How Judges Disgrace the Bench


All across this country, from small counties to large cities, judges are being exposed as every bit as corruptible as the public they preside over. They are frail. They are weak. They are foolish. They are human. There are 800,000 stories in the Naked City. These are just some of them.

Isolated incidents that would normally never be noticed from state to state now come together because of the breadth of the Internet and its spontaneous dissemination of news and information. The picture it creates forever tarnishes the credibility of our courts. The fears that our justices have about attorneys destroying our courts by open criticism of our judiciary can be put to rest. The judges are doing themselves in without any help from counsel.

Let’s begin in Pennsylvania, the shocking case where two jurists were arrested for taking kickbacks from a private firm paid to run juvenile justice detention centers, compensated by the corporation each time they sent a kid into custody, whether he needed to be there or not. They pled guilty and are headed to jail. It is as disgusting a betrayal of a robe as we will ever see anywhere.

Of course, there is a United States District Judge from Texas facing federal sex crime charges, and he added to his woes by getting indicted last week for obstruction of justice as well. That is more serious than the judge in Alaska who was suspended after he decided to play a game of ex parte during a trial, passing only one of the parties’ notes to aid his litigation. And the note was not about shooting a moose from a helicopter.

There is a Texas county court judge fighting a DUI where she was pulled over for going 92 mph in a residential community. The Commission on Judicial Performance is accusing another judge of leaving work too early, too often, contending that he frequently departed the courthouse halfway through the day. Better than this groveling judge though, begging for mercy on a video cam after being pulled over for a DUI. Here is that link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLWI6zy1pAg

In New Jersey, a former judge has been suspended from his law practice for three months for an incident in which he allegedly told police officers who had arrested him on a drunken driving charge to “get the Vaseline out and bend over.” Is that better or worse than the retired Broward County judge who pulled citizens over at gunpoint while he was drunk ? That was years ago. I am writing now only about things which have just happened in the thirty days since I started blogging.

Of course, Broward County, Florida has created a comfortable niche for itself, populated by a battery of judges whose words and deeds this past year have been highly improvident. At least five separate county and circuit court judges have been humiliated for either inexcusably or inadvertently denigrating courthouse service personnel, gays, African Americans, and other lawyers. One was accused of taking kickbacks from an attorney for assigning him cases, another accused of snaking money from the elderly, and another went to a judicial conference sober but came home disrobed.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi Supreme Court has reprimanded a former judge for derogatory public comments he made about “white folks.” How does that compare to the NY federal bankruptcy judge who was popped for a domestic violence charge last week after slapping around his wife of 20 plus years?

In St. Petersburg, Florida an Appeals court judge resigned his seat after admitting to helping a stripper he ‘befriended’ conceal assets from judgment creditors. Well, that is a little bit better than the newly elected judge just south of Seattle who ‘befriended’ and then threatened male prostitutes, and now is being investigated by county prosecutors. In Boca Raton, a lawyer who was suspended from the practice of law managed to win a judicial seat from the jurist who had filed the disbarment proceedings against him. But the Supreme Court has barred the newly elected jurist from serving. Is this a soap opera or not?

As an embryonic blogger, my net-surfacing these past 30 days has enabled me to criss-cross the Blawgosphere the way an astronaut speedily circles around a planet. I have stumbled upon a collage of articles on popular legal blawgs and sites like the ABA Journal and Law.com., exposing these judicial foibles. Clearly, I have found lawyers too whose transgressions are outrageous and many. I have written about those too. But there are what, 500 lawyers for every judge? If the Legion of Judicial Disgraces continues at this pace, they are going to have their own comic books. It almost seems like the Obama Administration vetted judicial candidates.

The bottom line is that the judiciary is not above questioning. Behind those many colored robes are some seriously dysfunctional individuals. It thus becomes the burden of every litigator to stand their ground, make their case, and advocate zealously for their client. The judge’s duty is to be impartial, but first we must guarantee they are credible and competent. Lawyers and litigators must hold them to their tasks.

There is a denigrating joke a senior partner in a big white collar law firm about the candidates they promote for judicial office: “Well, if they can’t generate their weight in billable hours, we make them judges.” Yes, they wear robes and ought to be honored for the office they hold. Many come to the bench to crown a lifetime of achievement and honor. Still, no one should get a free ride.

Judges too must be held accountable. Apparently, around the country, some are. Not enough, I think. It is the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, from what I have seen so far, the judicial ship they are piloting is called the Titanic.

NORM KENT, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, publishes The Broward Law Blog, www.browardlawblog.com


Norm Kent, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of NORML.

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