September 25, 2006

“I just follow my own common sense... And the hell with the law.”

New York's town and village courts.
Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many — truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers — have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles. Some never got through high school, and at least one went no further than grade school.

The NYT has done an extensive study of these obscure characters.


Gerry said...

It is bad. I am originally from NY and my mother worked in our village's court. The stories she would tell of what she was hearing happening elsewhere were troubling.

That said:

"A black soldier charged in a bar fight near Fort Drum became alarmed when his accuser described him in court as “that colored man.” But the village justice, Charles A. Pennington, a boat hauler and a high school graduate, denied his objections and later convicted him. “You know,” the justice said, “I could understand if he would have called you a Negro, or he had called you a nigger.”"

A witness' testimony is somehow supposed to be considered suspect because he referred to a black soldier as "colored"? Huh?

The Times paints a disturbing picture of the small courts in NY state. But The Times also paints a disturbing picture of the type of courts they would prefer.

David said...

municipal court in small towns is more about keeping the order, not deciding constitutional questions. If that is the purpose, then why would you need to be an attorney?

I care more about if their decisions just than their educational background

Dave said...

My grandfather was a municipal court judge in Westchester County in the 70s and early 80s. He graduated number 1 from Cornell Law school his year.

Isn't the notion of a non-lawyer judge paradoxical, or at best, contradictory?

AJ Lynch said...

Sounds a lot like Phiadelphia's City Council.

J said...

"People have been sent to jail without a guilty plea or a trial, or tossed from their homes without a proper proceeding. In violation of the law, defendants have been refused lawyers, or sentenced to weeks in jail because they cannot pay a fine. Frightened women have been denied protection from abuse"

See, the trouble is that I'm pretty sure if I did "an extensive study", I could find plenty of examples of "real" judges - with law degrees and everything - doing the same stuff.

"“I just follow my own common sense,” ... “And the hell with the law.” "

If you'd just put this quote up and asked who said it, my first guess would have been somebody on the ninth circuit. At least Mr Buckley is honest.

MrsWhatsit said...

David, the municipal courts in New York deal with much, much more than just "keeping order." Read the article, which strikes me as fairly accurate based on my experience as a New York lawyer, and you'll see that New York's town and village courts are the first stop for criminal defendants on all kinds of serious charges. They make final decisions on important property matters, too. In my area, there are quite a few fully-competent local judges who are lawyers or otherwise well-versed in the law they have to apply. Unfortunately, there are also too many judges who fall into the more-alarming category described by the Times. It's a real problem.

dick said...

I realize it is a real problem but when you look at some of the decisions from courts staffed by real lawyers and the basis of them these characters are not so far off after all. Read some of the legal blogs and then read the comments by the lawyers. I find that I can't believe at the picayune arguemtns they make and they are serious about them.

I realize that the law is definitely concerned with the minor nuances of the law as passed but the lengths and the depths that some of the lawyers will go to in order to win a case are beyond belief. You wonder if common sense is at work anywhere with some of them. Of course you can say that about some of the laws as well.

Maxine Weiss said...

Kangaroo Court.


Peace, Maxine

howzerdo said...

I don't trust any "extensive study" done by the New York Times when the subject is connected to upstate New York.

Bruce Hayden said...

It isn't just NY. I ran into this years ago in Dillon, CO. But probably worse, IMHO, is the AZ Justice of the Peace system. In Colorado, we got away from that system decades ago, but last I knew, it still operated in AZ.

JP courts are where some misdemeanors and most traffic offenses are heard, and most of the JPs are not attorneys. So, you had better not try to defend yourself based on the law.

I had one experience in PHX, where I was ticketed for exiting a freeway other than at a designated exit. So, I got the officer admit that I was in the process of exiting, and had not done so yet. And then, I pointed out that there are no inchoate traffic offenses (such as attempted speeding, consipiring to run a stop sign, etc.), and, thus, I had not violated the statute.

I lost, appealed to the district court, where the judge was an attorney, won, and it was remanded. But, instead of a dismissal, I was retried, lost again at the JP level, and appealed, again. Same district court judge, and he lost it this time. We spent my oral argument time drafting a two page rebuke for the JP court - that they are bound by AZ statutes, whether they like it or not, and when he remands, he wants a dismissal, and not to see the case again a year later.

And don't bother trying to cite Rules of Evidence to suppress, for example, hearsay. How can you expect a JP who hasn't been to law school to understand something like that complicated. Never mind that these courts are bound by them, just like any others in the state.

What is scary is sitting in the audience waiting your turn, and listening to guys going away to jail based on inadmissible evidence. Most of the defendants don't have counsel, and those who do, invariably have overworked PDs, and the JPs don't listen to their legal arguments any more than they listened to mine.

Ken Stalter said...

There are definitely problems with the local courts, but that article read less like a balanced analysis of the system and a lot more like just another NYT anti-upstate hatefest.

Daryl Herbert said...

I'm really angry, reading this. I don't have much intelligible or printable to say.

Suffice it that I consider this a perversion of justice and would never accept it being inflicted on myself or those close to me.

Gerry: in real courts, witnesses have to act with courtesy and decorum, and judges enforce that.

David: keeping order is all good and well, until it's being done to you without due process.

Ken: it's really too bad the NYT didn't find more redeeming values about loosing a bunch of ignorant, untrained, ordinary folk to use their folk wisdom in deciding matters of personal liberty of their enemies, or substantial wealth of their friends. It's a shame they couldn't find more examples of good violations of due process rights. Every story must be balanced 50/50, don'tchaknow.

Revenant said...

“I just follow my own common sense... And the hell with the law.”

Earl Warren? Is that you?

Chris O'Brien said...

I am an upstate NY lawyer and have practiced before some of these bozos. Its every bit as bad as you would think. One local judge for example is actually a jeweler by trade and knows as much about the law as..well..a jeweler. He does not want to be bothered by caselaw or any statutory interpretation that clearly contradicts his own pre-determined rationale. He makes his living as a small business owner and noone recalls him ever deciding a case against a small business. Stuff like this is why I practice bankruptcy law now.

Gerry said...

"witnesses have to act with courtesy and decorum,"

And your point is?

Is it that "colored" is inherently uncourteous?

I have a hard time keeping up. It used to be that one had to use colored rather than black, in order to be courteous. What is ok now, dark skinned?

I'll pass. If I happen to be standing near a bunch of people and happen to be the only white guy in the bunch, should I be offended if someone referred to me as "that white man over there?" That makes no sense to me.

I think there is nothing gained in this country by being overly responsive to imagined slights. The justice's words in that example sound exactly right to me. Had the accuser used a slur, then there would have been valid objections. There was none there.

doctorfixit said...

What a great idea. Can we replace the Supreme Court with some of these folks? I would trust their judgement far more than the elitist liberal do-gooder marxist morons that come out of our law schools. If we elected all judges, we could weed out the psychotics, unlike now, where the Ruth Bader Shitbirds and Sandra Day O'Screwballs can sit and drool for decades.

John said...

Thanks, Gerry! What would black people do without white folks like you to tell them what is and is not offensive? I mean, they only became black yesterday, you know? They're so new at this. Poor things, they just have no idea.