‘Some People Are Just Diabolical’: Florida Judges Get Candid About Being ‘Goaded’

When Brevard Circuit Judge Robin Lemonidis was publicly reprimanded for losing her temper in trial, and using a sentencing colloquy to tell a defendant she hoped he’d have to fight for his life in prison, former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick felt a pang of sympathy.

“I felt pretty sorry for the judge involved, because I’ve been there and I know how easy it is to say something which would be viewed as inappropriate, just because your emotions are boiling,” Dresnick said.

Dresnick—now a partner at Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine in Miami—said he tried not to use gavels after once banging his down so hard in a murder case that it broke.

“There are so many times you say something, and as you’re saying it, you wish you could grab those words and bring them back,” Dresnick said. “But you can’t.”

‘Mentally exhausted’

Broward Circuit Judge Dennis Bailey. Photo: Melanie Bell/ALM.
Broward Circuit Judge Dennis Bailey. Photo: Melanie Bell/ALM.

Broward Circuit Judge Dennis Bailey can relate.

He was reprimanded in 2019 for losing his temper in a felony criminal trial—something he feels happened because he underestimated the personal toll it would take to handle four death penalty cases in two years—two of which came back-to-back.

Midway through one murder case, Bailey said he’d promised the husband of a murdered woman, frustrated by years of delay, that he’d get to that trial immediately after it.

But in hindsight, that was a mistake.

“I was mentally exhausted at the conclusion of those cases and did not handle situations as well as I should have,” Bailey said. “I learned from that lesson and would never do that again.”

Bailey said he’s found that taking time to decompress after difficult and emotional cases is crucial.

“When you’re having a case that you know every word is going to be analyzed and every ruling is going to be taken up on appeal, such as a death penalty case, you’re on the edge of your seat all day, every day. And if the trial goes on for two, three weeks, that’s where the stress builds up,” Bailey said. “Don’t let yourself linger in the hot seat, so to speak. Take a break, go back and do the research, and make sure you’re comfortable with your decision, instead of just shooting from the hip.”

A recent study by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs revealed that Dresnick and Bailey are far from alone, as many jurists reported experiencing high blood pressure, insomnia, stress and other health issues. The National Center for State Courts’ judicial stress resource guide has also pinpointed connections between budget cuts and low morale, obesity and judicial stress.

And it’s no surprise, given the high stakes. Presiding over a criminal case, for instance, could mean taking away someone’s life and liberty, while civil litigation could ruin a business, and a family case might separate parents from their children.

Related story: Burnout on the Bench: Judges Grapple With Stress, Fatigue

Trying to get judges recused

Wearing a black robe means being tested all the time—and rightly so, since judges sit on the bench to deliver justice.

Ronald Dresnick of Kluger Kaplan Silverman Katzen & Levine. Courtesy photo.Ronald Dresnick of Kluger Kaplan Silverman Katzen & Levine. Courtesy photo.

But sometimes, in Dresnick’s experience, wearing the robe also means being “goaded” by lawyers.

“It took me four, five years just to learn how to cope with attorneys. I’ve seen attorneys try to just take a judge off just by doing some really outrageous things, and trying to get the judge to lose their temper so they can get that judge recused,” Dresnick said. ”It happens all the time, and some people are just diabolical in the way they act, just to get the judge to make a mistake like that.”

Where sentencing’s concerned, the best practice is not to comment on the crime at all.

“If you sentence somebody to life, what else do you have to say?” Dresnick said. “You don’t need to show how much power you have. In fact, by not saying anything, you’re probably demonstrating more what your power is, than when you do say something.”

‘I’ve just signed your death warrant’

That issue arose from comments Ingham Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina made during the Michigan sentencing hearing of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, convicted of sexually abusing dozens of girls.

The judge’s words provoked uproar from Nassar’s attorneys.

Before handing down the prison sentence, Aquilina told Nassar, “I wouldn’t send my dogs to you, sir,” calling him evil and remarking, “I’ve just signed your death warrant.”

Nassar’s attorneys claimed the judge’s comments were biased and led to a prison attack on Nassar.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin Sayfie, who also serves on the Florida Bar’s mental health and wellness committee, says case law shows judges tend to get in trouble when they inject their opinions into sentencing.

Miami- Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin G. Sayfie. Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin G. Sayfie. Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM.

“The best practices are really just to state the sentence and move on,” Sayfie said.

The most isolating aspect of judicial life, in Sayfie’s view, comes when rulings are misunderstood or taken out of context, either because it wasn’t appropriate for the judge to elaborate, or because the media didn’t properly explain in its reporting.

This could lead judges to agonize over how best to present a decision.

“Unfortunately, the hard part is the next day, getting ripped apart in the newspaper, in the media, by comments in the Miami Herald,” Sayfie said. “The best way that I get through moments like that is by sharing with my colleagues. I think here in Miami, because we’re such a big circuit, the good news is we have a lot of support among our colleagues who understand.”

Mental health support

The Florida Bar is working on providing free and confidential online therapy sessions for all bar members, Sayfie said.

“It’s important for judges and lawyers to feel that if they’re having a mental health issue, or if they’re facing a time in their lives where there’s more stress than others, [that] it’s OK. It’s normal, and it’s acceptable to ask for help,” Sayfie said. ”It’s acceptable to get support, and they shouldn’t fear repercussions from the court and their colleagues.”

Broward Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter. Photo: J. Albert Diaz

Chief Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter noted that judges not only have to make important and impartial decisions but also deal with daily emergencies that crop up in already-heavy dockets. He urged judges to seek relief through the Florida Judicial Wellness Program.

“Judges are taught to leave the bench, or take a break if faced with a particularly difficult situation. This will help the judge regain his/her thoughts, and hopefully prevent saying something in haste,” Tuter said. “Because it is such an isolated occupation, judges frequently call on each other to discuss and deal with stressful situations and cases.”

For Bailey, DUI manslaughter cases are heart wrenching, particularly when a child has been killed, as the defendant is frequently not “a bad person.”

“It’s hard sometimes for a judge to keep a dry eye, when you hear the victim’s pain and anguish when they address the person who killed their child, [describe] how much they’ve destroyed their lives, and you hear the family of the person who’s being sentenced,” Bailey said. “Their loved one is now going off to prison for however many years, and they’ve done anything wrong in their life.”

In addition to judicial conferences and training sessions, which teach judges to recognize what triggers them and to take a recess when it happens, Dresnick says visiting other judge’s courtrooms is invaluable.

“You see somebody who’s a good judge, and you watch the way they handle a situation you were in. And you might hear them and say, ‘That’s really interesting, I’m going to try that,’ but nobody seems to have enough time,” Dresnick said.

Though the judicial canons say judges must avoid even the appearance of impropriety, not showing enough humanity can be harmful too, according to Dresnick. He said Judge Lance Ito’s handling of O.J. Simpson’s infamous murder trial is a good example.

“He just went out of his way not to say anything at all. He was trying so hard to maintain a certain stoicism that I thought was not helpful. Judges aren’t computers, and they really shouldn’t be,” Dresnick said. “I don’t like to just see this robotic reaction to things. I like the human factor, but I think the judges that are expressing the human factor need to be cognizant of the way it’s going to read in tomorrow’s DBR.”

Raychel Lean

Raychel Lean reports on South Florida litigation for the Daily Business Review. Send an email to rlean@alm.com, or follow her on Twitter via @raychellean.

via Law.com – Newswire https://www.law.com/

February 28, 2020 at 11:02AM

In A Florida Courtroom, People Charged With Probation Violations Face Humiliation From Judge

Probation officers in the state’s 13th Judicial Circuit file thousands of violations, and they’re heard by a judge known for his harsh, punitive style.

On Jan. 9, Mia Davis, a 36-year-old Black woman from Tampa, stood in the courtroom of Nick Nazaretian, a judge in Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit. Her husband Ray sat in the gallery of the Division K courtroom, ready to testify on her behalf. Mia (pronounced Maya) violated the terms of her probation stemming from a February 2019 arrest for battery domestic violence against Ray. Her public defender explained that Mia missed an Oct. 27 appointment with her probation officers because she had been hospitalized during a mental health crisis. “I can only remember that I woke up at the psych ward at Northside [Hospital],” Mia told Nazaretian. “I don’t know how I got there. I believe my husband is the one who placed me there.”

It was Mia’s first probation violation, but a warrant was issued for her arrest. On Nov. 1, police showed up at her home and took her to the Hillsborough County jail, where she was held for two months. Mia, wearing the jail’s orange jumpsuit and with handcuffs chained to her wrists, ticked off a list of her medications from memory: Risperdal, Benadryl, Depakote, BuSpar, Celexa. Ray acknowledged to Nazaretian that Mia had a criminal record that included aggravated assault, resisting police, possessing a weapon, and “throwing a deadly missile”—which Ray later explained was a brick. In Florida, “throwing a deadly missile” is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but what constitutes a “deadly missile” has no precise definition in state law. In 1984, an appellate judge in Florida’s Second District ruled that a grapefruit was a missile in the case of a man who threw the fruit at a tanker truck.

Ray told Nazaretian that Mia’s violent incidents occurred when she could not afford her medication. A retired military veteran, Ray told The Appeal that he does not qualify for Veterans Affairs’ Permanent and Total disability benefits, so he and Mia do not have health insurance. Without insurance, Mia’s antipsychotics cost $395 per refill. Ray also explained to the judge that the February 2019 battery domestic assault that initially put her on probation stemmed from a mental health crisis. “When she don’t get on her medication, she hallucinates—starts hearing stuff. Seeing stuff,” Ray told The Appeal. He said Mia wrapped her legs around his torso and beat him over the head. “It sent me to the hospital,” Ray said. “I don’t have the right to lay a hand on a woman, but I do have the right to defend myself, so instead of me doing something, I called the police.”

Mia was arrested that day. In July, Mia pleaded guilty to charges of battery and domestic violence stemming from the February incident and placed on three years of probation. This meant reporting monthly to a probation officer, performing community service, and completing anger management training.

At the hearing, Ray, who stands at over six feet tall, bent over the microphone to tell the judge that even though he called the police on Mia, he wanted her probation reinstated—not jail. “She’s a different person without her medication,” he said.

“So you’re basing her criminal history, not only in this aspect, but on previous aspects, on lack of medication?” Nazaretian asked Ray.

“I really do believe—” Ray began, before the judge cut him off.

“All right, just wanting to make sure what your viewpoint is. What’s next? What else do you want to tell me?”

Mia’s probation officer spoke up. “I just have one comment,” she said, leaning into the microphone. “I’m not a medical licensed provider or anything like that, but if Ms. Davis is having the problems that she is having, then maybe she needs to seek some kind of inpatient long-term mental health care, as opposed to probation.”

Moments later, prosecutors from the state attorney’s office for the 13th Judicial Circuit declined to recommend a sentence for Mia, instead deferring the decision to Nazaretian. Mia’s public defender cut in quickly before the judge could make a determination: “Again, I’ll request the same thing I requested yesterday, that the jail anger-management program is a solution, without a prison sentence.”

“I appreciate that, but I have to consider the whole ball of wax here,” Nazaretian said. He turned and addressed Mia. He told her that she was clearly a different person than what her criminal record suggested. He acknowledged that “sometimes in the street you become a different person, probably because of mental health issues.” But he said he also had to consider the safety of the residents of Hillsborough County and the state of Florida.

“And considering that, you’ll be sentenced according to the guidelines, which is 24.9 months in Florida state prison,” Nazaretian said. “Once that is over, hopefully you can live your life and be crime free. Have a good day.” The judge banged his gavel.

To Ray, the outcome was devastating. “[Nazaretian] said, ‘Well, I got to lock her up to keep society safe.’ Those were his words. I don’t think it’s safer. I think they didn’t address the problem—because now [she’s] sent to prison. She still has the same problem she has. Now she’s punished for it, but it’s not being addressed. … I just wanted to see her get some help.”

The judge “considered that to be a trial,” Ray said. “But I consider that to be a butchering.”

Mia’s probation hearing in Judge Nazaretian’s courtroom lasted 40 minutes, an eternity compared to other hearings where a determination is made in a matter of minutes. Like many probation courts nationwide, probation court in Hillsborough County—which has nearly 1.5 million residents with Tampa as its largest city—moves so quickly because people are encouraged by their attorneys to waive their right to a hearing. Here, the standard is not a presumption of innocence but the much lower threshold of “preponderance of evidence.” “What this means is, if the judge thinks you did it, you’re done,” Dirk Weed, a defense attorney in Tampa who takes probation violation cases almost daily, told The Appeal. “That’s it. He doesn’t have to justify why he did, as long as there is a possibility that there’s a reason that you violated.”

According to Cecelia Klingele, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School who focuses on probation revocation, the lower standard comes from the idea that probation is a privilege because it is an alternative to custody. Indeed, Nazaretian has described his decisions as “gifts.” “That was a gift from me to you,” he told one person. “It may not seem like that, but how I operate, it was a gift.”

“Often we talk about probation as an alternative to a sanction,” Klingele told The Appeal. “But it is a sanction. And so it becomes the default noncustodial option—if you don’t go to jail, you’re always going to get probation. And we send people into probation who do not need to be on probation at all.” Because probation is viewed as a lesser punishment, she said, it’s easy to underestimate just how punitive it actually is. “You have this contingent liability hanging over [you]. All minor infractions, including noncriminal, can snowball into revocation.”

In other circuits in Florida, any new probation violation, whether technical or from a new felony, puts people back in front of the judge who initially tried them. But in the 13th Judicial Circuit, technical—generally noncriminal—violation cases are heard only by one judge: Nazaretian, who takes cases Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. until around 4 p.m. “He’s a character to a certain extent,” Weed said.

The Appeal watched Nazaretian hear cases from Jan. 6 to Jan. 9. In that time, the judge asked a defendant if “they had a brain” and if he “had any common sense at all in any way, shape, or form.” He brought a woman to tears by musing that she seemed “loaded,” and then threatened to drug test her on the spot, despite her having tested clean during her probationary period. He accused another person of dishonoring his dead mother. He warned someone else who said he had a job in North Tampa, an area with high levels of poverty, to watch out because “you never know who’s around that area.” He told several men that they wouldn’t do well in prison because of their small size. After he asked one man about his weight—“What are you, a buck-fifty?”—and laughed at his response. “He’s done up there,” he told another.

Nazaretian interrupts people appearing before him and says that their stories of life struggles “aren’t going to fly” in his court. He calls them “sneaky sneaks”; incarcerated people who don’t participate in classes are dubbed “TV-watchers.” He corrects grammar and tells people that if he sees them again, they’ll have to “pack their bags” for prison. In an aside directed to the gallery, he said that a man may have broken curfew because he was “trying to get laid.” Nazaretian sometimes demands that defendants write a three-page report on Lake Butler, a small town two and a half hours north of Tampa that is home to a state prison known for its deadly violence. “Beautiful Lake Butler,” he says, raising his eyebrows suggestively. “Know what that is?” When the defendant shakes his head, he chuckles. “Well, you’ll learn all about it.”

Weed said that although “it’s good to have a judge that scares the life out of you,” it’s not always the most effective way to prevent someone from staying out of the criminal legal system. He says some of his clients are so terrified of Nazaretian that they avoid going to court, even when issued a summons. “And then what happens? He’s very difficult on absconders,” Weed said. “So it almost becomes a circle to a certain extent.”

“Based on judicial ethics rules, judges are severely restricted from commenting on matters that are pending with the court,” Mike Moore, the circuit’s public information officer wrote when asked for comment. “However, he [Nazaretian] strongly believes that the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Violation of Probation (VOP) Division provides a meaningful, sometimes therapeutic, resolution to many probation violations.”

In Florida, judges have the discretion to deny issuing a warrant even when alerted to a probation violation. They are also empowered by state law to depart from even the lowest possible sentence if circumstances permit. Still, the state has a long history of punitive probation policy. In 2003, the state Department of Corrections imposed a “zero tolerance” policy, in which every violation, no matter how small, had to be reported to a judge along with a warrant issued for the violator’s arrest. Though the policy was found to overburden courts and was rescinded in 2008, vestiges of it remain. During the proceedings observed in Nazaretian’s court in early January, many people were there simply because they had missed an appointment for a work conflict, one of the minor violations that the rescindment was meant to eliminate. Weed said probation officers in the 13th Circuit still hew to the zero-tolerance policy in spite of its retraction.

Indeed, according to Florida Department of Corrections data, in the last fiscal year alone, probation officers in the 13th Circuit filed 7,969 violations. Although there are four judicial circuits in Florida with higher populations than the 13th, including the 11th (Miami-Dade County), 17th (Broward County), Ninth (Orange and Osceola counties), and Sixth (Pinellas and Pasco counties), the 13th led them all in the number of probation violations, often by substantial margins. Although the 13th presides over 1.3 million fewer people than the 11th, it puts five times as many people into prison for technical violations. With Florida having the 14th-highest incarceration rate and the third-largest prison population in the country, the 13th Circuit disproportionately feeds one of the most incarcerated states in the U.S.

Of Hillsborough’s 7,969 violations, 69 percent did not allege the commission of any new criminal offense. Despite the lack of a new offense, 40 percent of these technical violations resulted in jail or prison time. In addition, according to Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, imprisonment rates for technical violations statewide fell from 33.7 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year to 31.9 percent in the 2018-19 fiscal year. The 13th Circuit’s imprisonment rate for such violations remains well above the state average.

According to Kelly Mitchell, executive director of the the University of Minnesota’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, this probation to prison pipeline is partly due to the myriad conditions imposed on people, often with no relation to the reason the person is under supervision. “When conditions are imposed en masse and without being individualized to the needs of the person, they serve as trip wires, and can easily result in probation revocations,” she said. “This is a hidden population. You can’t tell by looking at someone that they are serving time on a probation sentence. But the collateral consequences that these individuals face—difficulty in obtaining employment, housing, access to education—are staggering. People entangled in the criminal justice system are facing other issues—all sorts of other untreated health needs that make it really hard to abide by even a few of the things we’re asking. Too often we think more is better and longer is better when it comes to length instead of stepping back and thinking: what is the big-picture goal?”

On Jan. 31, Mia was sent to the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala, a prison about two hours north of Tampa that has a significant population of women entering the state Department of Corrections. She will most likely be transferred elsewhere to serve the remainder of her sentence. Because of the transient nature of its population, healthcare at the Florida Women’s Reception Center is notoriously poor. In 2015, the state’s Correctional Medical Authority audited the facility and found life-threatening conditions. In a Sept. 22, 2015, email, the Correctional Medical Authority’s executive director wrote that conditions there “require emergency notification” and “immediate attention” from the Department of Corrections.

Because Ray is still in the process of obtaining approval to receive telephone calls from Mia, he communicates with her through letters. He received her first letter recently. “She said she missed me,” he told The Appeal. “She drew a big old heart in the middle of it.” Ray doesn’t know if Mia is getting her medication, only that he was promised that her medical files would be sent with her. “She’s depressed.”

Ray still thinks about Nazaretian’s treatment of Mia in court. He had been waiting for her hearing in the gallery all morning, and he’d noticed the way the judge treated defendants. It made him suspect that Mia wouldn’t be treated any better. “Just because you’re educated … not everybody’s on the same level,” he said. “I can understand what he’s saying, sometimes, but maybe if he was in another setting—but the belittling part. You don’t have to do that.”

via The Appeal https://theappeal.org

February 26, 2020 at 09:04AM

Federal judge’s emails lead court of appeals to vacate prison sentence

A federal judge who sentenced a drug defendant to more than 17 years in prison should have recused himself because his email communications with the U.S. attorney’s office “invited doubt about his impartiality,” a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that cocaine defendant James Atwood of Kankakee, Illinois, is entitled to be resentenced before a new judge. Illinois Times and the News Gazette have coverage.

The judge who sentenced Atwood is U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce of Urbana, Illinois. He has communicated with the U.S. attorney’s office in more than 100 emails since taking the bench, according to the appeals court. The emails were ex parte, meaning defense lawyers were not included in the communications.

via ABA Journal Daily News https://ift.tt/1jXmrxS

October 31, 2019 at 04:03PM

Judge Suspended Without Pay After Pleading Guilty to Underwear Burglary

Robert Cicale, a district judge in Suffolk County, was suspended without pay by the New York Court of Appeals late Friday after he pleaded guilty earlier this month to sneaking into a former intern’s home and stealing her underwear.

Cicale had been suspended by the high court last year, but with pay, after he was arrested on burglary charges.

The unanimous decision from the Court of Appeals late Friday changed that status to suspension without pay following Cicale’s guilty plea earlier this month.

He admitted to entering a young woman’s home with the intent of stealing her underwear during the court appearance in Suffolk County two weeks ago. The victim had been identified as a former intern of Cicale’s when he was the town attorney for Islip in Suffolk County, according to media reports.

He was represented in the proceeding by Michael J. Brown, a solo practitioner from Central Islip. Brown was not immediately available to comment on the Court of Appeals decision.

Cicale, who was first elected to the bench in 2015, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday evening.

He was arrested for the incident last March, after which he was immediately suspended from the bench. Prosecutors in Suffolk County had alleged that it wasn’t his first time in the home. They said he’d gone in before and stolen clothing from the woman.

Cicale is scheduled to be sentenced for the crime in November. Because he pleaded guilty to a felony, he’ll also lose his license to practice law in New York.

via Law.com – Newswire https://www.law.com/

September 27, 2019 at 06:39PM

Judge: Murder Trial Testimony ‘Is Beginning To Get Me Horny’

While this sounds like a discarded line from an episode of USA’s Silk Stalkings, this is unfortunately something an actual judge said in an actual case that resulted in a 35 year sentence for murder.

Judge Carlisle Greaves, who has since retired, made the remarks during the trial of Khyri Smith-Williams for the 2011 killing of Colford Ferguson. As Legal Cheek tells us, citing a Royal Gazette report, this all came to light in an appeal brought by Smith-Williams challenging the conviction on the grounds that the judge acted inappropriately.

The remark came while a witness explained that he had shared former sex partners with the defendant. On appeal, appellate judge Sir Maurice Kay delivered the understatement of the century:

In particular, his comment ‘all this sex is beginning to get me horny’ was inappropriate and inimical to the dignity of court proceedings.

The attorney for Smith-Williams raised more concerns about the testimony this specific witness got away with:

Lynch also raised concerns over how Greaves conducted himself during Harris’ evidence, arguing he had not done enough to “censure” Harris’ use of inappropriate language. In transcripts submitted to the court, Harris swears repeatedly and refers to other people involved in the case as “f*****t” and “f***ing p***y”.

This is a fun game of Wheel of Fortune. I need three letters and a vowel — see if you can sound it out.

Ultimately, the court upheld the conviction, determining that the language was just a byproduct of “serious criminal trials” in Bermuda involve judges conducting hearings “in an informal way, often using casual language and rich metaphors” and that the judge’s bid to turn the trial into a snuff film review didn’t impact the case. At the risk of further triggering Judge Greaves, the latter’s a little hard to swallow. It’s hard to have much confidence in a the solemnity of a murder trial when judges are cracking jokes about key witness testimony. Night Court was a comedy because it was a steady stream of solicitation cases — Harry Stone juggling wouldn’t have played as well if he guest starred on Law & Order.

Even if the remark was a harmless error vis a vis the result, Bermuda should redo the trial to repair any doubts over the sanctity of its judicial system.

And, yes, I realize Judge Greaves is snickering “you said tittie.”

Bermuda judge criticised for saying murder trial was making him ‘horny’ [Legal Cheek]

Headshot Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above

the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.

via Above the Law https://abovethelaw.com

September 19, 2019 at 11:27AM

Indictment Sought for Georgia Judge Over Court Computer Hack

A special prosecutor is going to a grand jury today to seek the indictment of Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader over allegations she allowed a convicted child molester to access her court computer, according to District Attorney Danny Porter.

The unusual case began in February, when Schrader contacted private investigator T.J. Ward to look into whether Porter had hacked her computer.

Ward had one of his technicians install a device called a WireShark on her computer. The device lets its user monitor activity on a computer network. Ward recruited Kramer, who co-founded Dragon Con and was later convicted of child molestation, to analyze its findings.

Porter, who denied hacking the judge’s computer, asked the GBI to investigate the possible breach of the county’s computer system when apprised of the monitoring. He also recused from the investigation into Schrader’s activities and filed a motion asking her to recuse from any cases his office is prosecuting.

September 18, 2019 at 02:48PM

The Crime Report: ‘Judges Influenced by Fox News Give Harsher Sentences’

Elected judges impose harsher criminal sentences on defendants if they watch conservative news media, in particular Fox News, according to a Columbia Business School research paper, reported The Crime Report.

“Higher Fox News viewership increases incarceration length, and the effect is stronger for black defendants and for drug-related crimes,” wrote Elliot Ash, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Law, Economics, and Data Science at ETH Zurich, and Michael Poyker, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University.
Building on the assumption that “greater exposure to partisan television news has an impact on voting in presidential elections and congressional position-taking,” the study authors scrutinized whether partisan news has an effect on judges’ rulings, scrutinizing data on almost 7 million criminal sentencing decisions in the United States for the years 2005 to 2017.
Their conclusion: “Conservative television media exposure has a causal effect on judge decision-making.”
To research their paper, “Conservative News Media and Criminal Justice: Evidence from Exposure to Fox News Channel,” Ash and Poyker used word clouds, compared national sentencing data, and examined Fox viewership.
“We use combined microdata on criminal sentencing decisions from the National Corrections Reporting Program and a unique dataset with the universe of sentencing decisions linked to judge biographies from ten states … paired with data on cable news viewership at the county level,” they wrote.
Conservative-news watching had no measurable effect on appointed judges, according to the research paper.
“The appointed judges have tenure, and therefore face minimal political pressures once in office,” Ash and Poyker wrote. “We find that Fox News increases sentencing only for elected judges. Voters might become more conservative due to Fox News exposure, and in particular due to media attention on felony cases.
Meanwhile, lawyers/prosecutors put active pressure on judges threatening to find candidates to displace then; that would increase electoral pressures on judges to be harsher in sentencing decisions.”
The study authors trained word2vec, a popular word embedding model, on transcripts for Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, for the years 2001 through 2013. “This model works by reading through sentences and locating words close to each other in a vector space if they tend to occur in similar contexts (that is, windows of neighboring words). Similarity between words can then be measured using the cosine of the angle between the vector representations of each word.
In the transcripts data, the most similar words to ‘crime’ were ‘crimes,’ ‘murder,’ ‘homicide,’ ‘perpetrator,’ ‘felonies,’ and other synonyms or closely related terms.”
Ash and Poyker took sentencing data from the National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) that contains information for “all prison admissions in the United States from 2000 to 2014.” NCRP’s data was cross-referenced with sentencing data from a previous study done by Poyker and Dippel (2019)because of its case-level detail of accessible judge’s information.
From there, Ash and Poyker only used data from 10 states with judges’ information in the case files. Those states are Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
“We establish a racial bias in the effect of conservative discourse on criminal justice decisions, and this is linked to drug crimes,” they wrote. “As Blacks are disproportionately arrested for non-violent drug related offenses, the effect could be driven by racial bias in media messaging. Alternatively, it could be that ‘tough-on-drugs’ rather than ‘tough-on-crime’ rhetoric matters in this setting.”
Ash and Poyker looked at viewership based on Nielsen’s channel positions and ratings analytics that categorized viewership with zip codes. (Ctrl-F Media Data)
Interestingly, the effect of Fox News on elected judges becomes weaker in the run-up to the election date, according to this report.
“One interpretation of this result is that politicized information and politicized incentives are substitutes, rather than complements. As electoral pressures become stronger, media effects are reduced.
Another possibility is that Fox News content becomes more election-focused, and less devoted to crime, in the run-up to elections.”
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via Matt Mangino http://bit.ly/1rfUqJY

June 7, 2019 at 02:37PM

Criminal defense attorney and judge settle suit over alleged retaliation involving recording

By Amanda Robert


A Houston criminal defense attorney who recorded a Galveston County judge saying he “overworks” cases and lacks experience has settled his lawsuit against the judge.

In March 2018, Andrew Willey sued Judge Jack Ewing of the Galveston County Court at Law No. 3 for allegedly retaliating against him by refusing to appoint him to cases. His lawsuit also sought to challenge Galveston County’s system of appointing attorneys for indigent clients charged with crimes, a process that judges control under state law, the Houston Chronicle reports.

“Experts argue this creates pressure to resolve cases based on expediency rather than justice and inhibits lawyers from advocating too vigorously for their clients for fear of retaliation from judges eager to clear their dockets,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

In the lawsuit, Willey accused Ewing of reducing payment requests for work on behalf of two clients charged with misdemeanors in 2015 and 2016. Willey told Ewing that he was concerned about the lack of resources for appointed attorneys in Galveston and learned later that Ewing had removed him from a case.

This was a violation of the Galveston County Indigent Defense Plan, which requires that “the attorney representing the defendant at jail docket is appointed to represent the defendant in the pending criminal matter until final resolution of the case,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Only a majority vote of the Criminal Courts Board can remove an attorney from a case.

Willey claimed in his lawsuit that Ewing’s clerk told him he was removed because the judge was upset with Willey regarding “something that happened in the jail docket.” Willey then recorded a July 2016 meeting with the judge, who told Willey he would reappoint him to the case. He never did, leading Willey to file a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in July 2017.

The commission found that Ewing’s actions “did not rise to the level of sanctionable misconduct.”

According to the settlement, Willey and Ewing will “abide by a rotating court appointment system through which attorneys are appointed in a fair, nondiscriminatory manner set by the Texas Fair Defense Act and by the Galveston County Indigent Defense Plan,” the Houston Chronicle says.

via ABA Journal Daily News http://bit.ly/1jXmrxS

April 23, 2019 at 05:22PM

Judge Learns The Hard Way — Being A Judge Doesn’t Help When You Crash Into A Police Car

Knock on wood, I’ve never been in a car crash with a police car, but I have to imagine, if I did my interactions with the po-po would be conciliatory. That stance would be supercharged if said police vehicle was stopped at a red light and the accident — minor though it may be — was because I rear-ended the cops because I didn’t think they were accelerating at the newly turned green light fast enough.

That’s a lesson Bronx acting state Supreme Court justice Shari Michels isn’t likely to forget soon. According to a report for the New York Law Journal, she was publicly sanctioned for throwing her title around after hitting a police van filled with officers on their way to an assignment at Yankee Stadium. Fortunately, there was no property damage or injuries from the incident, but that doesn’t mean Michels gets to pretend it didn’t happen:

When the officer driving the van approached Michels, she allegedly immediately told him she was a judge and that there was no damage to either vehicle. She told the officer that since the accident was blocking traffic and no harm was done, they should “just keep it moving,” according to the commission.

The officer took down her information and told her that they had to do an accident report because a police vehicle was involved, but Michels continued to try and persuade the officers that a report wasn’t necessary because there were no injuries or damage, the commission said.

At the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct hearing on the incident, Michels appeared to finally understand that maybe acting like a big shot wasn’t the most prudent course of action:

At a hearing on the commission’s investigation, Michels said she repeatedly identified herself as a judge so the police officers would be convinced she wasn’t going to flee the accident if they allowed her to move her vehicle so traffic could continue. She said she regretted the behavior and acknowledged that identifying herself as a judge “could be perceived as even threatening.”

Though Michels was only hit with the commission’s lowest possible sanction, there are still real consequences, including a demotion. The commission said it was likely that her status as an acting state Supreme Court justice would be revoked for two years, bumping her back down to New York City Criminal Court judge. The final decision on that will be delayed until after a criminal case she is currently presiding over in Bronx Supreme Court concludes.


Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, and host of The Jabot podcast. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).

via Above the Law https://abovethelaw.com

January 14, 2019 at 01:50PM

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