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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Judgment Day for the Judge

Should a judge be removed from the bench for a single decision; even a particularly poor one?

Being a judge is a very difficult job. Every decision you make disappoints at least one of the parties standing in front of you; sometimes both parties are disappointed; sometimes bitterly disappointed.

An independent judiciary is mission critical for our democratic system of government. A judge must be able to consider the evidence presented, calling the balls and strikes of a case, and decide the matter within a range of principled outcomes.

When a judge's decision is wrong, the aggrieved party always has an appeal. In a recent media case from Santa Clara County, California, non-parties have mobilized well beyond the scope of an appeal, launching assaults on the very professional standing of the judges making the decisions.

In People vs Broc Turner, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, unopposed in his bid for re-election this November, is facing two "recall" or "impeachment" petitions. Judge Persky got into it with the world by sentencing Broc Turner, a student-athlete at Stanford University, to only six months jail for the rape of a fellow student.

In the wake of Judge Persky's decision, there has been a national outcry leading all the way to the White House, calling for Persky's removal or impeachment. It is fair to say at this point that his sentence in the Turner case has made him infamous [yes, he is receiving death threats] and it is not an understatement that his professional reputation will be forever tarnished, the local criminal defense bar notwithstanding, in the eyes of the public and the media.

In criminal cases, once an accused has been convicted, a sentencing hearing is conducted where the judge imposes punishment after considering: a recommendation from the probation department, the statement from the victim, and allocution from the defense lawyer. In the Turner case, Judge Persky's six-month sentence was recommended by probation.

A reader's comment to a recent post about this case in the New York City law blog Simple Justice aptly frames the issue:
The “Social Justice Warriors” have lost their marbles on this one. People who ordinarily post against capital punishment in any context have been advocating the killing of Judge Persky as well as the sodomization and killing of Brock Turner in custody. It is off-the-rails insanity, and reveals the true face of “Social Justice Warriors” as a monstrous composite of the face of McCarthyism and the face of the lynch mob. Eventually (and sooner rather than later if the violence they have endorsed actually occurs), “Social Justice Warriors” will lose their supporters just as McCarthy and lynch mobs have. The only question is how much damage will be done to the justice system and how many lives will be destroyed before it happens.
Writing for Slate in a post aptly titled Justice for None, here is how Mark Joseph Stern characterizes Turner and describes his lenient sentence:
Brock Turner is an odious criminal who committed a heinous act and deserves to go to prison for much longer than his six-month sentence requires. His trial confirmed that both racism and sexism continue to plague America’s criminal justice system, especially where rape is involved. Yet in their rush to condemn Turner’s sentence, far too many liberals have abandoned what were, not so long ago, fundamental principles of progressivism. This willingness to toss due process out the window in sexual assault cases is, unfortunately, indicative of a broader inconsistency that plagues the American left.
The Turner case, and its attendant outrage toward the jurist perceived as too lenient toward a privileged rapist, brings into focus the well-meaning and concerted effort to stop sexual violence. But that cause, however noble, cannot unravel one of the bedrock principles of our justice system: that of an independent judiciary.

Post #543

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