Casual Friday presents: The Judicial Snark Attack

And you thought we had a problem with bickering justices in Michigan…

In California, two judges had it out over whether to a quadriplegic is a dangerous person. The defendant is serving 157 years for kidnapping and forcibly raping a woman.  While in prison, he was rendered a quadriplegic by a stabbing incident.

He requested a compassionate release from prison based on his condition and the likelihood (unlikelihood?) that still posed a threat to the community. As they sometimes do with people who intentionally run over two women with his car, pinning one under the car, grab the other one, shove her in the backseat of the car, punch her in the face, breaking her nose, and then rape her, the parole board said no. He appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which, as they used to say on MTV’s “Cribs”, that is where the magic happened.

The court remanded the case back for a determination of whether the defendant still posed a threat to society. In the opinion, Judge Arthur G. Scotland chided the dissenting judge, Rick Sims, for asserting that the defendant was no longer a viable threat to anyone, and he proved it by doing a Google search [skip to page 27]:

Asserting that it is “utter speculation” to conclude Martinez could enlist the aid of others to harm those who irritate him, the dissent quotes Holmes for the proposition that “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” Well, experience has shown that quadriplegics can commit violent crimes. (Quadriplegic
Suspect–Police: Pulled Trigger with String in Mouth (Sept. 9, 1987) Newsday [“A quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair thought his bride of two weeks was cheating on him and killed her by firing a pistol using a string in his mouth”]; Yaro, Quadriplegic Con Man Faces Court Again–in Murder Case, L.A. Times (May 7, 1984); Gettemy, Armed Robbery Guilt Admitted by Quadriplegic, L.A. Times (Oct. 31, 1972); People v. Taibi (1991) 174 A.D.2d 585, 571 N.Y.S.2d 88 [quadriplegic tries to arrange for hit man to kill former business partner].)

If you were thinking that it’s probably not logical to base your opinion that a quadriplegic is a violent threat upon anecdotal evidence found in an internet search, so did Sims. He did a Google search of his own [see page 38]:

Citing three newspaper stories and one case, the majority say, “experience has shown that quadriplegics can commit violent crimes.”

I have two points to make with respect to this argument.

The first is it demonstrates that, with the help of a good
Internet search engine, you can prove anything, including that pigs can fly. (See, e.g., Pigs Really Can Fly . . . With the Help of a Trampoline (Dec. 5, 2009) Telegraph Co. UK … [as of Dec. 16, 2009]; When Pigs Fly, They Go 1st Class (Oct. 29, 2000) The Washington Post, A04 … [as of Dec. 16, 2009]; Rowland, Sure Pigs Fly– But is that Art? (Jan. 21, 1995) San Diego Union-Tribune, p. B3 … [as of Dec. 16, 2009].)

And he wasn’t done:

The second point is that the majority’s citation of these
quadriplegic crime stories actually supports my argument. Thus the majority’s four accounts are drawn from the entire country and span a period of 38 years–from 1972 to the present. I am sure that if there were more stories of this ilk, the majority would have found them. Four stories in the country in 38 years is darn few. Indeed, the stories are written and reported because the commission of serious crimes by quadriplegics is so rare and bizarre that they are newsworthy. Thus I am willing to take the risk that petitioner Martinez will fire a pistol with a string in his mouth. Indeed, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Martinez is costing the State each year, it is a risk that we all must take.

Well played, Judge Sims.

[HT: Legal Blog Watch, via Lowering the Bar]

It’s a stretch With any new law, there’s some yahoo railing on about some crazy slippery slope argument and how the law is going to mean the end of Western civilization. That yahoo is usually Glenn Beck. But it’s another thing when said yahoo is the district attorney.

In Wisconsin,  a new law mandates that school districts that have sex education classes teach students about the use of about condoms and contraceptives.1

Juneau County DA Scott Southworth said they had better not [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]:

A district attorney is telling Juneau County schools to abandon their sex education courses, saying a new curriculum law could lead to criminal charges against teachers for contributing to the delinquency of minors.

Starting in the fall, the new law requires schools that have sex education programs to tell students how to use condoms and other contraceptives. Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said such education encourages sex among children, which is illegal, and could lead to charges against teachers.

The new law "promotes the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children," Southworth wrote in a March 24 letter to officials in five school districts. He urged the districts to suspend their sex education programs and transfer their curriculum on anatomy to a science course.

"Forcing our schools to instruct children on how to utilize contraceptives encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender," he wrote. "It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks."

It’s similar to the case in Macomb where the prosecutor is attempting to try a guy who bit a guy on the lip while fighting and said he had AIDS with making terrorist threats.

1 It also must teach about signs of sexual abuse, age of consent laws and the effect alcohol has on decision making. It also allows parents to remove their teenagers from these classes, and school districts to not have sex education programs.

Care to comment, Your Honor? Anyone who has ever waded into the comments at the end of an online article at or knows the level of “discourse” is about as high as what you’d expect from 10-year olds. Anonymity makes it even easier.

“Statement.” “Response.” “You’re a ____.” “No, you’re a ______.”  Then one compares the other to Hitler. It’s Godwin’s law.

In Cleveland, one judge, Shirley Strickland Saffold, didn’t like her press coverage, so she took up a pseudonym and fired back, criticizing attorneys who appeared before her:

Another lawmiss posting, which did not originate from Saffold’s courthouse computer, referenced Saffold’s sentencing of an RTA bus driver to six months for vehicular homicide. The post criticizes Rufus Sims, who defended the woman and is now one of the lawyers on Sowell’s capital-murder case.

"Rufus Sims did a disservice to his client," the Nov. 21, 2009, post reads. "If only he could shut his Amos and Andy style mouth. What makes him think that is [sic] he insults and acts like buffon [sic] that it will cause the judge to think and see it his way. There are so many lawyers that could’ve done a much better job. This was not a tough case, folks. She should’ve hired a lawyer with the experience to truly handle her needs. Amos and Andy, shuffling around did not do it."

The Plain Dealer removed the comment for violating’s community rules, which do not allow personal attacks.

The judge pulled the Isiah Thomas defense and blamed it on her daughter, saying she used the judge’s email address to open an account to make the comments.

Jonathan Coughlin, disciplinary counsel for the Ohio Supreme Court, said he has never dealt with a case involving a judge anonymously commenting online about cases before the bench.

Legal experts contacted Friday said that a judge posting comments about his or her cases — even under the anonymity of a screen name — would be guilty of improper conduct and could be subject to disciplinary action.

Saffold and her daughter filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Cleveland Plain Dealer for disclosing private information. If she’s talking about her secret identity, unless she’s a CIA agent, I question how much of a case she’d have.

[HT: Above the Law, my favorite legal blog.]

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