Monday, March 28, 2011

Paper training for judges?

What is the proper response when you have evidence that a judge has violated the Constitution in the course of suspending someone's sentence?

How do you react when a judge asks a defendant entering a guilty plea whether or not he believes in Jesus?

Do you (a) send someone to have a private heart-to-heart with the judge, or (b) file an ethics complaint? Do you accept an explanation that the judge didn't realize he was doing anything wrong, or do you call bullshit based on the politics of the folks he keeps company with?

Is it even that big a deal? We are, after all, supposedly a Judeo-Christian nation. The Founding Fathers, however, were Deists who brought a whole different perspective to the dinner table than evangelical Christians.

If you launch a head-on assault on the judge, do you risk turning the Bible-thumping Teabaggers out in greater numbers to vote for judicial candidates with R's after their names? Or is it politics be damned, it's time to take a stand?

If we make a big stink about it, do we make it harder for any clients we may have who find themselves in that court? Or, do we stand for principle?

I will say this, I find it hard to believe in this day and age that a man could practice family law and then run for a criminal court bench without having a clue that religion has no place in the courtroom. The path to the Republican nomination in Harris County is to pander to the Christian right - and that means putting God "back" in government. That dynamic isn't going to change -- the nature of our political process means that candidates on the extreme fair better in party primaries than candidates in the mainstream; in the general election, however, both candidates move toward the middle and hope that no one was paying attention to the primary season.

If a judge knows that if he crosses the line all he'll get is a chat over coffee with a defense attorney, where's the harm? On the other hand, if a judge realizes he might get slapped with an ethics complaint, he, and his colleagues, will think twice.

Maybe this situation is touchy because no one wants to be seen as being opposed to religion. I think there are some folks out there who are afraid to confront a judge because they don't want the judge to take it out on their clients. Well, if that's the case, the judge will have future complaints on his plate for acting vindictively.

Futhermore, our very presence in the courtroom pisses off judges. Just think of how efficiently the docket would move if there weren't defense attorneys pushing for better deals and challenging the legality of police conduct. Without us mucking up the works, just imagine how many cases would plead out on the first setting in plenty of time to get a round in that afternoon.

It's a matter of principle, not expediency. If a judge is going to be so cavalier as to ignore the First Amendment's prohibition of state-sponsored religion, how's he going to treat the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments?

Just like that cute little puppy that left you a present in the living room; sometimes you have to stick his nose in it.

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