Who Judges the Judges?

by Diane Dimond on October 14, 2013

Where Justice Should Prevail

There is something special about a courtroom — sacrosanct, almost.

In the hushed quiet there is the inevitable not-too-comfortable spectator seating that discourages people from becoming too relaxed.

There is the official bar that separates onlookers from the lawyers – a bar which civilians are not allowed to cross.

There are bailiffs to keep the peace. And, of course, there is the elevated bench upon which the honorable judge sits in his or her ceremonial black robes. When it gets down to it, this is their stage, they run the show. Respect for judges is a cornerstone of our judicial system.

But what happens when the judge acts erratically or even criminally? Who judges the judge?

Judge Patricia Cookson Makes Cake

In San Diego, Superior Court Judge Patricia Cookson isn’t in any legal trouble – yet – but her behavior has caused quite a stir. After presiding over a murder trial in which Danne Desbrow, 36, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison Judge Cookson did something no lawyer there had ever seen. She called up the convicted killer’s longtime girlfriend and married the couple! According to the bride, Destiny Desbrow, they then enjoyed a homemade wedding cake baked by the judge herself – served up on paper plates with plastic forks.

Bride Wore White, Groom Wore Shackles

Short of a successful Ethics Committee complaint Judge Cookson is expected to remain in her $179,000 job until 2018. When she runs for re-election voters might decide to judge the judge for her baffling act of rewarding a just-convicted murderer with a special ceremony and a cake and vote her off the bench. But experience tells me voters have short memories.

In Montana, District Judge G. Todd Baugh has a better chance of having the electorate boot him to the curb. He’s up for re-election next year.

This is the judge who sentenced a former high school teacher – the admitted rapist of a 14 year old girl – to serve just one month in prison after the accused man violated the terms of his no-jail parole. Stacey Rambold, 54, never had a full blown trial because his young victim, Cherice Moralez, committed suicide before the case got to court. Compounding the family’s pain was what Judge Baugh said about their dead daughter during his clumsy justification of the short sentence.

Will Voters Judge Baugh Next November?

“It wasn’t this forcible, beat-up rape,” Baugh explained. And he declared the girl seemed “older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as the much older teacher. There was an immediate uproar from activists who saw the judge as biased against both females and Hispanics.

Judge Baugh has apologized for his comments — but not for the meager sentence — and has declined calls for him to resign.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico District Judge Michael Murphy ultimately chose to resign and then got what some believe was a sweetheart plea deal from prosecutors.

Murphy was caught on audio tape discussing how judge-ships were awarded only to those candidates who first made a sizable contribution to the sitting Governor’s Democratic Party. Murphy described how he had paid $4,000 to win his appointment to the bench from the Governor in 2006. In addition, Murphy was heard on tape making graphic and disparaging remarks against Mexicans, gays and Jews.

Judge Murphy’s Felony Charges Disappeared

Judge Murphy was about to be judged by the state’s Judicial Standards Commission but he resigned before any action was taken. For two years he fought felony bribery charges and, in the end, he was allowed to plead guilty to only one misdemeanor. Murphy agreed never to run for public office again and got a year’s probation.

Tell me, please, how judges who dodge justice help maintain confidence in our legal system. Oh, that’s right – they don’t. And those who facilitate such deals are complicit in the erosion of the public’s trust. That’s right, I’m talking to you – prosecutors, defense attorneys and fellow judges who sign off on such plea deals.

There have been times when corrupt judges get the book thrown at them – finally. In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, two veteran judges were convicted in a years-long “Kids for Cash” scandal. President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan ultimately pleaded guilty to accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks after sending youthful defendants to private juvenile detention facilities in which they had a financial interest. The more inmates shipped there the more money each judge pocketed.

Judges Conahan (L) & Ciavarella – Serving Prison Time

Thousands of juveniles were sent away in the scheme and oftentimes for trivial infractions. A 13-year-old was locked up for throwing a piece of meat at her mother’s boyfriend. A 15-year-old served time for mocking an assistant principal on a MySpace page. An 11-year-old was incarcerated for calling the police after his mother locked him out of the house.

Both former judges have been disbarred and are each currently serving 87 months in prison.** But the point is: It took five years for this ugly child abuse scheme to end. During all that time there were prosecutors, public defenders, social workers and court employees who were eye-witnesses to what was happening.

It is way past time that court systems take a good hard look at policing themselves and their personnel and that includes the judges in charge of the nation’s courtrooms. Each state’s oversight body for judicial standards needs to step up to the plate – in a timely manner – even if it’s just to remind a judge that baking a cake for a convicted murderer is not entirely ethical. Bar Associations across the country need to tell members that part of their duty as a lawyer includes reporting wrongdoing within the system.

American’s confidence in both the civil and criminal justice systems is under 30 percent according to the latest national polls. Can we afford for it to go lower than that?

home

** Correction/update from reader Dave Janoski, the Managing Editor of The Citizens’ Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.:

“While both judges in that case originally pleaded guilty and agreed to 87-month prison sentences, those agreements were ultimately rejected by a federal judge. Former judges Ciavarella and Conahan are in fact serving 28 and 17 1/2 years respectively.”

Join Our Email List!
Diane keeps you up to the minute with weekly news and events.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond October 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Question: Who Judges the Judges? Twitter Pal ClaudiaReidTalk writes:

“@DiDimond no one Diane If we actually get a committee to watch judges then in a couple of years who would them. $ runs outcomes of justice”

Reply

Diane Dimond October 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Reader Dave Janoski writes:

“I read your recent column on ethically challenged judges with interest. One correction on the “kids-for-cash” case. While both judges in that case originally pleaded guilty and agreed to 87-month prison sentences, those agreements were ultimately rejected by a federal judge.
Former judges Ciavarella and Conahan are in fact serving 28 and 17 1/2 years respectively.”

Dave Janoski
Managing Editor
The Citizens’ Voice
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Reply

Diane Dimond October 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Dave,

Thank you so much for drawing my attention to that update/correction! I will post it on the front page of this column as well. ~ DD

Reply

Diane Dimond October 16, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Facebook Friend Jim Reynolds writes:

“Let’s have the USSC spend some of its “out-of-session” reviewing judges questionable performances like the ones you’ve pointed out. If the NFL can review referee performance after games, the USSC can do it for judges.”

Reply

Diane Dimond October 16, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Noozhawk Reader Mikey writes:

“Who judges the judges? Does it matter? Power-tripping officials aren’t limited to judges. School principals are at it too. So are cops, DA’s, County Administrators, city councils, the NSA, the President, and of course our favorite, Congress. Let’s not leave out the millions of bosses across the land. And our esteemed Supremes, a few of whom have flown out of the koo-koos nest and are running the asylum. No one judges them, they’re at the top.
If it’s any consolation, the higher one climbs, the harder the fall. The fall comes with a nice retirement package and pension though.
Solution: Get a good lawyer. No money, no justice. Notice how celebrities walk on charges anyone else would go to prison for. The difference? Money. (to pay a good lawyer with). The judge can be as crooked as a stick, I don’t care as long as I have a darn good lawyer who will get me off and out of there. :)”

Reply

Diane Dimond October 16, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Noozhawk Reader publius writes:

“Necessary, but painful column. Judges gone wacky, or bad, are
part of the silent reality of modern life, like doctors who
bury their mistakes, and peace officers who do rogue things.

Nominally, there are state and federal panels to oversee, to
supervise, and where necessary, to punish or remove these folks.

But how many state Bar associations are ready or able to go
after even the worst sitting judges? How many medical panels
are willing to go after inept, dangerous physicians? How many
Police commissions, or state AG investigators, to go after bad
cops?

Not many.

And on the federal level, where judges serve life-time tenure,
how do you prove “high crimes and misdemeanors” to remove ‘em?”

Reply

Diane Dimond October 18, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Huffington Post Reader Caroline Barwick writes:

“Really great article which I have shared. Not in any way
wishing to pretend my own fight for justice is over anything as
heartbreaking as murder, rape or the systematic child abuse I
would also like to know who is currently judging the financial
regulators and Ombudsman who, like a court are authorized to
make rulings, but instead seem hell bent on containing and
condoning crimes rather obtaining justice for victims. I was
recently told by an adjudicator that if the bank I was accusing
of miss selling would not provide me with evidence they are, by
law, required to furnish me with, my case would have to be
heard without it as it would be unfair to keep the bank waiting
any longer for an outcome to my complaint!! The answer to your
question ” Who judges the judges?” appears to be, “No-one”. I
wrote the post below in exasperation at the injustices victims
of financial crime are expected to endure because no-one is
judging those who are failing to deliver justice. Your piece
and my experince clearly illustrates cases of insensitive
behaviour and injustice is a widespread problem and not just a
few isolated incidents.

http://lifeafterdebts.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/fines-and-punishme
nt.html”

Reply

Diane Dimond October 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Huffington Post Reader/Blogger & Inside Edition Correspondent/lawyer Jim Moret writes:

“I interviewed the bride, the convicted killer’s lawyer and also the family of the victim.
While even the family admits the victim was no angel, they have waited ten long years for the killer to be identified, arrested, tried and convicted.
On the day of sentencing, for which the judge handed down a penalty of 53-life, and the very same day family members gave tearful testimony, this same judge performed the wedding ceremony.
The judge instructed the bailiffs to remove the handcuffs so the convict could hold his bride and they were allowed to kiss after the ceremony.
The victims family was not upset the couple was allowed to marry, but to have the service in the very same courtroom on what should have been their day of closure offended and hurt them to no end. The dessert, which the judge baked herself, was quite literally the icing on the cake.
It really is outrageous.”

Reply

Diane Dimond October 18, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Huffington Post Reader/Blogger Tina Swithin writes:

“Thank you for this article- sharing now! Tina http://www.onemomsbattle.com

Reply

Diane Dimond October 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Twitter Pal Mayableuz writes:

” @DiDimond Excellent writing….but God will be the Final Judge.”

Reply

Diane Dimond October 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Huffington Post Reader Joyce Alexander writes:

“Many courts,. and I think “family” courts are a total mess, with lately the ACLU suing one judge for making a run away girl go back and live with her guardian (female) who was living with a CONVICTED PEDOPHILE…well the guy killed the girl’s guardian and brutalized and raped her…in my opinion, the JUDGE SHOULD GO TO PRISON for such a decision.”

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: