Archive | Judicial Conduct

Judge Scofflaw

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on a judge that seems to have some trouble obeying the law and paying her fines.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold has not paid more than $1,000 in fines and late fees for city of Cleveland traffic and parking tickets issued since 2006, records show.

She owes Cleveland $1,040 in fines and late fees for seven camera-issued tickets and one parking ticket, Cleveland Municipal Court Clerk records show. She has so many unpaid fines that police say they could tow her car to an impound lot if they spot it on the street. . . .

Saffold has received three collection notices for each of the seven tickets issued for her car. She would have owed $700 for the tickets if she had paid them on time. Saffold made two partial payments, in November and January, on tickets from 2006 and 2008, records show.

Late Friday, Saffold’s attorney, Brian Spitz, issued a statement, saying: “Shirley Saffold was cited as a result of automated pictures of her car going through red lights. She is on a payment plan and will provide proof of prior payments if the Plain Dealer would like to do a full and fair investigation. As this story is not newsworthy and investigates only one public official’s traffic record, it is, in my opinion, yet another vindictive, petty story by the Plain Dealer.”

Obie Shelton, spokesman for the clerk’s office, said Friday that the office does offer a payment plan, but he said Saffold is not on it. He said her two partial payments were not part of a payment plan.

This is the same Judge Saffold who’s been in the news of late for her on and is suing the Plain Dealer for its coverage of her conduct. [...]

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Televised “Show Trial” on Proposition 8?

Over at NRO, Ed Whelan has been following some bizarre manuevering by the federal district court judge in the Northern District of California who apparently is trying to have a televised “show trial” regarding Proposition 8. 

Without getting into the merits of Proposition 8 or the legal challenges to it, I agree with Whelan that it seems highly unusual for a judge to authorize televised proceedings for this particular case as part of some new “pilot” project to see how televised proceedings work.  Surely if there were going to be a test run of a new idea, it should be in a more run-of-the-mill case rather than this particular highly controversial one.    Moreover, it does appear that public comment process has been completely short-circuited. [...]

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Do Blogs Influence Judicial Decisions?

J. Robert Brown considers the potential effect of legal blogging on judicial decisions.  Any such influence would be difficult to quantify. Even when a judicial decision cites a blog, it is hard to know whether the blog in question actually influenced the case’s outcome.  Nonetheless, there are occasional instances in which it is quite probable blogging influenced judicial behavior. [...]

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Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee Forbids Facebook “Friendships” Between Judges and Lawyers

The Florida Judicial Ethics Committee has issued an opinion forbidding judges to be Facebook “friends” with lawyers who may appear before them:

Judges and lawyers in Florida can no longer be Facebook friends.

In a recent opinion, the state’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee decided it was time to set limits on judicial behavior online. When judges “friend” lawyers who may appear before them, the committee said, it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, since it “reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer ‘friends’ are in a special position to influence the judge.”

In practice, of course, actual friends and Facebook friends can be as different as leather and pleather, and the committee did recognize that online friends were not the same as friends in the traditional sense. A minority of the panel would have allowed Facebook friendship, which it characterized as more like “a contact or acquaintance” without conveying the notion of “feelings of affection or personal regard.”

But the committee’s majority concluded that the possibility of the appearance of impropriety required that they recommend against friending, said Judge T. Michael Jones of the First Judicial Circuit Court, a committee member. He emphasized that the committee’s role was advisory, and that the opinion “does not have the force of a Supreme Court opinion” in Florida.

The opinion itself is available here.

At first glance, it might seem as if the opinion reflects a generational divide. The older members of the Committee may simply not understand how Facebook and other social networking sites work, and therefore don’t realize that a Facebook “friendship” doesn’t necessarily signal any kind of close relationship. Indeed, many Facebook friends don’t know each other in the real world at all. Only those ignorant of the way these sites function would assume [...]

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More judicial corruption in S.E. PA:

More depressing news from Wilkes-Barre, where a third local judge, and the 20th person overall, has been snagged in a corruption inquiry. I’ve blogged a number of times about the two other judges that will (hopefully) spend a good deal of time in prison on the charge of “honest services fraud for improperly influencing a court case.” How much to make of all this is unclear, I suppose; it’s just another example of dishonest people abusing their positions, and to be sure there’s plenty of that to go around pretty much everywhere in the country. But I’ve been teaching in Philadelphia for the last 13 years, and I have to say that the culture of corruption in the police and judicial systems in this part of the world is jaw-dropping and very depressing; it’s taken for granted that judges and cops are routinely on the take (it’s well known, also, that judges buy their positions from local party leaders for cold, hard cash). Philadelphia has long since ceased to be the world class city that it was 150 or 200 years ago – but there are pockets of terrific energy and creativity bubbling up in Philly, and lots of new folks bringing new ideas and new enthusiasm into town; I do think, though, that until this corruption culture is brought to heel, it will keep holding it back from any chance of getting back on its feet and dealing with the profound problems that it has.
[Thanks to Mike Davidson for the link] [...]

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Are Judges Really Immune when Taking Kickbacks?

Earlier in the year I posted a story about a particularly revolting episode of judicial corruption in Eastern Pennsylvania. I wrote:

Eastern Pennsylvania has a terrible reputation for judicial corruption and venality — the stories one hears from practitioners and others around Philadelphia are truly awful, with bags full of money and all the rest. But a story in the NY Times today breaks new, and more nauseating, ground. Two judges in the Wilkes-Barre area have pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks — $2.6 million worth — from local juvenile detention centers for sentencing young offenders to time in the facility (the facilities were reimbursed by the state on a per-prisoner basis, so the more kids they had, the more money they earned). So dozens and dozens of kids who would ordinarily have expected to get a slap on the wrist — for writing nasty things about their high school principals on Facebook, for starting fights in the playground, that sort of thing — received sentences of several months in the detention facility instead, all, it turns out, to line the pockets of the judges.

Maybe it’s just because I am a parent with two kids of my own, or maybe I’m just a soft-hearted romantic, but to do this to young people for the sake of a few bucks (or 2.6 million bucks, or 260 million bucks) is — well, you pick your own adjective. One has to assume that lives were ruined because of this — 3 months in juvy for a high school kid who doesn’t belong there is a terrible, terrible thing – and I hope these two (for the record, and for the benefit of Internet readers in the 22nd century, and to insure that their names do not disappear from the List of the Wicked,

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