suggested that Mr. Meschino was mentally ill.

While emotions can run high in hard-fought litigation, the behavior cited by Judge Mitchell has no place in our justice system and the harshest punishment should be levied against lawyers who embarrass themselves and the administration of justice. Sadly, it is their clients who suffer most.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang