Thursday, April 07, 2005


Lessons in judicial comportment

I don't know what's going on with state and local judges these days. They are behaving ... well, let's just say ... unpredictably. Maybe it's those threats against them that Republican Congressmen have been making and for which they've still not been arrested. Maybe it's too much thought given to right-to-die issues. I just don't know—but they need to calm down.


A judge in Sanford is being hauled before the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) for locking up a number of people who went to the wrong courtroom—because they were sent to the wrong courtroom.

Here's the account given by Rene Stutzman and Robert Perez of the Orlando Sentinel

The defendants said they were either notified in writing or were directed by court personnel to the wrong courtroom, one next door to where [County Judge John R.] Sloop was presiding at the new Seminole County Criminal Justice Center.

When they didn't appear in his courtroom, Sloop ordered their arrests. However, when the defendants figured out they were in the wrong courtroom and made their way to the correct one, Sloop refused to see them or withdraw the arrest warrants.

They were handcuffed and shipped to the Seminole County Jail. Sloop, in the meantime, went to lunch, then returned to the criminal building and began an unrelated set of hearings.

The defendants spent about eight hours in jail before they were released. According to the JQC's charges, another judge set them free.

And this wasn't the first time—

The JQC charges do not mention seven other people whom Sloop ordered arrested because of a similar courtroom mix-up the day before, Dec. 2. Some of those wound up spending more than one night in jail.

Of course, if defendants were routinely being sent to the wrong courtroom, the judge should have gone to the source of the problem and arrested the Clerk of the Court.

Sloop and his lawyer, Marc Lubet, appeared before the investigative panel for up to an hour and a half last month, Lubet said.

They provided the panel with a great deal of information and paperwork, Lubet said.

That would include a list of his medications.

"I'm not saying he made an error, but any error he may have made was certainly not done with malice or viciousness," Lubet [his attorney] said.

Not done with malice or viciousness? Let me see if I can find the appropriate word ... well, I think I'm going to have to get back to you on that.

New York

Just so you won't think that all the kooks are wintering over in Florida, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC)—the equivalent of Florida's JQC—had the case of Judge Richard N. Allman to decide.

According to Daniel Wise of the New York Law Journal,

The incident occurred in Brooklyn Criminal Court on June 8, 2004, when Allman was presiding over three calendars. He was handling the calendar for his domestic violence part as well as the calendars of two judges assigned to all-purpose parts who were attending a seminar.

According to the record, Allman became angry when the Legal Aid lawyer, Steven Terry, sought to prevent the judge from directly questioning his client, who was voluntarily in court after receiving a fourth warrant issued because he owed money on a fine.

In the ensuing exchange, Allman angrily asked, "Did you go to law school, Mr. Terry? Did you go to law school, yes or no?"

Before Terry answered, Allman called a recess. He then came down from the bench into the well of the courtroom and grabbed Terry by the arms.

After Terry protested, the judge let him go and yelled, "This is my courtroom! You will do what I want you to in my courtroom! Do you understand?"

Despite "highly improper and utterly inexcusable conduct," the commission determined that a censure was the appropriate sanction, mainly because of the rapid steps Allman took to apologize.

The judge got off lightly and against the recommendation of the CJC's own staff. The staff had noted in their brief that—

... had the roles been reversed, Terry would very likely have been disbarred for "physically confronting the judge."

"As shocking as it would be for a lawyer to physically accost a judge," a brief submitted by commission staff stated, "it is worse when the judge is the wrongdoer."

Moreover, ... as a judge presiding in a domestic violence part, Allman might have issued an order of protection to prevent the very conduct he exhibited in his courtroom.

There is an "irony," the brief noted, in a judge's presiding over "domestic violence cases while in need of personal anger management."

If you're in search of irony, drop by a courtroom any day.

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