When the Prosecutor Becomes the Judge
|Former Judge Elizabeth Coker|
What about the rest of the equation? Judges must be fair and impartial for the legal system to work. A case from Polk County Texas from a few years back comes to mind that illustrates what can happen when judge's are not impartial.
Former Polk County District Judge Elizabeth E. Coker, a former assistant prosecutor herself, was busted texting questions to an assistant prosecutor that she thought the APA should ask in order to secure a criminal conviction. The matter came to light in late 2013 via a "whistleblower"; an investigator for the district attorney's office that did the right thing when he became aware of what the judge was doing.
Judges cannot conduct ex parte -one-sided- communications with the parties or lawyers involved in a lawsuit. Obviously, even innocent banter about a case can cause a drastic shift from a level playing field to one that tilts toward one of the litigants.
Since her brokered resignation in 2014, many of the defendants that were convicted in her court room have lodged appeals invoking their right to a fair trial under the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Immediately following her resignation from the bench, Coker announced her bid for district attorney for Polk County; she was roundly defeated.
What this story tells us is that some lawyers are not fit to be judges. Our legal system can only work when the judges are fair and impartial.
Many prosecutors seek judgeships; many prosecutors have become excellent judges. Thankfully, all states have a judicial tenure commission charged with the investigation and prosecution of crooked judges.