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Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws, oaths remained on the bench (reuters.com)
387 points by hhs 88 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 209 comments



> Judge Les Hayes once sentenced a single mother to 496 days behind bars for failing to pay traffic tickets. The sentence was so stiff it exceeded the jail time Alabama allows for negligent homicide.

> Johnson’s three children were cast into foster care while she was incarcerated. One daughter was molested, state records show. Another was physically abused.

Speechless... Makes my blood boil


Don’t forget the 2008 kids for cash scandal: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kids_for_cash_scandal. At least those judges were eventually tried and are serving time.


Convicted in 2011, disbarred in 2019. The guild will go to great lengths to protect their most guilty.


It takes years for a conviction to become finalized. He was temporarily suspended in April 2012, while he appealed his conviction. The Third Circuit denied his habeas petition on March 2019. He was disbarred in October 2019. http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out....


Is there a reason why they can't be disbarred upon conviction, and then reinstated if the appeal goes through? After all, it's not like you can avoid prison time while your conviction goes through the appeal process.


The temporary suspension accomplishes the same purpose. Either way you can't practice law while you're appealing, which is the only punishment the bar can mete out.


> After all, it's not like you can avoid prison time while your conviction goes through the appeal process

You can, though it's not very common, and, in the US, it's not available in all jurisdictions.

See, e.g., https://www.justia.com/criminal/bail-bonds/bail-while-pursui...


Don't forget that disbarment is not permanent in a majority of states.


Disbarment is quite literally the permanent revocation of your license to practice law in a jurisdiction. In most jurisdictions, if you have been disbarred, you can never practice law there again unless you disbarment is overturned, which generally requires a court order following a lengthy appeals process.

As a practical matter, the number of lawyers who get reinstated each year numbers in the single digits or low double digits.


Nonsense. You even contradicted yourself, first writing that disbarment is "quite literally the permanent revocation of your license" after which you start to describe how you think reinstatement works.

"Permanent" and "disbarment" don't go together the way most people assume they do. When the public reads that Attorney Bob got caught doing Bad Things and was disbarred, they assume that down the road if they hire an attorney (or receive PD services), the Bad Guy is not in the running.

A 2007 paper titled "Should Permanent Disbarment be Permanent?" published in The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics provides a good overview of just how impermanent 'permanent disbarment' is.

Its author found that "Five states mandate that all disbarments be treated as permanent. Eight states allow for disbarments to be permanent in some situations. In these states, when disbarment is not permanent, readmittance can either be applied for in seven years, five years, or at any time, depending on the jurisdiction. . . . The remaining 35 states and DC have no procedure for permanent disbarment." Of course, there's also the matter that not all states have 'disbarment in any other jurisdiction' as a disqualifier. Disbarred? Maybe it's time for a move?

Joseph O'Malley is best known for his 2013 "indefinite disbarment" after the now-former prosecutor was charged with nine violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct arising from his improper influencing of a judge, and his August 2011 convictions in an Ohio federal court for misprision of a felony and making a materially false statement in a matter within the jurisdiction of the federal government. O'Malley's 2013 disbarment generated a lot of press. Know what no one reported anywhere? That he was reinstated in 2016. He was recently appointed as public defender for a cop who was arrested for OVI. (Adjudicated not guilty on that charge.)

As a practical matter, the number of reinstated lawyers each year is not even remotely close to as low as you claim. I just now looked at the data for a handful of states and I'm already way over your upper end. It's more like "In any given state, annual figures are in the single to low double digits" — with a few much larger outliers.


The whole thing there can be reduced to the observation: why does society let foster care and youth protective services exist?

You might say "well to protect kids". Except, there's a massive body of research proving that they make things worse, certainly on average:

https://sci-hub.se/10.1257/aer.97.5.1583

Massive negative effects, from reading scores, to later earnings, to subjective happiness (yes, really, kids report more happiness while being abused than in youth services), to later crimes.

So no youth protection is better for everyone. This is obvious in the case of scandals and the many "accidents". But it is true in general. And it is true for everyone. No child protection is better for the kid, for families (obviously I guess), and due to the increase in crime if we destroyed youth protection causes, it is better for society itself. If you start checking, you will find that youth protection is involved in the raising of many of the worst criminals we've ever known.

Even child psychiatry and "special needs schools" ... well. Comparing symptoms upon entry and symptoms upon exit paints a very clear picture that really questions why they're allowed to exist.

https://sci-hub.se/https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007...

And then of course there's the many scandals that these people keep and keep and keep producing. Abuse within foster families is higher than in families in youth protection services. In institutions it is a lot higher.

So they don't protect kids.

And crimes are astronomically higher in both foster care and institutional care (and youth psychiatry).

So they don't protect society against those kids either.


Child protection is like a loaded gun sitting on a table waiting for someone to pick it up. Anyone who doesn't like you or the way you raise your kids can phone in a trumped-up complaint and send investigators in your home to see if your child needs to be taken away and put into a lowest-bidder archipelago of foster homes and group facilities. Disgusting all around to me.


I have actually been a foster parent, and have had kids come to my house at 11pm, that you can smell from 7 feet away, covered in lice, with a single backpack with all their possesions. One kid called 911 because mom and dad wouldn't wake up (heroin). Some suffering from Sex Abuse, some literally starving, etc. Yes, Foster Care has its problems (and part of why I don't do it anymore) but there ARE legitimate needs in the communities. I would love to know what you think it should be replaced with?


So where is a child supposed to go when their parents have died or been imprisoned? Should they just be homeless? What alternative do you envision?


This is a big aspect of structural racism tbh. The disproportionate incarceration (duration and frequency) of black and indigenous people dumps a lot of their kids into the foster system. These kids overwhelmingly get sucked into the school-to-prison pipeline, around and around it goes. Relatively lucky ones have a family member, but they probably can't afford another kid, and the cycle of poverty keeps turning.


That is much less than 1% of the kids in youth services. A bit like saying we must have a million nuclear weapons in case there's another cold war in 200 years.

The answer to this question doesn't really matter for that reason.

The vast majority of kids are in foster care because otherwise their parents would be "unreachable" for social workers, for various reasons, like refusing psych treatment for their kid that the school insists on, like autism treatment for "difficult" children, sometimes just because they can't because treatment can only happen during working hours, but the parents need to work. Meaning they are hostages to "force change". That group is huge. Next largest group are kids suspected of a crime. Keep in mind that the way our law works kids don't have any legal rights. They may be convicted of a crime but for kids there is no difference between suspected and convicted.

The thing is, with just kids in youth services that really NEED to be somewhere the current system cannot possibly survive.


Ideally parents agree this with somebody appropriate in advance. Like end of life planning it's something that people are told to do, but most don't bother.

If my parents had both died during my childhood we knew we'd live with our cousins Catherine and Victoria. If somehow we didn't come with a pile of money (from insurance paying out or other mechanisms that fire when two child-rearing age people suddenly die) things would have been very tight for my Uncle and his wife but we'd have family.


I see you citing a study that appears to be about the inadequacy of the USA system. You could read that and decide it means the whole system is inherently broken, but you could just as easily see that as an indictment of the US system and a need for reform or a replacement with the parts that work better in other countries.


Yeah, how much of this is just the same problems as the US huge prison population, but applied to children? The "carcerial state".


In this particular example of the mother being in prison, where would the children live without these services?


The best answer for that question is in 99% of cases (light offenders) also in prison (not locked up. With the mother still taking them to school, ideally the same school). There's research that this is both the best for the child and a very effective way to reduce recidivism.

And let's not forget that there really aren't that many effective ways to reduce recidivism, so this ought to be worth a lot to society.

Generally carrots work a LOT better than sticks.


I think we all agree that in this case the mother - who is a light offender - should not have gotten such a harsh sentence. Your vision of the mother being with the child effectively means that the mother gets a lighter sentence. But sadly that's not the case here... so you're either saying we should abolish hard sentences to light offenders (or maybe just those with children?), or you're not really answering the question.


I think he's talking about systems where the child actually lives in the same facility as the parent.

Such programs exist, in a limited way: https://www.npr.org/2018/12/06/663516573/programs-help-incar...


They exist as good intentions which are then controlled by busy-bodies who destine lives to feed from state-administered family planning (I'd consider this in the same category as public welfare).


Seriously, even if she failed to pay 10,000 traffic tickets, how does it do any good to put her behind bars at all? They really couldn't think of a better way to deal with non-violent offense??


>how does it do any good to put her behind bars at all

The good it does is deterrence to the rest of the population. Or that's how authoritarians like to see these sorts of dis-proportionate punishments.


Nobody gives a sentence like that as a deterrent. You give a sentence like that out of cruelty toward people you don't like who you want to stick it to.


Many people have some misguided belief in the power of deterrence. My point of view is that if you want to scare people from doing something bad, you need to catch it early (the "it's going on your permanent record" approach to scaring middle-schoolers into behaving). Once someone is a repeat offender, it's probably too late to change them.


What exactly can we do about someone who clearly doesn't give a fuck about the law? What message does it send if you let someone pile up traffic tickets with no consequence for himself?


Garnish their wages? Seize their assets? That's what we do for other forms of debt, it's not that hard of a question, honestly.


Or we just force judges to follow the laws? How does your solution help someone who’s not paying because they can’t afford it? Punishments are supposed to be proportional to the crime and not overly harsh. A reasonable judge knows this, a power hungry one, well....


Well in the case of traffic tickets, revoking their license or taking their car away would be much more effective solutions than jail time.


Let’s not pretend:

It’s because she’s black.

White authorities in the American South (this was in Alabama) have been jailing, fining, beating, harassing, blackballing, and even lynching black people for hundreds of years.

It continues to date.


Eventually jail time would be needed as an alternative if other option are purposefully ignored or other court orders not followed, but there are quite a lot of steps before you get into over a year sentence, and even then by that point it would be for contempt of court and no longer about the individual tickets.


No. Assuming we're talking pretty usual traffic tickets and not talking about driving in a grossly negligent way, no one should _ever_ go to jail for traffic tickets. Largely this logic should apply to any malum prohibitum crime. There are plenty of other ways to enforce these fines/tickets.


I believe Jail time should only apply to people who are actively a threat. I know it's not popular, but I am in favor of some form of corporal punishment over jail time, and even over fines. Fines are meaningless to the wealthy, and devastating to the poor, but getting flogged feels the same to everyone.


Feeling physical pain does make people avoid the situations that cause them. However, they are most effective when the physical pain happens very soon after and it happens consistently. Eg touching a hot stove. You get hurt immediately and every time. This teaches you very quickly not to do that. This makes physical pain not be as effective as a legal punishment through courts though. Courts take a long time to figure out guilt and they aren't always consistent. Being arrested fits far more into that category than anything the courts decide.

The other problem with using corporal punishment is that it's very easy to overdo it. It's also very easy to not do enough.


A poor driver is an active threat. Fines aren’t devastating to the poor. They don’t pay them, thus this woman.


Alternately,

Case A) A poor person pays their fine, and is devastated by the loss of money.

Case B) A poor person can't pay the fine and gets sentenced to prison or gets something repoed, and is devastated by either the criminal record or loss of property.


Asking non-rhetorically and in good faith, what are the plenty of other ways to enforce fines?


Towing, impound, booting of the vehicle? Revocation of license? Community service? Wage garnishment?


For the very poor, a short (few days) stint in jail would be far preferable to having your car impounded.

That's the problem with these debates about penalties--for the very poor, any penalty might be life destroying. But then how do you incentivize certain kinds of behavior? And how do you determine when somebody is too poor to be subject to any kind of penalty? Any loopholes you create will always be abused by the rich and powerful because that's the very definition of power--capable of bending the system to your advantage.

The real problem is that the poor are very often unplugged from civil society as experienced by the middle classes. They don't have a stake in it. Rather than just throw up our hands, if we're serious about the plight of poverty and its ill effects, we should be more proactive. Keep the penalties, because jail time is something everybody understands, no matter how poor you are. But be proactive about not only enforcement but remediation. Send the darned judges to the people rather than making the people come to the judge. If all the person can afford is a quarter, then take the quarter and thank them for their time and their participation.

The goal afterall isn't punishment for punishment's sake, it's to heal the wounds to civil society caused by law breaking, repairing the relationship between the offender and the community, and bringing the offender back into the fold. If the offender doesn't have any sense of a personal relationship with the state, then punishment imposed from a distance can't meet even half of its function. Moreover, no penalty whatsoever, or one with no teeth, does absolutely nothing except reinforce the estrangement, which is worse. It's like leaving the mentally ill on the street to rot to death out of some absurd sense of individual liberty; it functions only to make the non-mentally ill feel more secure in their privileged circumstances, rather than addressing any of the real underlying issues.


I don't agree that "jail time is something everybody understands, no matter how poor you are".

The biggest impact, by far, is on the working people.

The rich would be somewhat miserable for a time, but that's it. After jail they can go back to their rich lifestyle.

The poor can be miserable or not, depending on exact level of "poor". Freedom is lost, but with hot meals and a roof and medical care, it's not all bad. People have been known to purposely commit minor crimes in from of the police, or to self-report by phoning from the scene of the crime, so that they could go to jail.

Working people of all levels are devastated. At the low end, failing to show up for work on time is cause for termination. At the high end, failed background checks will make the person unemployable by an entire industry or career field. Bills had been getting paid, but that ends, and the family is evicted. All belongings are likely lost; getting them moved isn't so easy while passing the days in jail. Divorce is likely. Cars will be repossessed. The person leaves jail with no belongings, no money, no family, no job, and no possibility of getting a similar job.

The working people are rightly terrified of jail. It usually keeps them in line. When it doesn't, it transitions them to being poor.


>But then how do you incentivize certain kinds of behavior? And how do you determine when somebody is too poor to be subject to any kind of penalty? Any loopholes you create will always be abused by the rich and powerful because that's the very definition of power--capable of bending the system to your advantage.

Base the fine on income. Say, a traffic ticket is 0.1% of your income, while running a red light is 1% and a DUI could be 10%.


This is how fines are supposed to be imposed already. It’s up to the judge to decide what’s appropriate. The problem is when you get a judge that likes to impose their flavor of the law.


If they're that poor, start by paying them to not be poor. Wait a while. Check back in. reevaluate.


> For the very poor, a short (few days) stint in jail would be far preferable to having your car impounded.

Wouldn't it be done as "they go to jail, but still owe the money afterwards"?


This is excellent, thank you.


> For the very poor, a short (few days) stint in jail would be far preferable to having your car impounded.

This is probably true, but a car impoundment isn't a first pass at punishment. It would presumably be after someone is a severe repeat offender with no remorse. It's okay to set a maximum punishment, say car impoundment, and then judge from the fact pattern that someone deserves the max punishment. I do hope that the max punishment is less preferable than other hypothetical punishments.

> The real problem is that the poor are very often unplugged from civil society as experienced by the middle classes. They don't have a stake in it. Rather than just throw up our hands, if we're serious about the plight of poverty and its ill effects, we should be more proactive. Keep the penalties, because jail time is something everybody understands, no matter how poor you are. But be proactive about not only enforcement but remediation. Send the darned judges to the people rather than making the people come to the judge. If all the person can afford is a quarter, then take the quarter and thank them for their time and their participation.

This is a fine take, but is nearly impossible to do wholesale because there are so many entrenched interests. You're talking about a fundamental change (that I agree would be good) to the whole justice system and its goals, which isn't practical in any sense. But in this hypothetical world where the whole justice system is changed, I might agree that jail time is something that could be on the table for speeding tickets.

However, that is not going to happen anytime soon, and certainly not all at once. While we ponder how to enact a total overhaul of the justice system, let's make speeding tickets not have jail time as a punishment.

> The goal afterall isn't punishment for punishment's sake, it's to heal the wounds to civil society caused by law breaking, repairing the relationship between the offender and the community, and bringing the offender back into the fold. If the offender doesn't have any sense of a personal relationship with the state, then punishment imposed from a distance can't meet even half of its function. Moreover, no penalty whatsoever, or one with no teeth, does absolutely nothing except reinforce the estrangement, which is worse. It's like leaving the mentally ill on the street to rot to death out of some absurd sense of individual liberty; it functions only to make the non-mentally ill feel more secure in their privileged circumstances, rather than addressing any of the real underlying issues.

This is super debatable and there are many schools of thought on the goals of punishment. Some say people should be punished for punishment's sake, and indeed the way sentences are handed out in many cases reinforces that this is the prevailing view.


Thank you!

I'm not sure taking away the use of the vehicle is much more humane than prison for someone too poor to pay traffic tickets. Without a vehicle in the US, they likely won't be able to get to work, which all but ensures they won't be able to pay their tickets.

Same with revocation of the license, what if they drive anyway? What if they don't show up to community service? What if it's because they need to work? These punishments seem to me to need to be backed up by the threat of prison, or else they're just as toothless as the fines themselves.

Wage garnishment seems much better, though it requires that they have an identifiable employer and that they make enough to pay the fine and rent. Getting evicted because of wage garnishment, like the taking away of a vehicle, seems like somewhere near the same level of inhumane as prison time, for a person in that precarious of a situation. And what happens if the employer refuses to garnish the wages?

Though I know that some garnishments are income dependent, and employers are usually compliant, so that's probably the best of all worlds.

All of your suggestions seem more compassionate than prison, but I still think there is a major question of what happens if there is still non-compliance? Do we let violators go, or do we escalate until we are doing some violence, either through prison or confiscation of property?

And if we aren't willing to do violence, should the penalty exist at all in the first place?


Impound shouldn’t be taken lightly as you point out, but it is the best solution for habitual noncompliance. There’s really no need to escalate to anything else unless you’re dealing with a billionaire with an unlimited number of cars.


What if they physically resist such an action? Or continue to drive without a license? Eventually you'll end up enforcing the penalty for speeding with either force and likely to include a jail sentence if they resist to the point that force is needed.

That the crime on record changes names does not detract from the originating crime being a minor traffic violation.


> Asking non-rhetorically and in good faith, what are the plenty of other ways to enforce fines?

Where i live, fines are enforced same ways like civil damages - bank account suspension, wage deductions, even forced sale of property. But no 'personal' punishment like jail or community service.


Wage garnishment, collections agents, bankruptcy.


Then you effectively are creating a maximum punishment that could easily be ignored by some of the population.

Take speeding tickets. What if a person just decides not to pay and keep speeding? Not that they can't, but they don't. Eventually you lose your licenses. You continue to speed, getting more tickets, and now also getting tickets for driving without a license. You continue to refuse to pay the fines and continue to drive without a license. You aren't driving any differently than when you received your first ticket, so there is no increase in negligence. What option do you think the courts should have to someone who acts like this? Currently there is jail time for contempt of court, but we are taking that away.

You can try to forcefully take the money, and if they are earning a paycheck hopefully the business agrees. But what if they don't, or what if the person does not earn income in a way that the state can easily seize it?

You could seize their property, take their car, etc. But at that point you are still threatening prison if they physically try to stop the police. Yes, the crime is now escalated to assaulting an officer, not just speeding, but it is all because of that speeding ticket. And if they resist with enough force, they may face lethal force in return. All for a speeding ticket.

That's how our legal system is structured. Any punishment is accompanied by a risk of a harsher punishment if it isn't followed. If you ever have a punishment that is not, then you effectively have a law that can be ignored (which we see sometimes with businesses who break laws and pay fines lower than the profit they earned from breaking the law).


> Then you effectively are creating a maximum punishment that could easily be ignored by some of the population.

No, just moving what the maximum punishment is from jail time to a boot on their tire. Conversely, who says jail time is enough? Why not make the maximum even worse than jail? At some point you have to have a max, just advocating that the max is reduced.

> Take speeding tickets. What if a person just decides not to pay and keep speeding? Not that they can't, but they don't. Eventually you lose your licenses. You continue to speed, getting more tickets, and now also getting tickets for driving without a license. You continue to refuse to pay the fines and continue to drive without a license. You aren't driving any differently than when you received your first ticket, so there is no increase in negligence. What option do you think the courts should have to someone who acts like this? Currently there is jail time for contempt of court, but we are taking that away.

How about a boot on their car? Seizure of their car for failure to have a license? Mandatory community service? That would prevent them from driving without a license, but not put them in jail. Wage garnishment is another one, they can keep speeding all they want

> You can try to forcefully take the money, and if they are earning a paycheck hopefully the business agrees.

The business doesn't have a say in wage garnishment.

> But what if they don't, or what if the person does not earn income in a way that the state can easily seize it?

Boot their car. Or seize it.

> You could seize their property, take their car, etc. But at that point you are still threatening prison if they physically try to stop the police. Yes, the crime is now escalated to assaulting an officer, not just speeding, but it is all because of that speeding ticket. And if they resist with enough force, they may face lethal force in return. All for a speeding ticket.

Assault is not malum prohibitum. Assaulting someone is evil in itself and depending on the facts of the case would mean jail time whether that assault stemmed from a ticket or not. Removing the possibility of someone going to jail altogether is not what I am advocating for.

> That's how our legal system is structured. Any punishment is accompanied by a risk of a harsher punishment if it isn't followed. If you ever have a punishment that is not, then you effectively have a law that can be ignored (which we see sometimes with businesses who break laws and pay fines lower than the profit they earned from breaking the law).

Not any. Most crimes have a maximum punishment. The maximum punishment for malum prohibitum crimes should be something less than prison.

As an aside, it's okay if there are edge cases where you have some rich person with no paycheck and 100 cars and loves to flaunt their ability to speed without repercussions because they can easily afford the ticket (or refuse to pay) or use one of their other cars.


If the intent is to help the poor then why are we talking about garnishing wages and taking property. If we go this route we’ll shortly be right back here talking about how wage garnishment is inhumane.


You seem thoughtful and reasonable. Keep doing that.


>Conversely, who says jail time is enough? Why not make the maximum even worse than jail? At some point you have to have a max, just advocating that the max is reduced.

Well the maximum penalty is a combination of death or solitary confinement, depending upon if the lethal force subdues a person enough to put them in solitary or if it kills them.

Please remember, I'm not talking about the penalty prescribed for a given specific crime but instead the penalty that follows a series of escalations where the escalations would be deemed common, and often lawful behavior, if not for the fact it is against someone acting on behalf of the court/law enforcement system.

Take being taken to jail. Outside of the legal system, someone trying to forcefully locate you into a caged environment ran like a jail would be kidnapping (and possibly enslavement) and lethal force to resist them would be a natural response. So someone being arrested can either submit to the law, in that they realize the person arresting them has the right to do so and thus allows the punishment to follow, or they can resist. In the latter case increasing force will be used to subdue them, potentially resulting in their being killed.

This is part of the philosophy that all laws are enforced by the barrel of a gun. That is speaking as a last resort in the worst case, not in the common case.

>How about a boot on their car? Seizure of their car for failure to have a license? Mandatory community service?

If they submit to these then that is that. But we are talking about the maximum penalty for someone who resists. What happens when they continue to resist? Not show up for community service? Not show up for court? Do you send police to arrest them?

>Assaulting someone is evil in itself

Not when done in defense of property (even if you don't believe in self defense, do you support police having the right to arrest a thief and use physical force if they resist). If the person respects the law's claim to their car then the escalation stops, but I'm talking worst case where they do not respect the legal structure enforcing the law.

>Most crimes have a maximum punishment.

Only if you submit to the punishment. Not submitting is accompanied by a harsher penalty.


Yeah that would be a great argument if it wasn't for the fact that anyone who can afford a lawyer is never going to go to jail for unpaid tickets.


The threat of escalation by the legal system is why they seek a lawyer to engage the legal system instead of ignoring the legal system like you see in places where the legal system does not have power to escalate.


And what if you're just poor and can't afford to pay because you live paycheck to paycheck? It essentially means being thrown in jail for being poor.


What if you just refuse to pay because you hate what the government does with the money? It essentially means being thrown in jail for being stubborn.

I know this is HN, but do we really need to reinvent the concepts of punishment and deterrence from first principles? And I shouldn't even have to say it but of course the example instance at the root here is far beyond excessive.


I agree with you that failure to pay traffic tickets is hardly grounds for that sentence, and that it would in fact be stupid if those were the grounds. And that is exactly why it is a pretty uncharitable initial interpretation of what happened. There are always publicly cited "endorsable" reasons that must conform to the law, and then there are the underlying messy reasons that actually motivate the decision. It fits in a similar murky category as "prosecutorial discretion"


Hang on, there was a judicial inquiry that found he handed down hundreds of punitive sentences to people too poor to pay fines. He was found in violation of 10 state laws. It’s all in the article.

This wasn’t a single aberrant case where maybe he made a mistake, it was an long term persistent pattern of deliberate behaviour identified in a inquiry. He even said he was ‘very remorseful’.


I don't understand what you are saying. Are there more details that know about this specific case that explain the sentence?


Perhaps contempt. Perhaps a disregard for public safety. Who knows? It of course was outrageous, but there was certainly something going on that pushed the judge's buttons. Because, every traffic violator didn't get that sentence, right?


> but there was certainly something going on that pushed the judge's buttons

Yeah, but who's to say whether that something was remotely reasonable versus something completely frivolous (she rolled her eyes at him, she didn't cry convincingly enough, some other bullshit).

Anyway I'd argue that our justice system should have zero room for such capricious, emotional judging.


That's a defensible position, but you then have to accept something like mandatory sentences, which introduce their own set of issues.


Nope. Just prohibit jailing people for being too poor to paying tickets and similar "crimes". This definitely does not require mandatory sentences which is an evil on its own.


Your "Just prohibit.. " line sounds like a mandatory sentence to me; just in this case a mandatory sentence of "none." What would be left to the judge's discretion exactly?


"sounds like a mandatory sentence to me" - it is not sentence. It is a correction of gross injustice (actually crime in my eyes).

"What would be left to the judge's discretion exactly" - f..n work within the limits of laws and regulations. The existing framework gives judges plenty of discretion as it is.

And the last thing. Sounds like you do not mind people being jailed for the sake of the judges having discretion? I guess you would not mind then going away for a couple of years for spitting on a sidewalk or something similar.


Most jurisdictions do indeed have maximum sentence tarriffs for crimes, yes. UK example: https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/offences/magistrates-co...

i.e. someone who has been banned from driving due to previous offences but who is caught driving may be sentenced to a maximum of 6 months in prison.


The culture demands and thrives on capriciousness and emotional judgements.


I'm going to speculate, in the same vein as you, that she was an otherwise law-abiding citizen who was nothing but polite and kind, and that the judge saw an opportunity to make an example of her. Judges have the power to hold people in contempt and jail them, so why did he not do that if she was a bad citizen, as you assert? He chose to jail her over a year and a half for unpaid parking tickets. Why? I think he didn't like something about her, and I don't think it was her demeanor.


There’s no need to speculate, we know from the enquiry reported in the article he had no good reason to impose such a harsh penalty on this, or the other hundreds of people he did this sort of thing to in violation of judicial codes.


"there was certainly something going on that pushed the judge's buttons"

Well, duh. She is black. That pushed the judge's buttons.


Devil's Advocate: Look at a Youtube video of any country where they don't enforce traffic laws. It's chaotic and unsafe. Fear of consequences is the only thing that keeps people somewhat sane on the road, the alternative is chaos or literally having police every quarter mile looking for infractions. Until we have self-driving cars, it's beneficial for society and everyone who has to drive for traffic violations to be punished harshly after a certain threshold.

Devil's Advocate 2: Single motherhood shouldn't entitle you to ignore traffic laws. If anything, if you get more traffic violations, you are more likely unsafe for your children (who have no one else to depend on), so maybe they should be taken away (foster care being worse is a separate issue)


> Look at a Youtube video of any country where they don't enforce traffic laws. It's chaotic and unsafe.

Those sentencing practices couldn't be further from what, for example, Germany does and Germany's roads are way safer than US roads (going by vehicle kilometers traveled).

You don't need to hand out stupidly excessive sentences like you get for pretty much anything in the US to have safe roads.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-r...

> Single motherhood shouldn't entitle you to ignore traffic laws.

So your children should be taken away if you get a parking ticket? What?


1. Citation? I seriously doubt punishments like this one have any effect on general traffic-law compliance. (IIRC, similar research has always showed weak penalties + high/consistent enforcement was the most effective.)

2. "foster care being worse" is exactly the issue, no? Even if I buy the "traffic tickets correlate with unsafe environment" assumption, you're suggesting we remove the kids for their own safety (or a guess at it, based on a noisy signal)...but then suggesting their actual safety is a separate issue?


You're arguing to the wrong assertion. She was not jailed for traffic infractions. She was jailed for failing to pay fines, which incarceration is expressly against the law. C.f. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/10/07/446681086... for a recent example of this being prosecuted.


So basically you have to pay money to go prison which you don't have so you go to prison again for which you have to again pay money which you don't have so you go to prison for which you have to pay money...

What.


Read the article, he was found in direct violation of 10 provisions of the state judicial code by a full enquiry. This has nothing to do with road safety. He did the same thing to hundreds of other people too poor to pay fines for all sorts of things.


Devil's Advocate 3: Even if you want to punish someone for unpaid tix? I mean, over a year? Seems a bit excessive to me.


This is the kind of stupidity you get with elected judges.


The problem isn't that judges are elected, but that it's nearly impossible for voters to make an informed decision.

In the last election, I tried to find out about the local judges on my ballot and could find virtually nothing.

The media has been neutered in to an infotainment machine, so there's very little investigative journalism left even on issues of national or international importance, much less on small issues like who your local judges are and how they rule.


The problem isn't that judges are elected

This is definitely one of the problems. There was a study that showed judges were handing stricter sentences for the same crime during election years than non election years ("tough on crime"). Elections are a popularity contest in a way, even well informed voters do not always make rational decisions.

If one doesn't have elections to worry about, he/she can do their job to the best of their ability without thinking about pleasing anyone or pandering to any one group, just good old honest work. The moment they have to think about elections, things change. What kind of judge would you like to have - someone who is totally honest and fair without giving a crap about what others think, or someone who is trying to be popular?


Yes, because unaccountable lifelong appointed judges works so well in other spheres, yes?

Jefferson, Madison, at al feared the Judiciary for a reason. Particularly the Federal tier. Elected judges have a built in check in that they are subject to periodic reaffirmation of confidence from the populace. An appointed judge just needs the right connections once, and to not do anything on such a regular basis that they become the subject of an ethics investigation.


I never said appointed judges are a great idea, especially lifelong ones. I simply said electing judges is a bad idea.

I don't know which one is worse. Maybe both are equally bad.


What about appointed judges with a long term? 10 or 12 years - that's longer than legislators or executive branch people. It gives them more independence but also ensures a turnover of people and ideas. Do it on a rolling basis so that every 1 or 2 years a judge from the court has to step down.


Still somewhat leery of it, in particular with double the term length of a Senator. The longer in office, the more attractive a target for graft one becomes. I think Senators may be the upper limit I would be willing to see without reaffirmation.

Then again, maybe you could make a longer term work with some sort of "anti-election" mechanism. You vote in/appoint/have judges nominated by the bar, whatever, and periodically, a dismissal election is held. If a certain threshold of votes for dismissal/no-confidence are cast, then that triggers a conventional election/run-off for that judges spot. In that sense, the judge no longer has to actively politik, though those vying for the spot are free to campaign to try to get people displeased enough to trigger an election.

It still seems like it may only work with a populace who stays on top of their judges, but I actually kind of like the idea because in theory, good judges would never really be upset from business as usual, bad ones would very quickly become apparent in theory, since the number of corrupt supporters would be very unlikely to dwarf the number of "victims" of the judges corrupt acts, and you get away from some of the politicization of the position except when the public clearly has a change in the winds of policy in mind, in which case the election may put the judge back in office, but with renewed attention to the change in civil sentiment.

I don't know, it just feels better to me that way. I mean I do kinda get where Go's coming from, and I semi-dig it. I just don't think judges should ever be more than arms length away from the people whose lives they impact most.


> The problem isn't that judges are elected

I'm pretty sure it is... why would you elect a judge? They're not supposed to apply any opinion just interpret the law technically. What are people voting for them based on? Their political affiliation? That's absolutely bonkers.


The main boon is that a judge can be removed democratically. Obviously there are better ways to do that, like having a recall process or a vote of no confidence, but the USA's states were mostly created during a time when being able to vote judges out of office was politically trendy.

Also, speaking as somebody who recently voted for local judges and prosecutors, I got to choose a prosecutor who won't take police-union money and a judge who thinks they can do better than the possibly-corrupt incumbent. I wouldn't give up this vote just for some imagined peace in the political process.


> I got to choose a prosecutor who won't take police-union money

You see this seems massively inappropriate in the first place. Take that money for what? A prosecutor shouldn't take any money from anyone, in any circumstance, apart from their salary. They shouldn't even be talking to a political organisation like a union.

Both things seem like grounds for automatic dismissal for a prosecutor. Why are you having to check for it as a voter?


The district attorney, being an elected prosecutorial position, can spend money during the election; I chose the candidate who did not have a political action committee funded by the police union.

Yes, it's stressful being a vigilant voter. But what's the alternative? Not caring?


So the main benefit of being able to vote for judges is that you can vote against one who is doing something that wouldn’t be allowed in a sane system anyway, by voting for one who did the same thing just with groups you don’t disapprove of...?


The alternative is actually having punishments for officials that are corrupt or breaking the law.

Instead we have a situation where, as the article points out, corruption is swept away where people get to walk away with a cozy retirement and say 'well gosh I regret my mistakes' as if that fixes the fact that they ruined someone's life over a failure to pay traffic fees.

That's the example of the revolving door and people who abuse it get away scott-free.


> But what's the alternative?

Not electing prosecutors and judges.

That's where this thread started.


The reality is there is quite a bit of wiggle room in the interpretation of the law. Someone who is conservative and 'tough on crime' may want a judge who is biased toward stricter prison sentences. Someone who is more liberal may want a judge who shows more leniency and is biased toward finding other ways to rehabilitate the guilty.

Its kind of like how two competent people can implement a POSIX compliant operating system in different ways (microkernel or monolithic, emacs vs vi, systemd vs sysvinit).


Systemd does not aim for POSIX compliance: https://github.com/systemd/systemd/issues/6259#issuecomment-...


> What are people voting for them based on?

Their qualifications, history, and biases. I mean it isn't like most judges are getting the position without having a law degree, so the majority of them are in fact qualified for the position. So how else do you fill a public position when you have multiple qualified people and a single position. The argument for election is so to reduce nepotism and cronyism.


> biases

They should leave them at home if they're a freaking judge!!


> They should leave them at home if they're a freaking judge!!

You're telling me that Gorsuch doesn't have biases? RBG? Kavanaugh? Roberts? Sotomayor?

All these people interpret the same laws in different ways. If that isn't called bias than I don't know what is. The issue is that there is no objective truth, at least one which can be known. All laws are subject to interpretation. In fact, that is literally why we have judges and juries in the first place. To scrutinize and check interpretation of laws.

Are you telling me there's an objective truth to what "Freedom of Speech" means? What "the right to bare arms" is?


Do you realise that in most other countries judges don't expose any political bias? There are no right-wing judges or left-wing judges in the UK, they all just act fairly and interpret cases according to the law.

If there are major questions of interpretation they leave it to the legislature to clarify.


I think you're confusing "publicizing political bias" with "having political bias." Judges aren't robots. They aren't void of emotion. They are humans. Yes, we all ask that judges do their best to remove their biases. Most do a good job. But as far as I'm aware, they are all still people.

I'm not sure why you would expect judges to be a special class of people that are void of opinions.


In Indiana, you can pull up a judge's cases in the court system: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/admin/2666.htm

Maybe your state has something similar. I found it useful to read a couple decisions written by the judges on our last ballot.


Also that many judges are appointed.

> In the last election, I tried to find out about the local judges on my ballot and could find virtually nothing.

In my last election I had the voting booklet. There were two judges running for a position. One had a website and the other (the incumbent) didn't.

Honestly, a lot of candidates I found didn't have websites. If you aren't going to take the time to make a simple website to state your policies I'm not sure I trust you to be transparent and make decisions on my behalf. In 2020 if you don't have a website you are demonstrating to me that you don't want to inform me, the voter, about yourself.


I don't understand why a judge would have a website. That's so crazy to me. They're not supposed to be appealing to anyone. They're supposed to interpret the law as it's written. They're technocrats.

What would you like to see on a judge's website? Their opinions on things? They shouldn't have any personal opinions!


> They're not supposed to be appealing to anyone.

Like... voters?

> What would you like to see on a judge's website?

Qualifications, what ideals are important to them, how they handled complex cases, etc

> They shouldn't have any personal opinions!

Unfortunately they are human, so they do have personal opinions. They are allowed to have personal opinions. They just aren't allowed to have party affiliations. But if you look at the supreme court this is clearly also an absurd notion to expect them to not have leanings.


This is bat-shit insane to me. The public elect the legislature who write the law... the judiciary implement it according to the legislation. They don't any personal opinions to it, that's not their job at all, they don't try to appeal to anyone, they just implement it. Is this not how it works in the US?

In the US could a town elect a judge who says they're going to convict everyone who's left-handed?


Which part is confusing? Can you answer this? "Are laws objective?" It seems you think so. But if they aren't, then someone needs to interpret them. This is essentially what lawyers are doing and the judge and jury decides what is right.

> they don't try to appeal to anyone, they just implement it. Is this not how it works in the US?

On paper, yes. In practice, no. Because again, laws aren't objective.

> In the US could a town elect a judge who says they're going to convict everyone who's left-handed?

Let's rephrase it.

> In the US could a town elect a judge who says they're going to convict everyone who's black?

Welcome to Jim Crow era. So the answer is clearly yes. Of course, conviction still relies on the jury and "jury nullification" exists in an effort to put these types of judges in check. This is why you're supposed to be judged by peers. Now there is interpretation of what peers means. Or what community is. Is this your neighbors? Or is this just people that live in the town? Are people in the Brooklyn your peers if you live in Queens? What about if you live in Mountain View? If you do a search you'll quickly find different answers from legal scholars as to what "jury of peers" means. I brought up the first and second amendments because these are frequently debated in the public domain (where judges/legal scholars are debating and we the public can see and listen in).

To me, the idea that laws are objective and not up for interpretation is "bat-shit insane." To do so would require perfect humans writing laws and last time I checked we didn't have any of those.


> But if they aren't, then someone needs to interpret them.

If they're open to too much interpretation... send them back to the legislature to clarify.

> Welcome to Jim Crow era. So the answer is clearly yes.

Well this seems like an indication to me that the system is not great.


> If they're open to too much interpretation... send them back to the legislature to clarify.

Good idea. Now what do we do in the mean time with people that are being tried? Wait? How? Are they free or in jail? What's the default position?

Or do we just do our best (i.e. interpretation)?

> Well this seems like an indication to me that the system is not great.

Well... yeah... I don't think anyone has claimed it as such. If you have a better system I think a lot of people would be happy.

The issue is that there's lots of nuances involved. Even if we had Multivac judging it would still be difficult. People can't write code to be absolutely unambiguous and error proof. Code that takes into account every possible scenario. So I'm not sure why you would expect people that are in a more complex feature environment and using a less precise language would be able to perform better. This is really absurd, to me.

HUMANS ARE NOT PERFECT ROBOTS.

And I'm not sure why this is a controversial opinion.


> HUMANS ARE NOT PERFECT ROBOTS.

> And I'm not sure why this is a controversial opinion.

I think by asking them to stand for election you make them less perfect and amplify their flaws, because they have to appeal to some sector. Do they appeal to left-wing extremes, or right-wing extremes? They can't easily target both. They can't just do what they think is right. They have to pander to some niche.

Plainly applying the law doesn't win votes.

The only people who will votes are those who promise to twist it to some extreme.


Great, something to actually discuss. I'll refer to a comment in another thread.

> The argument for election is so to reduce nepotism and cronyism.

So we come back to the question: "Which is better? Elected judges or appointed judges?"

> They can't just do what they think is right. They have to pander to some niche.

The question is about who's bias you are using to appoint the judge. Are you using the bias of current lawmakers/elites? Or are you using the bias of the public? You're right in that they have to pander to some niche. So which do you want?

I also mentioned in another thread that the point of democracy is to distribute power. Letting officials is a consolidation of power. Letting the public do it is distribution. There's advantages to both.

And honestly, looking at voter information guides, judges are mostly talking about their qualifications and how they are unbiased. In my last guide there were two judges. One said that he served the community well and cited some cases. The other said we need more transparency and that as a judge he would make rulings public to increase transparency of the law. Neither were really pandering to parties. Judges aren't allowed to be affiliated with parties. Neither of those judges were saying things like: "We're going to get those black people," (like Jim Crow era) "I'm a liberal and hold left-wing values," or even things like "I'm concerned with immigration law." The latter because it would be considered political. There are guidelines. These guidelines are to restrict their ability to make party appeals. At least pandering to the public is more transparent.

But when it comes down to it, it really is a question of who they are pandering to, not if they pander. There has to be some mechanism to appoint judges, and they will just pander to whoever is in charge of that.


Do you come from a country with common law or civil law? Common law is all about opinions and consideration of precedent. It grants a wide range of flexibility to judges.

Civil law is a lot less flexible. Most of the world uses civil law. Common law is I think exclusive to the former British colonies.


> They don't any personal opinions to it,

Judges are the one who recommend the sentencing length, their is guideline and its upto the judge to give the minimum or maximum or in between.


> They just aren't allowed to have party affiliations

Unfortunately wrong. https://ballotpedia.org/Partisan_election_of_judges


They absolutely have opinions, often about how to interpret the law. This is why Supreme Court decisions always have the "dissenting opinion" document listing out why they think the majority decision was incorrect.

Many laws are not so black and white that the decision is explicit. You have to handle weird chain of custody questions, whether evidence was seized lawfully, etc, etc.


Check the endorsements from local bar associations. Read the endorsements from various news outlets. They may not agree but may provide some background information to help with your choice. You can also (most time consuming) pull court records.


This position, like most city judges, is not elected. TFA makes this clear:

A few months after Judge Hayes’ suspension ended, his term as a municipal judge was set to expire. So, the Montgomery City Council took up the question of the judge’s future on March 6, 2018. On the agenda of its meeting: whether to reappoint Hayes to another four-year term.

Everyone on that city council knew, for years, what a terrible judge they had hired. This seems to undercut the idea that appointing judges is some sort of solution to the problem of injustice in USA.


Both political appointments and elections are a bad idea. Both make the appointment of judges a political decision.


Is there a third option though?



It had never occurred to me that any developed country would do anything other than this. Are there any that do?

A bit of a survey from the Venice Commission, some sort of gang of euro-judicial boffins:

https://www.icj.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/CDL-AD2007_02...


As far as I know, for the lowest level of Dutch judges, it's a matter of having the right education, some non-court experience, an impeccable legal record and approval from a committee. Judges for the Dutch supreme courts (most countries have several) are appointed by a process involving the supreme court itself, as well as parliament and the government. There can occasionally be some politics involved, but not nearly on the scale as in the US.


That seems like a nation-level body? It seems unlikely we'd ever have something like that hiring judges for city-level posts in USA. Also JAC seems to recommend candidates after which action another (seemingly politically-appointed) entity decides whether they'll go on the ballot? I might be misreading?

I certainly hope we can improve our "judicial" system in USA, to make it more just, less tyrannical, less capricious, less totalitarian, less active, etc. Sometimes I wonder whether that's possible for a society that's happy to spend $750B/yr on killing machines and in fact has killed millions of innocents overseas over the last several decades. As Thucydides wrote, the tyranny that the Athenian empire imposed on others it eventually imposed on itself.


Think Canada uses something similar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judicial_appointments_in_Canad...

Lower level appointments go thru a provincial JAAC, while superior and above go thru a federal JAAC. After JAAC's shortlisting, the respective provincial or federal government or minister of justice decides.

I suppose there's always a way to stack the committee to get a biased shortlist to choose from, but the committees aren't all appointed by the government. Some are appointed by judges, law society, etc. In practice, it seems to work way better than just having a city council choose.


Yes I agree that judges should be selected randomly from the general population of people younger than 35 or older than 65. If that's not what you're thinking, please correct my misunderstanding...


Is it true that all US judges are either elected or politically appointed? Both seem like a terrible idea.

I admit I don't know how judges in other countries are appointed, but I think it usually involves a pretty thorough screening process involving several different requirements and organisations.


No. This is the kind of stupidity one gets when the judges are not controlled and allowed to do as they please. This fscking degenerate judge who put poor woman in jail for so long should be sitting there himself instead of being retired and getting pension.


Just because someone was elected to a position doesn't mean they should be indismissable for misconduct, in general being able to elect judges is good and democratic it's just that the system has adapted to compensate for that.


Just Democracy in action here. This is what the people voted for. Unless you believe that the government's power should be limited in some way.


I don't think people literally voted for the judge to lock up a single mother of 3 girls for 500 days because of unpaid traffic tickets.

They voted for a judge because they thought he would be "tough on crime", or some other slogan. I am really speculating here. The reason though is a lack of information on the voters part. I am not sure how we solve that problem though.

Judges like this should be put disbarred so that they cant practice law or serve time themselves.


> Judges like this should be put disbarred so that they cant practice law or serve time themselves.

That's just your opinion, and you're in the minority. Probably most people in that jurisdiction are happy with the overall behavior of the judge.

Democracy doesn't care about the needs of the individual, only the wants of the group. The group wants exclusive use of a particular area, thus limits parking. Public streets with reserved parking, the antithesis of a functioning society.


> Johnson’s three children were cast into foster care while she was incarcerated. One daughter was molested, state records show. Another was physically abused.

This looks more like indictment of US foster care.


the carceral mindset in our society is the root of a lot of really stupid, kafkaesque evil done in the name of the public but benefiting no one (except for-profit prisons!).


What is truly criminal is many judges retire with seventy five percent to up to one hundred percent of their salary plus benefits.

I really wish people here would understand the real fleecing of America isn't by the CEOs of the country, they cannot make you pay their retirement but public servants can and those at the upper levels easily pull down one hundred thousand or more per year when retired!


Pensions aren't truly criminal.


My dad has a decent government pension. He also paid 12.5% of his salary towards it for 30 years. And the pay rate was about 10-20% less than private industry. In short Government paid my dad to do a job and it came with higher deductibles, lower salary but decent benefits and a pension.

Big fucking whoop.


Not to defend the judge in that case in any way, but there is a question about whether/when it is OK or even desirable for judges to intervene "indirectly" with their power. For example (just an example, not suggesting this is how it was), suppose in the case you mention that the mother was suspected of being abusive or negligent, but that a prosecutable case couldn't be made for that, and that the traffic tickets were used merely as a guise for the sentencing. If that were the case, I don't think judges actions would seem quite so harsh, and might even seem appropriate (it doesn't require a massive stretch of the imagination to think of a case where this is true).

And no matter the reasoning (or lack of it), the fallout of this (where the kids are harmed/molested in foster care) is hard to attribute to the judge. If the mother had been a serious threat to the children and the judge had sentenced her based on truly unquestionable reasons, they still might have met the same fate in foster care. As part of the legal system, the judge basically has to have complete confidence in the integrity of the foster care system (and it isn't his job to ensure that integrity).


Surely you notice those two points conflict?

1. The judge must understand that the (justice) system is flawed, it's his/her job to bring about justice anyway.

2. The judge must believe the (foster care) system is flawless, it's not his/her job to worry about that.


1. I don't think the judge has to believe the justice system is flawed. It might just be that the justice system has limits, and that sometimes those limits are not sufficient to bring about the best outcome. Again, consider prosecutorial discretion and how it is used.

2. I don't think the judge has to believe it is flawless. In fact, the judge might believe that it is not flawless, and again exercise in the opposite direction of NOT sentencing someone who would otherwise be correctly sentenced just to keep kids out of a bad foster care system. My point was that, barring a situation where the judge has grounded suspicions about the foster care system, the judge must basically (as a principle of law) endorse the foster care system as a viable caretaker of the children. Judges would otherwise be required to initiate investigations into foster care systems (and the like) whenever they might be utilized in a legal setting. That's an impossible burden.


You still haven't resolved the inconsistency.


> but that a prosecutable case couldn't be made for that

So we suddenly have proven guilty without proof, but rather just because there's some suspicion. Doesn't seem American.


That's wildly naive and I think with a little bit of imagination you too can envision a scenario where it makes sense. It needn't be "wild guessing" on the judges behalf; there could be even absolutely convictable evidence that would cause any reasonable person to immediately and unquestionably believe in the guilt of the mother, yet might be barred because of a rule governing the admissibility of evidence (that's its own ugly topic). In such a case I find it hard to believe that a judge taking it on himself to "do the right thing" would be seen as "un-American"


We have the Rule of Law for a reason. If there's an issue with the system where guilty people are going free, then fix the system. Letting people take justice into their own hands is a cure worse than the problem, especially when those people are abusing the authority that was given to them to enact the justice that was created by a democratic process.

A judge enacting a sentence based on inadmissible evidence is a violation of the rights of the accused, the Constitution, and the specific oaths and duties of their profession.


Again, wildly naive. There is no "rule of law" that is so prescriptive. We basically have a loose confederation of laws, interpreted by courts, and exacted by humans. There is flexibility in various aspects, including sentencing, and things like that are (when they are) left to the discretion of the judge precisely because there is no formula otherwise. There is nothing about this that violates anyone's oath or duty, and nothing about it is inherently wrong. That is precisely the space that judges occupy that no formula can fill.


What does that have to do with your original assertion, that it's totally fine for a judge to sentence a woman to 496 days in jail for unpaid traffic tickets because she's suspected of being an unfit mother? What do those two things have to do with each other? And why would we accept a justice system where it's okay for judges to convict people of unrelated crimes? What about that is just?


"What does that have to do with your original assertion, that it's totally fine for a judge to sentence a woman to 496 days in jail for unpaid traffic tickets because she's suspected of being an unfit mother?"

This is an absolutely absurd "reading" of what I said, and it is patently offensive. Please look again.


I'm fine with a broad range of judicial discretion. Human judgement is a necessary part of the judicial system.

I am not fine with someone being sentenced and jailed for a crime they were not found guilty of, which is what you're describing. That's an abuse of power and a deprivation of due process.


I am not replying to disagree with the spirit of your comment. I just think you should be a bit more careful thinking about it. Obviously she was not jailed for a crime she didn't commit and wasn't convicted of; she was jailed for a crime she did commit and was convicted of. The question is psychological though, about whether the sentencing decision, within the in murky realm of discretion, was based purely on facts completely bound by the scope of the conviction, or whether it extended beyond the scope of the conviction. And the answer is, it always extends beyond the scope of the conviction.

I ask you again to just use your imagination; set aside this particular case and imagine a case where there is absolutely compelling grounds for thinking that the mother is a direct harm to her children, but no admissible evidence to establish that in a legal context. So given the legal "room" to hand down a harsher-than-would-otherwise-be sentence for some separate offense, that doesn't strike me as totally inappropriate or out of line with our expectations about what judges should do. This of course requires the legal establishment of the "room" for judges to do such things, but they have that to a large extent.


> [...] imagine a case where there is absolutely compelling grounds for thinking that [...]

FYI the system which we are discussing does not entertain such a notion. Or else we wouldn't need or bother with juries, whose main job is to deliberate and argue over whether presented evidence is compelling enough to remove any possibility of doubt.

> So given the legal "room" to hand down a harsher-than-would-otherwise-be sentence for some separate offense, that doesn't strike me as totally inappropriate or out of line with our expectations about what judges should do

I... _wildly_ disagree with this. Not that my disagreement here should matter much – surely the justice/legal system has its own expectations here, that would trump yours or mine?


If the evidence is not admissible, then it should not be considered, period.

As an example of a judge taking it on himself to "do the right thing", U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan tried to conjure up some way to continue the prosecution of General Michael Flynn by appointing a special counsel after the US District Attorney had moved to dismiss the case. [1] Judge Sullivan thus tried to act as prosecutor, despite a unanimous SCOTUS ruling that such action was not allowed, and was ordered by the Appeals Court to dismiss.

1. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/michael-flynns-case-ordered-...


Those are some intense mental gymnastics.


> In Texas, a judge burst in on jurors deliberating the case of a woman charged with sex trafficking and declared that God told him the defendant was innocent. The offending judge received a warning and returned to the bench. The defendant was convicted after a new judge took over the case.

> In Indiana, three judges attending a conference last spring got drunk and sparked a 3 a.m. brawl outside a White Castle fast-food restaurant that ended with two of the judges shot. Although the state supreme court found the three judges had “discredited the entire Indiana judiciary,” each returned to the bench after a suspension.

> In Utah, a judge texted a video of a man’s scrotum to court clerks. He was reprimanded but remains on the bench.

Damn.


Here's the Indiana one if you want some more color:

> Back in May, three Indiana judges got into a fight. It was the crescendo of an incident brimming with colorful details: a gaggle of judges drinking the night before a judicial conference, a failed attempt to visit a strip club called the Red Garter, a brawl in the parking lot of an Indianapolis White Castle.

> The altercation apparently started sometime after 3 a.m., when one of the judges, Sabrina Bell, raised a middle finger at two men yelling from a passing SUV, and ended after one of those men shot two of the judges.

...

> Bell "was intoxicated enough that she lacks any memory of the incident."

...

> The court says its penalties are designed "not primarily to punish a judge, but rather to preserve the integrity of and public confidence in the judicial system" and, when necessary, to remove those who are unfit.

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/14/779339897/3-indiana-judges-su...


This actually sounds... better? The initial line read like the judges shot each other.

Did they even break any laws?

Getting too drunk to visit a strip club and raising a middle finger to someone is not what I expected to be among the worst examples.


I mentored a convicted felon through Defy Ventures a few years ago.

He had a wonderful idea for an app. Something that stuck with me for the last few years.

Why isn’t there a yelp for the public sector including the judicial system? Every day you walk into a court room how do you know what to expect?

If you are suddenly in front of a judge that decides your life’s fate wouldn’t you want to pull up historical data that tracks and publishes the judges decisions, the feedback from others who have been in your place, and be able to contribute after your experience?

Wouldn’t the same be good for police? So citizens can pull a badge number and see what people in that community have to say about that cop?

He wanted the app to have a panic button where users could predefine their most important emergency contacts to be pushed to social media and texted with a link to livestream what is going on (e.g. local news outlets, family, friends, lawyer(s), etc...) as the app would be broadcasting audio/video of the event unfolding.

Defy Ventures is more designed for helping someone start a food truck business than building software. The idea stuck with me though and with the renewed focus on keeping power in check it should exist. If anyone wants to talk with this man who came up with the idea let me know.


It would turn into what every review system on the web is: a place to get petty revenge. Make people use their real identity and have criminal liability for lies of commission and omission, then you might have something. But probably just one more mechanism for idiots to go to jail.


You could do drop down answers to rate officials instead of free form text. Don’t know how it would work for verifying a real identity. Maybe require Moderation and only licensed lawyers can approve a new user?


A cop does normal things: no one leaves a review

A cop leaves a ticket that a driver thinks is unfair: 1 star review

Every cop would have a one star rating, which basically tells us nothing except that some people are salty, justifiably or unjustifiably. Impossible to know for certain.


> If you are suddenly in front of a judge that decides your life’s fate wouldn’t you want to pull up historical data that tracks and publishes the judges decisions, the feedback from others who have been in your place, and be able to contribute after your experience?

A good lawyer has those things already. Having one of those is part of the privilege.

Starry eyed pro bono idealists will never realize this. They've put so much energy into making a difference that they can't see how much they can't.


How many people can afford a “good lawyer”?


compare yourself to yourself, not others


Not sure if this is relevant to this but I would like to remind you that a US judge can order to you be sterilized without your knowledge and you can do nothing about it nor can anything be done to the judge.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stump_v._Sparkman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buck_v._Bell


That's a sensationalized way of describing it. Judges can't just decide to have random people sterilized. The mother petitioned the court to have her minor daughter sterilized. The judge made a large number of procedural mistakes in granting the petition, but the Supreme Court ruled that he didn't act outside of his judicial capacity. The general rule is that judges can't be held personally liable for mistakes they make when acting in their official capacity as judges.


> Judges can't just decide to have random people sterilized

They can if someone petitions for it.

> The mother petitioned the court to have her minor daughter sterilized

And I can petition to have you sterilized. If the judge accepts it you will not be able to hold him responsible. He does not need to listen to you nor do you need to know about it.

> The general rule is that judges can't be held personally liable for mistakes they make when acting in their official capacity as judges.

Meanwhile doctors, drivers, etc can be held personally liable for mistakes they make while working.


So in your opinion, if I petition a court for permission to kill my neighbor "because he's really annoying", and for some reason the judge says yes, he won't be held liable? Because I disagree. Judges do not have the ability to blanket "bless" actions so long as someone petitions for it. You have to look at the specifics of the case.


As long as it survives appeal, judges can basically rule whatever they want. Plenty of crazy rulings have gotten through the courts. Remember that time they ruled it was okay to toss all the Japanese people in internment camps?


That wasn't so crazy back in the time; it had many time-honoured precedents, ranging from the Boer war internment camps to the SWA internment camps, to the ones in WWI in occupied France and Belgium, and, of course, the make-belief internment camps for Armenians in Turkey; a really good book that explains how the idea that interning a whole ethnicity was a good idea sprang up is "Absolute Destruction" by Isabell V. Hull.

(Note: the US and what it did and does, does not exist in isolation; these outside-US developments are germane. Also, it was evil and cruel and contra-productive, but that wasn't a problem, because since it was what you would do, in case of war, it had to be done.)


Judges could also order that "fugitive" slaves could be returned to their "owners", or that people convicted of treason could be vivisected, if you go far enough back in time. I'm not sure what point is being argued here. If you want to make judges personally liable for following the law and/or for making mistakes, why would anyone become a judge?


If you make soldiers personally liable for following orders then why would anyone want to be a soldier? I'm not saying this to be funny. Most other professions can be held responsible for doing their job, but doing it very poorly that causes harm to others. But somehow judges are exempt.


They're not liable for following lawful orders, though, even if the results are horrific and they personally disagree with the order. That's why no one gets charged when a drone strike blows up a wedding and kills 23 children.


>The mother petitioned the court to have her minor daughter sterilized.

Anyone can petition anything. Granting a petition that does something that would violate someone else's rights despite them not having done anything wrong is fundamentally wrong. Forced sterilization, especially without your knowledge, is akin to capital punishment. If you get it wrong then nothing can make amends for it, because you cannot undo it.


>Judges can't just decide to have random people sterilized.

More specifically, they can't unless they do, but if they do then that's okay. Which seems to simplify to "they can".


"Judges can order people to be put to death." That's a true statement, and in my opinion not deceptive, because capital punishment is widely understood as a thing that exists, and that it is treated as a punishment for certain crimes for which a person has been duly convicted. No reasonable person hears "Judges can order people to be put to death" and thinks "Wow, so a rogue judge could just order me to be killed for no reason and that would be it, game over for me?"

My claim is that "a US judge can order to you be sterilized without your knowledge and you can do nothing about it nor can anything be done to the judge." is not like the previous statement, because it only applies in an extremely limited (at the time; possibly not at all now, I don't know) set of circumstances with which an ordinary layperson would not be familiar.


>Wow, so a rogue judge could just order me to be killed for no reason and that would be it, game over for me?

The difference is that you can know about it and defend yourself. There are hearings and chances to appeal. The sterilization in this case was done without the girl/woman's knowledge. It's impossible for her to appeal, because she didn't even know about it. Even worse is that her guardian would be the one who would decide to appeal.


(1978) (1927)


Unless those rulings have since been overturned, they are still precedent and therefore relevant. They don’t just expire.

For example, the judges involved in the “cash for kids” scandal had their rulings reviewed using a rule established in the 18th century:

> Acting under a rarely used power established in 1722 and reserved for extraordinary circumstances, known as "King's Bench jurisdiction",[58] the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appointed Senior Judge Arthur Grim of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas as special master to review all juvenile cases handled by Ciavarella


They don't have to be directly overturned--I can't imagine that many judges are still ordering people involuntarily sterilized. All you need are other precedents or laws for something like, say, bodily autonomy ("my body my choice") that's sufficiently persuasive.

I really can't imagine those rulings happening today. Did you know? In May 2020, Maryland passed into law a repeal of the crime of sodomy, effective October 1st, 2020.

And there are plenty of similar laws still on the books even now:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_Stat...


So weird how the government routinely grants immunity to themselves, especially the judicial branch. I don't know when the judiciary decide it was the final say in all matters on earth, but fundamentally that is broken.


All branches actually. You do not see politicians nor police officers often charged with the crimes that they commuted.


There is some horrible conduct detailed on here, but also not so horrible conduct:

> They included a California judge who had sex in his courthouse chambers, once with his former law intern and separately with an attorney; a New York judge who berated domestic violence victims; and a Maryland judge who, after his arrest for driving drunk, was allowed to return to the bench provided he took a Breathalyzer test before each appearance.

Judges in all these states are elected. Should an elected official be impeached for any of this conduct? Maybe the one who had sex with an attorney, if the attorney had cases before the judge (but the article doesn’t say that). The other stuff is bad, but is it impeachable?

By lumping together really heinous conduct with things that probably should be disciplinary violations that don’t result in impeachment, it’s hard to know what the magnitude of the problem detailed in the article actually is.


I think people are leaning further and further into retribution instead of rehabilitation. People make mistakes and we need to realize that unless the mistake is really heinous then we don't need to absolutely destroy their entire lives. We just need them to learn from the mistake, possibly pay a cost (therapy, fines, temporary unpaid leave, etc), and then rejoin society as social and economic contributors.

I'd rather not pass individual judgement on these cases presented but it seems to me that some of these are more damning than others.


I like the way the ancient greeks did it. Every year we write a name of the person that we want removed from public office. The person with the most votes gets banished for 10 years.


All judicial positions should have a set term, after which a new judge is appointed to the position, even at the Supreme Court level.

For example, at the Supreme Court level, if each position was an 18 year term, each offset by 2 years, then a new justice would be nominated every other year to serve no more than 18 years. If a judge left early, the position would be filled until the end of the term.

This would prevent some of the shenanigans where partisan judges wait until the political winds are blowing in the right direction before stepping down to ensure that "their side" doesn't lose out.

This would also prevent judges serving for several decades with no realistic way to remove them.

Having served once, a judge could be renominated, but would have to go through the approval process again.


> All judicial positions should have a set term, after which a new judge is appointed to the position, even at the Supreme Court level.

The problem with this is exactly the problem with all term limits: you can "sell" your decisions at the end of your term.

Example: Kentucky's former governor pardoned some incredibly repulsive people because they were donors (or connected to donors)[1] and he had already lost his election.

1. https://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article238...


You can't fix stupid. There is no perfect system. But, we can do better. Requiring judges to go through a periodic review to continue seems like a good thing to try.


Not surprising at all. The original case establishing Qualified Immunity wasn't about mere police officers - it was about a state judge, and only by extension local police since they followed the judge's order. The main decision was giving state judges all but unqualified immunity[0]. When you give a group of people power to do almost whatever, it's not a surprise the bad apples stay and multiply.

[0]

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pierson_v._Ray/Opinion_of_the...

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pierson_v._Ray/Dissent_Dougla...


Reuters focuses on a few shocking cases, like Judge Les Hayes's treatment of Marquita Johnson -- which was truly awful! But it's important to keep this in perspective.

Reuters' investigation found 5,206 cases where people were affected by judicial misconduct over a period of 12 years, and the article noted two other investigations had found 3,500 cases and 2,251 cases each. For comparison, state courts in the USA hear approximately _one hundred million_ cases per year. [1] So there's evidence for misconduct in approximately 0.0009% of cases.

(And I'm guessing most of that misconduct was nowhere near as bad as the Marquita Johnson case, or the other examples they mentioned; they picked the most shocking examples to showcase in the article.)

[1] https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=30


There are two justice systems: One for the politically connected. One for everyone else.

Who watches the Watchmen?


It is a bit more complicated than that. There is a tiered system based on your connections, class (wealth), gender, race, appearance, and other factors (these factors are not weighted equally). To further complicate it these factors are weighted differently for different categories of crimes.


>To further complicate it these factors are weighted differently for different categories of crimes.

And weighted differently by local norms.


And by the amount of publicity they receive.


Some commenters are asking about what we can do to fix this, so I thought I'd list some potential action items off the top of my head:

- Getting rid of elected judges will certainly help, though it looks like Hayes wasn't elected but appointed by the city council. I'm not totally clear on how local judge appointments work, but it might make sense to consolidate this power at the state legislature, which will have more visibility and accountability than the city council. In general, I think a lot of our issues with civil rights and justice reform could be helped by consolidating more power at the state level rather than the city/county level, and creating a clear hierarchy of power between the statewide and local entities.

- People talk about having term limits for judges, but I'm not totally sure I agree with that. It's something to consider though, and worthy of study.

- Improve funding for public defenders. It might make sense to require municipalities to match their budget for prosecutors with their budget for public defenders, or some fixed percentages. Elevating the office of public defenders and making it a viable career path, much like being a career prosecutor, would go a long way.

- Look into expanding when you can rely on the services of a public defender, like in traffic court for more minor offences. For some people a hefty fine can make them destitute, and they need someone to advocate for them and make sure the fines assessed are fair.

- Strengthen national organizations for public defenders, like the NAPD, through grant programs.

- Increase liabilities for judges in the event of gross misconduct. This should include not just suspensions but monetary fines (which I know can be levied for lawyers engaging in misconduct). This can be done not just with legislation, but possibly legal action. And there might be grounds for civil rights lawsuits against municipalities and states that fail to properly vet and discipline judges conducting this sort of gross misconduct. Generally speaking judges are not personally liable for any actions they take on the bench, but the bodies that are supposed to oversee them could be.

- The Justice Department should perform more investigations of these sorts of systemic civil rights violations, much like they did in Ferguson and Baltimore. It should be expanded to the point where they aren't just conducting these reviews after some bad behavior gets headlines, they should be conducting random audits to improve accountability. This can be backed up with legislation requiring the Justice Department to conduct regular reviews, to ensure this is happening consistently and doesn't vary from administration to administration.


> They included a California judge who had sex in his courthouse chambers, once with his former law intern and separately with an attorney

and got caught both times


us judges must taste how a jail feels like before administering it.


This article is depressing.

What I find troubling is not only what's in the article, but what's left out. There is no call to action, there is no information provided as to what a reader can do, to help fix this disaster.

It leaves you feeling deflated, because now what? Now you go about the rest of your day with this burden of knowledge.

This is very common with these types of stories - it's not enough to complain, you need to provide a set of potential solutions or else people begin treating these stories the way they do homeless people - they just learn to ignore them.

Maybe that's what these newspapers want or are coerced into - that'd be the darkest and most sinister interpretation.


Reuters is just a newswire agency: it just does research and provides the facts. Downstream news outlets like Fox and NBC are the ones that will put the spin on it, and boutique outfits like commondreams and Mother Jones will give you the call to action if they cover it. The problem with Mother Jones and publications like it is that they have a pretty strong slant (they are trying to persuade you, not inform you) and they also don't run stories that go against their narrative, thereby omitting information that may inform you/provide greater context or nuance.

In any case, the solution here is the same as always; write to your representatives or get involved in a protest (all variations on "advocate for change").


> Reuters is just a newswire agency: it just does research and provides the facts.

Reuters isn't some neutral-fact agency. Reuters does tons of editorial, and has an overall editorial slant, but its customers are news outlets, not readers. Articles written from vague perspectives can run in a wider variety of publications.

What you're reading here is highly editorial (though I like it.) Reuters is choosing to report on an issue that could be interesting to people by highlighting a few individual stories of lesser appeal. They could have not covered this and covered anything else (there was no "news" event.) They could have taken the position that too many judges had been removed from the bench, implying that there was a bias against judges. The reporter made a journalistic choice to investigate the crimes of judges. The reporter then made the editorial choices to report it though these particular examples, and to highlight criminal judges still serving rather than criminal judges that have been removed, or even the relatively low crime rates in judges as a demographic as compared to many other demographics. Reuters then made the editorial choice to publish the piece - which may have been preceded by sending it back with suggestions to change previous editorial choices, or maybe even handing it off to another journalist to finish.

The idea that there are neutral fact-delivering voices of god somewhere is destructive, and easily taken advantage of by the people who own these voices of god. The Moonies bought UPI.


> Instead, the judicial commission and Hayes reached a deal. The former Eagle Scout would serve an 11-month unpaid suspension.

Do these articles not get reviewed before publication? How is being an Eagle Scout relevant to this story?


Why not? It's an interesting point that he was a Boy Scout, an organization whose statement is "to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes", and he went on to be a terrible human being.


Worth noting is that the Boy Scout organization itself declared bankruptcy as a result of ongoing scandals and lawsuits.


If BSA is bankrupt, would it be an opportune time for the Girl Scouts of America to admit boys?


They recently stated that they have no intention of doing so.


Because news stories and editorials are separate sections of news media.

Including that bit of information is not relevant to the facts. You can take any news story and cherry-pick unrelated details to paint things in a certain light.

This is a contrived example, but lets say there's a news report about MIT investing in some new technology and a journalist doesn't like MIT. The headline could read "MIT invests in questionable technology" and begin with "MIT, which has come under fire for having received $750,000 from Epstein is investing $750,000 in foobars".


Eagle Scouts get special consideration in court. Ironic -- I think they should be held to a higher standard, but instead it's used as a "sign of good character" that results in lesser penalties.


This happens all the time in journalism. An accused person's criminal history, or a politician's previous bankruptcies, etc.




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