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Monday, June 05, 2006

What is a judge? 


It's that time of year again. Tomorrow, June 6, is primary day in the state of California. And if I get so disgusted with the Republican Party's ineffective border control and ineffective budget control policies that I end up writing in Jim Gilchrist for all the partisan offices, don't be surprised.

But there are a lot of non-partisan offices up for grabs tomorrow, including a few Superior Court Judge positions. Perhaps there are different parameters in Oakland, but in the Inland Empire, it's very apparent that the secret to winning a judge seat is to be "tough on crime."

Here's an example of what a typical candidate statement for Superior Court Judge might look like out here:


Hello, I'm Bob Smith and I want to be Superior Court Judge for District 6. I have been a District Attorney for 17 years and have locked up many violent offenders and thrown away the key. I want you to know that I support the death penalty, and I am not afraid to sentence criminals to death when warranted. Parole is evil. As District Attorney, I look for opportunities to fight release of evil criminals on parole. Of course, this doesn't apply to criminals who receive a death penalty sentence, which I support. Plus, my grandkids go to public schools. Vote for me.


Bob Smith's position could be characterized as...well, as wimpy. Here's how his opponent would most likely respond:


Hello, I'm Jim James and I want to be Superior Court Judge for District 6. Namby pamby effete liberals like Bob Smith don't deserve your vote because they're weak on crime. I'm tough on crime. I support the death penalty. I think criminals should die. None of this "three strikes" stuff. None of this "misdemeanor" stuff. Kill criminals immediately. Now. Where are they? I'm ready. Plus I was born in California and am an elder in the Love of Christ Church. Vote for me and I'll kill criminals.


After reading these statements (which are only minor exaggerations), I'm very glad that we don't vote for U.S. Supreme Court judges, since the talents that are needed to get elected seem to be diametrically opposed to the talents needed to protect the rights of both victim and accused, and to engage in fair, impartial deliberation.

While there are complaints (in some cases justified) that the rights of the victims are being trampled, we still need to remember that the accused have rights. Take the defendants in the Boston Massacre case, who were represented by none other than John Adams:


John Adams, in his old age, called his defense of British soldiers in 1770 "one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country." That's quite a statement, coming as it does from perhaps the most underappreciated great man in American history.
The day after British soldiers mortally wounded five Americans on a cobbled square in Boston, thirty-four-year-old Adams was visted in his office near the stairs of the Town Office by a Boston merchant , James Forest. "With tears streaming from his eyes" (according to the recollection of Adams), Forest asked Adams to defend the soldiers and their captain, Thomas Preston. Adams understood that taking the case would not only subject him to criticism, but might jeopardize his legal practice or even risk the safety of himself and his family. But Adams believed deeply that every person deserved a defense, and he took on the case without hesitation. For his efforts, he would receive the modest sum of eighteen guineas.

The Preston case came to trial in the Queen Street courthouse in October. Adams, and his young assistant, Josiah Quincy, defended Preston against a prosecution team comprised of Josiah's brother Samuel and Robert Paine. Adams succeeded in casting grave doubt as to whether Preston ever gave orders to shoot, and the Boston jury acquitted the captain.

More detailed records exist for the Soldiers' trial, which commenced on
December 3. Adams presented evidence that blame for the tragedy lay both with the "mob" that gathered that March night and with England's highly unpopular policy of quartering troops in a city...."Facts are stubborn things," [Adams] concluded, "and whatever may be our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

The jury acquitted six of the eight soldiers, while two (Montgomery and Killroy) were convicted of manslaughter and branded on their thumbs.

Initial reaction to Adams role in the case was hostile. His law practice dropped by over half. In the long run, however, the courageous actions of Adams only enhanced his growing reputation.



Technically this doesn't have to do with judges per se, but it does have to do with the rule of law, which we disregard at our peril.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

Comments:
As a person who takes collect calls from murderers all day, I'd have to cast my ballot for James. Kill 'em all!!!!!

No, no, I'm kidding.
 
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