Friday, September 9, 2011

Whoa, really dude?

I've been a lawyer for 20 years this November 22 (yes, the anniversary of JFK's assassination) and during most of that time, at least until I embraced my "fly beneath the radar" philosophy, I was asked when I was going to run for judge.  The answer has always been "never."  Although I served as a Teen Court judge for several years, I never liked to wear the black robe.  It wasn't me.  I would sit up on a real judge's bench, and play with the paper clips between cases.  I used to neaten up Judge Legendre's bench, and I would leave notes for Judge Draper. Although I enjoyed working with the Teen Court program, I never took the judge thing too seriously.  As a judge, I had to adopt a certain personna for the benefit of the kids, and I didn't like the person I had to become for those few hours.

I have been before enough judges in my career to constitute a statistical universe.  I would like to think that each one represented a positive experience, but that would be a crazy fantasy.  Some of them have been terrific, some average, and others have been one long headache.  And no, I'm not naming names, and don't even try to guess because I've practiced in at least 5 Florida counties including circuit, county, and appellate courts.  And I am admitted to a couple of Federal courts as well, including The Big One.  Let's just say that my undergraduate background in psychology makes me supremely qualified to observe judicial behavior and misbehavior.

It seems that judicial behavior is not all that removed from political behavior, and I have, more than once, mentioned my unscientific belief that most politicians are low-grade antisocial personality disorders.  While I think the percentage of nutsy judges is far less than nutsy politicians, there is still a significant number who take the joy out of the practice of law.  Me, I'm still pretty happy.  I've been lucky - mostly - with the judges before whom I have regularly appeared.  Which is why I really feel for my colleagues who have to practice on a daily basis in front of judges who are not quite so - how shall I put this? - balanced.

What brought this to mind, and therefore to blog, are a couple of articles in the local online newspaper.  First, from one of today's headlines:

Beleaguered Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge James Turner went to the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday, trying to save his job. Instead, justices hammered his lawyer with questions and accused Turner of being a stalker, a judge who engaged in "bizarre" behavior and one who had made a "mockery" of the court system.  Here is the link for the rest of the article.

Whoa, really dude?  You're still asking for your job back?

The number of judges who have had to be reprimanded or even removed from the bench seems to have risen alarmingly in the last few years.  Or maybe it just seems that way here in the Ninth Circuit.  Because that article redirected me to a link from a June 2011 article:

Time and again Orange-Osceola Circuit Judge Tim Shea publicly insulted and yelled at prosecutors in his courtroom, once asking one woman to get coffee for everyone in the room, according to a formal complaint that accuses him of judicial misconduct...

Once he screamed so loudly in court that deputes in the hallway outside could hear, according to the complaint.

Another time he came off the bench, red faced and yelling, and physically intimidated a male assistant state attorney, according to the complaint.

But most of the incidents involved female prosecutors, who complained that he yelled, insulted them or made vaguely sexist insults.

What is it with these guys?  Not that this is a new phenomenon.

An Orange Circuit Court judge who is the focus of a judicial investigation acknowledged that he accepted an attorney's fee to represent a woman while he was a county judge, but in a court filing said he never urged her, or two others, to flee the country to avoid charges.

Judge Jim Henson, who served as a county judge from 1997 to 2001, on Monday answered the formal charges filed against him by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. The charges alleged, in part, that he accepted private legal work while sitting as a county judge and encouraged clients to flee to avoid prosecution. The commission said the charges could be in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct applicable to county judges and lawyers' rules of professional conduct.

Ya think?  Okay, this isn't just a Ninth Circuit thing, it only feels that way sometime.  And it's not just the guys who are acting badly.  Don't ask me how I know.  I'm just glad I've worked for DCF for so many years, as developing a thick skin and broad shoulders has been extraordinarily useful.

This one totally floored me:

Judge James Hauser is under investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Committee in Tallahassee because a law student claimed he performed inappropriate sex acts in front of her.

Coming right on the heels of this story about the same judge:

A judge who was trusted to protect the most vulnerable families had a restraining order taken out against him and has been accused of making violent threats and more.  In court records, Judge Hauser's estranged wife said she's had to call Maitland police twice for help, but never spoke up about abuse because of the judge's position in the community.

I was only in Judge Hauser's court one time, and I came away with a very favorable impression.  He presented as a very thoughtful and intelligent judge. I wonder if these troubled judges become that way on the bench, or use the bench as a bully pulpit for their already antisocial personalities.  Maybe they're all taking crazy pills.  I have no intention of finding out through personal experience, however.  Running for office is number four on my list of things I plan never to do before I die.  Jumping out of an airplane is number one.  Bungee jumping is number two.  Ziplining is number three.  Maybe running for office should come before ziplining. 

Enough Sturm und Drang.  I'm going back to my happy place, and I'm going to take you there with me. 

Oops, wrong happy place.

Anyway, for the past seven years we have been spending Labor Day weekend at the Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City Beach.  For an extremely reasonable rate, we have rented a two bedroom golf condo within easy walking distance of the most beautiful beach in the world, and the Edgewater Conference Center.  The beach is for me, and the conference center is for Rob and all the other ATA competitors.  We always have a fine time.  Rob always manages to kick butt and bring home a few medals, and I get to sleep late, check up on Hobby Lobby, knit until the cows come home, and hang out on the beach a bit.  We spend some time with our friends from home, Betty and Frank and Elaine, always capping off the long weekend at Another Broken Egg for a great breakfast before setting off for the long trip home.

Thanks to the wonders of smartphones and Facebook, I can show you last year's photo ... because there is no this year's photo.  We made it to PCB and staged a send-off breakfast, but our friends could not make it this year and they were sorely missed.  Also, Cory is usually with us, but this year his school obligations made it impossible for him to get away. 

This year, Rob's brother and sister in law came up and shared our condo, so that Charles could compete (he is following their family tradition by becoming a black belt) and Diane could enjoy the beach.  Boy, did we show them a good time!  Got to spend the day with us at the ER.  Who wouldn't drive seven hours for that little bit of excitement?

Both of the Rothfeld men brought home the glory, although the medals are "in the mail", like my latest check from the JAC.  And we got to share some really fine meals, which I will cheerfully detail in tomorrow's post.  Last day of the Summit, and I'm heading out.  Third day of iron pills, and I am feeling nothing but tired.  No stomach upset, but no energy boost either.  I learned a lot about pill mills and prescription drug addiction yesterday, and I need some time to absorb the knowledge and put it to good use in my cases.

What a drag it is getting old ...

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