Tuesday, June 07, 2005

MEGALOMANIA IS OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD FOR JUDGES

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By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, Reported in Los Angeles Daily Journal

NEW YORK - When Judge Lorin Duckman first came to wide public attention in 1996 it was for lowering the bail of a man charged with beating and threatening his girlfriend and ignoring court orders to stay away from her. The man was then released, and three weeks later he killed his girlfriend and himself.

But when New York state's highest court ruled last week that Duckman could be stripped of his judgeship, that case was not part of its decision. Instead, he was banished from the bench for a long record of behaving imperiously and preposterously in his Brooklyn courtroom.

The killings served only to shine a spotlight on Duckman's misbehavior, which had been widely known among lawyers who had appeared before him but did not cause judicial authorities to take action against him.

On one occasion, Duckman decided to dismiss a case without hearing the district attorney's arguments. According to court documents, he was especially nasty to prosecutors, telling one that he probably got his law license on the back of an orange juice carton and another that he would prefer she appear in his courtroom in short skirts.

Duckman's erratic and tyrannical behavior is hardly unique. "Megalomania is an occupational hazard for judges," said Professor Paul Carrington of the Duke University Law School, noting that a trial judge inevitably has a great deal of power over everyone on the courtroom. "Judges can get awfully full of themselves," he said. "Put it this way: Everybody laughs at the judge's jokes."

Prosecutors and public defenders in any city are able to point to errant Judges who are local legends, but they typically do so only among themselves.

They really are intimidated by the fear of retaliation," said professor Monroe Freedman of the Hofstra Law School. "They usually think they can't complain because they will eventually have to appear before the judge and he will take it out on them."

Yet some jurists, like Duckman, do manage to become infamous. Brian Duff, until recently a federal trial judge in Chicago, was the subject of courtroom chatter for several years. He once ordered the arrest of his personal clerk and had her held in contempt and fined $20 after a quarrel in which he complained she had handed him a file facing the wrong way. She was held in custody for an hour.

Duff refused to accept briefs unless they spelled out his middle name, Barnett, and once mused aloud during a criminal trial that he had recently been on a flight where a female attendant had wonderful legs.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers finally issued a report that said Duff's "outbursts go far beyond the range of irascibility that judges sometimes show towards lawyers."

The report also hinted at why judges may feel they are above criticism: "Some lawyers report that the only way to avoid Duff's ire is to grovel and constantly flatter him."

The few instances in which judges are removed from the bench usually follow notorious publicity.

In the case of Duckman, Gov. George Pataki asked the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to remove him following the bail-lowering incident.

Unlike most state judges, federal judges have life tenure and can only lose their jobs after impeachment by Congress, a rare occurrence that usually follows a criminal conviction. Duff retired shortly after a drunken driving arrest.

Another egregious example of judicial arrogance in New York occurred in 1975, when Judge William Perry of Suffolk County court had a Marshall bring into court in handcuffs a man who operated a refreshment truck outside the courthouse because the judge thought his coffee tasted bad. Perry was later thrown off the bench, not for abusing his office but for lying about the incident to a disciplinary panel.

Murray Richtel, a state trial judge in Boulder, CO, said a big part of the problem was that judges are obliged to keep a seemly distance from lawyers and others.

"It's a job that's isolating and they are deprived of the opportunity to have feedback as to their behavior," he said.

"You get very little criticism from the people in front of you and you don't hear the truth about your performance. You can get deeper and deeper into a pattern of behavior that's wrong and not even suspect it."

Judge William Schwarzer, a senior federal trial judge in San Francisco and the former director of the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, said, "Much of the misconduct of judges in the courtroom is a reflection of their insecurity."

He added that most people viewed judges as being in total control. "But when you're up there having to deal with attorneys at each other's throats arguing about tough issues, you're under an awful lot of pressure," he said.

Judges who are unable to handle that kind of pressure, Schwarzer said, resort to arbitrary and sometimes foolish behavior. "There are times when you get mad at a lawyer," he said. "But consistent heavy-handed and arbitrary behavior is as much due to insecurity and intellectual laziness as anything."

But Schwarzer warned that some attacks on judges mask a wider political agenda aimed at diminishing judicial independence, as when a politician criticizes an unpopular ruling to win favor with voters.

"Sometimes what's really occurring is really an attack on judicial decision-making," he said. "It's one thing to complain about judges who conduct themselves badly or arrogantly, but it's something else to censure judges for what they say in the decision-making process."

The above found here on the web

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