I hate this but I will post it anyway

A state judge and state public defender get into an actual fight in the Sunshine state, video captures it, and the world sees one tiny sliver of the criminal justice system in America.  I have no words to describe how depressed I am by this video.  I am very angry with PD for pushing things, and angrier yet at the judge for taking the bait. Click below (and weep):

http://www.wftv.com/videos/news/raw-judge-tells-attorney-ill-beat-your-ass-warning/vCcmXH/

RGK

22 responses

  1. So a PD isn’t willing to waive a preliminary hearing called by the State, and where the State’s witness (the cop) doesn’t show. And the judge is mad at the PD?

    Hope the PD won the fight.

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  3. Absolutely crazy, Judge. Even if we assume (and from that clip alone, that would be a rather bold assumption) the PD was being obstreperous or irritating (who hasn’t seen that from an attorney at some point), the judge was absolutely wrong to threaten then challenge him to a fight. I would guess there is some back story – early in the clip, the PD says “have they filed?” then later says “this is a situation created by the State” or something to that effect. Regardless, that does not in any way excuse the judge’s behavior on the bench nor in the hallway. Truly unbelievable.

    Usually, it’s just the lawyers that get into fist fights around here, eh Judge?

  4. My kids push my buttons all the time. But I’m the one wearing the parental robes and I should know better. Judge should resign immediately. No excuse for his complete breakdown.

  5. Obviously, there is some history here between PD and Judge. The PD could have handled the situation better; rather than accepting almost immediately the judge’s invitation to fight. Let me say that again: the judge’s invitation to fight. So they both look really bad.

    But I am disinclined to condemn either too harshly: the criminal practice is a hard job, sometimes really, really hard and it is all too easy to become overly tense and angry. And these two went over the top in this instance. But who’s to say they can’t both learn from and grow from this incident. I’d like to think that I’ve learned from my mistakes. And so, in the absence of further information that both or either have a history of this type of misconduct, I say both should be allowed opportunity to demonstrate that they can do the same before we all jump on them too hard.

  6. As I indicated over at SHG’s blog, that invitation to fight sure sounded like a rhetorical statement to me, not meant to be taken literally. The lawyer acted like a horse’s ass by quickly strutting to the door at the comment.

    And the judge should be kicked off the bench for having acted worse.

  7. The lawyer acted like a horse’s ass? When a judge threatens to “beat your ass” in open court, all bets are off, and it’s hard to second-guess virtually any response to such a surreal situation. As for the underlying legal issue, I know exactly where the PD was coming from, and a similar scenario (minus the physical threat and assault but not most of the acrimony) in one of my cases has been taken up for review by the supreme court in my state. It is the State’s and the court’s responsibility to bring the defendant to trial within a constitutionally permissible period of time, not the defendant’s. That’s the principle the PD was standing up for.

  8. It is the State’s and the court’s responsibility to bring the defendant to trial within a constitutionally permissible period of time, not the defendant’s. That’s the principle the PD was standing up for.

    Except that the PD had already stood up for that principle, having refused to waive the speedy trial and requesting a trial date. His job, on that score, was already done.

    So this wasn’t about any legal principle relating to the case. It was all about personality and demeanor.

    I’ve also had a similar scenario, albeit by opposing counsel not a judge (which is actually worse due to a greater concern he would carry through). I ignored it and just kept doing my job.

  9. I also commented at Simple Justice. The judge blew it badly. I’m less forgiving of him than Turk, in that he is the catalyst and must set the standards. That said, the the PD also crossed the line when he quickly took the bait.

    I don’t react the same you do, Judge K. The internet interest/intensity suggests that this is a one-off train wreck, as opposed to an emerging trend. Maybe that’s a naive reaction. Seems like what we’re really seeing here is the impact of ubiquitous cameras. Used to be a curiosity–“Smile, you’re on candid camera”–and now it is the norm.

    Both should face consequences. The judge ought to be done now for good. I don’t see that there’s any way to fix something like that. The lawyer should also have to answer to the disciplinary process. Proper administration of justice requires that we not board the train when the join invites us to join his trip to Crazytown.

  10. I tend to agree with Mr Abell, but with this caveat: the behavior of the bailiffs. Neither of them seemed overly excited about the thing, and that implies to me that either this judge has gone off like this before, or this lawyer and this judge have gone off on each other like this before.

    It doesn’t appear, if my implication is accurate, that they have learned from their past. They should answer to their respective ethics/disciplinary boards.

    Eric Hines

  11. Looking again at the video, I see that the point in the video at which the PD starts walking to the hallway is after the judge says “If you want to fight let’s go out back …”, but BEFORE he says “… and I’ll just beat your ass.” This supports the PD’s contention that he expected an off-the-record argument and not a physical fight. Another very interesting thing about the audio, that no one seems to be reporting, is that after the assault someone, presumably the PD, clearly says, presumably to the sheriff deputies, “He needs to be arrested right now!” Or was it the judge saying it to the deputies about the PD? Of course, no one was arrested.

    Also astounding is that after the PD is gone the judge addresses the defendant, without his counsel present, and asks HIM whether he wants to waive speedy trial. Then, pathetically, the next defendant up starts off by complaining that “that man,” the now-missing PD, didn’t return his phone calls, presumably thinking this would earn him brownie points with the judge.

  12. Judge:
    By his actions the presiding judge in the video placed the judiciary in disrepute while, at the same time, the general public watches and loses respect for our system of justice. You were angry. I was just sad.
    Robert

  13. Robert,

    Anger is always a cover for something else. Sadness among other things.

    Thanks for clarifying. All the best.

    RGK

  14. David,

    I agree that this is a “one off train wreck.” What bothers me is that there are lots of people (1) who will not realize that this is truly an aberration or (2) who will intentionally take advantage of the video to say knowingly dishonest things about our profession.

    My remarks must seem inconsistent to you inasmuch as I blog. In doing so, I open what I and other federal judges do to examination. I am absolutely certain that a lot of my colleagues (and more than a few lawyers) wish I would shut my damn mouth. I worry about that a lot. Their implicit point of view could be right. That is, myth may be better for our guild rather than reality.

    All the best.

    RGK

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  17. From what I heard on the video, the Public Defender definitely hit “confrontational and obnoxious”. Remarks like “Not my problem” and “I don’t care”, plus the excessive repetition of “I’m not waiving” after the judge already acknowledged the statement would certainly have driven me crazy.

    However, no level of annoyance is an excuse for a judge to assault a lawyer (PD, Prosecutor, or otherwise) in the courtroom. The communication with unrepresented defendants then takes his error to a whole new level.

    In conclusion, I won’t try to justify that the PD in this case wasn’t intentionally annoying the judge. But their is nothing illegal (or even unethical) about that, and I don’t see why any disciplinary action should be required on his part. The judge, on the other hand, has clearly breached legal and ethical standards in multiple ways.

  18. their,

    No, there is nothing illegal about annoying a judge. Lawyers do that all the time. But, intentionally annoying the judge is a different manner. I want to believe that there is an unspoken compact between most judges and most lawyers that they will treat each other with civility. In short, zealous representation does not require the advocate to be a jerk and being a judge does not entitle you to be a pompous overbearing ass. Whether intentionally annoying a judge is a disciplinary violation, I leave to Florida’s ethics cops.

    All the best.

    RGK

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