Judges On The Wrong Side Of The Bench

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They’re breakin’ laws! Terrorizing communities! Creating chaos in the courtroom! They’re… Broward County district court judges?

Yes, a mere week after I wrote about Florida Brevard district court judge John C. “Barroom Brawl” Murphy, who challenged an Assistant Public Defender to “step outside” his courtroom so he could administer him a beat-down for the grave offense of not waiving his client’s right to a speedy trial, and opined that it would be “a while” before Florida could manage to “top itself” in “crazy legal behavior” stories, the Sunshine State has topped itself!

I apologize, Florida. I underestimated you.

For, this week, the New York Times reported on a spate of illegal goings-on perpetrated by Florida judges, with a preponderance of them holding court in Broward County. So numerous are their transgressions that it’s doubtful there’s much room left on the county courtroom docket for defendants who aren’t judges.

For starters, three judges in six months were arrested for D.U.I., including one three-peater and another who hit a parked police cruiser in the Fort Lauderdale courthouse parking lot. Another family court judge is under investigation for unlawful involvement with a convicted Ponzi-scheme felon, and yet one more ex-magistrate was disbarred for exchanging almost a thousand phone calls and half as many texts with a prosecutor during a death penalty case, and lying to investigators about it.

Other guardians of justice were caught smoking marijuana and posing in sexually provocative photos for an online gay dating site, and one somehow confessed to taking Ambien and hallucinating a scene starring the “dancing brooms” from the Disney film, “Fantasia.”

The rate of magistrates being brought up on charges is so high in Broward County that the biblical imprecation “Judge not, lest ye be judged” seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It sounds like the makings of a new TV reality show – “The Real Judges of Broward County,” or maybe “The Judges’ Court: Where Judges Are Both Judge and Defendant, and You, The Jury, Judge the Judges.”

Attorney J. David Bogenschutz, who represents one of the driving-while-inebriated robed ones, minimized the judicial improprieties, saying, “Where a judge has the same problem 5,000 other people have, it makes news. They are not supposed to have human feelings and human failings.”

Well, no. What they’re supposed to have is better judgment. Also, they are our symbols of justice. It doesn’t instill much confidence in the legal system to be a defendant sitting in the courtroom awaiting trial, only to recognize the person sitting next to you and go, “Hey, didn’t you used to sit up there?”

Broward County has the state’s highest exoneration rate and while there’s no solid indication that there’s a correlation between the two phenomena, maybe once a judge has been through the grind of the justice system from the other end, he peruses a defendant’s arrest sheet and mutters, “Driving while intoxicated, broadsiding a police car, smashing into a streetlight… Been there, done that! Dismissed!”

Not to mention that if the prosecutor threw the book at the judge, or an attorney successfully represented him, the next time either party appears before the magistrate, there’s at least the appearance of impropriety.

The judges, naturally, want to put this behind them as quickly as possible and return to the bench as if nothing happened. But at the very least, it seems appropriate to publicly embarrass them in the courtroom for a while, as a warning to other judges that they need to tow the line. Which is why I propose that the DA and lawyers both address him as “Your Impugned Honor.”

So that’s the state of things in the Sunshine State. Now Florida, I hope this time you manage to keep out of the news for the foreseeable future. It’s not fair to all the other states with dysfunctional legal systems.

About Stan Sinberg

Stan is an award-winning newspaper columnist, radio commentator, and features writer whose humor has appeared in everything from the NY Times to WSJ and MAD Magazine. Stan is a native New Yorker living on the west coast. His website is www.stansinberg.com and you can email him at stan@stansinberg.com or follow him on Twitter @ssinberg1
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