About This Blog

Entries beginning with a number are a continuation of the old Judging Crimes blog, which was long focused on the two meanings of its name: the way crimes are judged in America, and the, uh... occasional defalcations and derelictions of the berobed.

Judging Crimes took a long hiatus for some of the reasons explained here.

Entries beginning with Book 'em! are book reviews and commentaries. No attention is paid to the imperatives of book marketing. As Calvin Trillin once pointed out, the average shelf life of a book in a bookstore falls somewhere between milk and yogurt, but in these days of long-tail online marketing that matters less to everyone, and I don't see why it should matter at all to reviewers. Most posts will be about books that have been around long past the time when yogurt would have solidified.

Other entries will be... well, I'm curious to find out what the others will be.

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Sunday
Feb282010

429. The brush-off

It's not often that you can watch video of a really bad judge abusing his power on TV, but Seminole County, Florida, offers a Mickey Mouse judge, Ralph Eriksson, to go with the nearest big roadside attraction.  To fully grasp the piquancy of this video, you need to know that the defendant, Mr. Watson, was originally arrested for possession of cocaine as well as driving while intoxicated.

The case stalled, in the usual way, as everybody waited for the lab results to come back.  (The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that drug cases weren't delayed enough, and sought to address the problem by requiring technicians to spend more time on the road between courthouses, but it must be said that the problem of excessive celerity was not universally recognized.)

Then surprise, surprise - the "white powdery substance," in universal cop-speak, turned out not to be cocaine, after all.  So the drug charge was dropped.  Unfortunately, the video of the arrest contained numerous mentions of the apparent cocaine.  The prosecutor and defense attorney agreed the video needed to be edited to delete those references.  But as they hadn't done so yet, they agreed that the case should be continued -- or (for those of you who insist on speaking the common tongue) that the trial be postponed.

The judge denied the joint motion for continuance, which is pretty crazy already.  If the people involved in the suit don't mind, why should the judge, who supposedly is neutral?  Maybe they don't have enough to do in misdemeanor court in the Orlando exurbs and Judge Eriksson was afraid of getting bored.

Mr. Watson, though, thought he detected another source for the craziness.  He asked his attorney to move for a recusal -- that is (for you lingua francans), to allow a different, less emotionally-involved judge to preside.  That's where the clip picks up:

 

Yes, that's right, Judge Eriksson jailed a man to punish him for asking the judge to step aside.  You have to admit Mr. Watson had a point about the judge's unfairness.

The judge, it must be said in his defense, has perfected the demeanor of a self-satisfied creep.  Many self-satisfied creeps retain tell-tale marks of former personhood, but Judge Eriksson is way past that.  He could play a movie alien without makeup.

Anyway, Mr. Watson was just one person.  Then there was the time Judge Eriksson presided over a whole docket's worth of abused women seeking injunctions against their abusers.  Most of the women appeared without a lawyer, a pretty good indicator of their financial status.  The judge decided to give himself a little amusement:

Judge Eriksson: Patrice Taylor, who will be your first witness?

Patrice Taylor: Your honor, I have none. My son was not in any shape to come. I don‘t have any witnesses except for the police report and the witnesses who expressed to the police what happened because I was too distressed to explain.

Judge Eriksson: You can‘t use a report because the other side can‘t question what‘s on that paper. You need to produce that person, whoever they are, so the other side can question them.

Patrice Taylor: I was unaware of that, your Honor.

Judge Eriksson: Well, I wasn‘t the one who was supposed to give you advice.

Patrice Taylor: I‘m sorry.

Judge Eriksson: So let‘s go back and explore that statement. Where did you get the idea to file a petition?

Patrice Taylor: I filed a petition.

Judge Eriksson: Did somebody suggest it to you?

Patrice Taylor: No. I filed it because he was having some depression issues with —

Judge Eriksson: No, not why did he —

Patrice Taylor: The police department told me after I had repeated complaints of harassing and stalking and disturbances at my house.

Judge Eriksson: Did they tell you that you would need to bring a witness or two —

Patrice Taylor: No.

Judge Eriksson: —testify so the other side could crossexamine?

Patrice Taylor: No. I thought that the arrest would be enough. My son was in no shape to be here.

Judge Eriksson: If you are arrested, does that mean you‘re guilty?

Patrice Taylor: No, your Honor.

Judge Eriksson: Okay. So unless you‘re going to produce any witness or have anybody testify here today, I‘ll have to deny your motion —or your petition. Do you understand that?

Patrice Taylor: Not quite, your Honor. He was arrested for stalking.

Judge Eriksson: That is not proof on your petition. That might be the start of a criminal proceeding, but —

Patrice Taylor: [cell phone rings]  I do apologize, your Honor. I‘m scheduled to be at work.

Judge Eriksson: All Right. Are you too busy to be here?

Patrice Taylor: No, your Honor. This is my second time to be here. You were not able to hear the first time because he was never served the paper. And it‘s been a nightmare trying to find this guy to locate him while he works —

Judge Eriksson: Just stay on course. Will you be presenting any evidence today on your petition?

Patrice Taylor: I‘m sorry?

Judge Eriksson: Will you be presenting any evidence on your petition?

Patrice Taylor: I have –written documentation, if that‘s what you mean. I don‘t know.

Judge Eriksson: If it‘s written, no. He can‘t cross-examine whoever wrote it.

Patrice Taylor: I don‘t know what else to say, your Honor. I just want this guy to leave me alone. That‘s all I want, is for him to just stay away from me and my family. That‘s all I want.

Judge Eriksson: Having presented no evidence here today, I‘m going to have to deny your petition for injunction for protection against repeat violence. If each of you would step through —just step through the audience and you‘re finished here today and you‘ll have a copy of this in just a moment. And that will complete that hearing.

What makes that all so delightfully amusing is that the clinically depressed victim of repeat violence could have testified on her own behalf.  Ho, ho, ho!

And he told her to "stay on course" immediately after jerking her around with bizarre questions about who told her to file the petition.  Ho (etc.).

At his hearing before the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, Judge Eriksson defended himself by saying he thought it would be inappropriate for him to become involved in the proceedings to the point of advising the women they could be their own witnesses.  But, evidently, he didn't consider it inappropriate for him to make a preemptive hearsay objection on behalf of the abusive man.

In short, Judge Eriksson deliberately withheld the protection of the law from some of the most vulnerable people in his community.

At least he was hauled (or "haled", as the Supreme Court insists on saying) before the Florida Supreme Court.  That takes us to the punchline: his punishment was a public admonishment.

Which just goes to show the judge was right.  The people he considered too unimportant for his time -- too female, too victimized, too depressed, too poor -- were confirmed unimportant by the Florida Supreme Court, which viewed re-victimizing them as no more than an unfortunate breach of judicial etiquette.

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