Turnabout is Fair Play: Scrutinizing the Character and Conduct of Officers of the Court

Posted on November 29, 2013


Fair is a word that appears prominently in ethical canons drafted to define the methodologies and behaviors expected of judges (which canons are consolidated into states’ codes of judicial conduct, compendia of rules and principles that in the administration of restraining orders are more often paid lip service than scrupulous attention). An obligation of using the word fair is tolerating having done to you what you do to others.

Among the unfair aspects of how restraining orders are administered is the judicial application of a generic standard to defendants (that is, recipients of restraining orders). Positive matches are facilely constructed (sight unseen) between any John or Jane Doe who’s had a finger pointed at him or her—very possibly by a malicious accuser—and some paradigmatic caricature bad guy, the “Grim Creeper,” the original template for whose debauched and demonic dimensions was the much-hyped domestic batterer of 30 years ago.

Anyone targeted by this process, based on real allegations as innocuous as texting too much or on completely false allegations, is treated like the Grim Creeper.

By this standard, the scorn and ignominy earned by some judges should be borne by all of them, that is, if judicial logic is that because some restraining order defendants are bad eggs, all restraining order defendants should be regarded as bad eggs and publicly vilified, it only follows that if some judges are rotten egg omelets, all judges should be suspect. Fair is fair.

This is all a very circumspect introduction to my sharing that in randomly Googling “crazy judge,” I stumbled upon a page on “5 Shockingly Crazy Judges Who Presided Over Modern Courts.” It answered my query with the following case studies:

  • A Michigan judge, who reportedly handled sexual misconduct cases and was married, is distinguished for having texted a shirtless photo of himself to one of his female bailiffs and later responding to the alleged impropriety, “Yep, that’s me. No shame in my game.” He went on to sleep with a defendant who appeared before him to settle a child support dispute (and, she says, knock her up), allegedly repaying her sexual favors with preferential treatment.
  • An Oklahoma judge attained infamy by repeatedly exposing himself in his courtroom over a period of years and using a penis pump on a number of occasions during jury trials. Semen stains were turned up not only on his robes but on the carpet and the chair behind his bench.
  • A Florida judge responded to a threatening comment made by a defendant by producing a .38-caliber revolver and declaring, “There’s one bullet in the cylinder. Do you want to take your best shot? If you’re going to take a shot, you had better score, because I don’t miss.” He then rested the gun on his bench for the remainder of the proceeding.
  • A Georgia judge pulled a firearm during a trial and prompted a witness, the alleged victim of a sexual assault whose attacker had held a gun to her head, to shoot her attorney.
  • An Illinois judge whose tenure on the bench had already spanned 18 years, 18 years marked by allegations of mental illness, was reelected in 2012 despite being found “legally insane” by a psychiatrist. She was in court the next day on charges of shoving a court deputy (following her being ejected from her courtroom for engaging in a 45-minute rant and followed by her throwing a set of keys at a security checkpoint). Her annual salary: $182,000.

And the list goes on.

Consider that all restraining order defendants may feel treated like sex offenders, violent menaces, and nuts irrespective of what they have or haven’t done, and consider it in light of these judges’ actual conduct.

Two of these judges were suspended (only one without pay), one was transferred, and one resigned. Only one of these judges was sentenced to prison. And none were issued restraining orders, which make millions of people vulnerable to incarceration every year based merely on finger-pointing.

Aside from this quibble, do these cases really signify anything but that no occupation is immune from attracting the odd screwball?

Yes, in fact they do. Significant is that in more than one of these cases, the behaviors that eventually drew censure were allowed to continue for a period of many years (and were obviously known to members of their staff). This fact highlights the laxity of judicial oversight. A more significant implication of these cases is that only extreme judicial misconduct really gets zeroed in on. Practitioners of rhetoric (essay writers, for example) will use extreme or even wildly fictional scenarios (hyperbole) to emphasize implications, because we perceive best what’s writ large and luridly, and seeing the big implications allows us to grasp the smaller ones. If judges are capable of engaging in and getting away with the extreme misbehaviors exemplified in the cases enumerated above, possibly for years, it follows that less sensational infractions and lapses occur all the time and are winked at. This is not only significant but significant to hundreds or thousands of peoples’ lives every day.

Get it?

Having now concluded this excursion, let us return, shall we, to that never-never land we’re supposed to occupy where defendants have black mustachios they twist between their fingers, and judges, properly tasked with corralling the bad guys, have gleaming teeth, flaxen motives, and minds as white and wide as the Lone Ranger’s Stetson.

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