Monday, October 24, 2016

Judge's bizarre and disturbing behavior results in a new trial

Continuing on last week's topic of the bailiff protects the judge, there are some judges whose behavior must really frustrate their bailiffs.

For example, several years ago in one local court where I frequently had cases, one the judges would come down from the bench and walk around the courtroom.  Now this is relatively common for adoption cases and drug court "graduations", because the parties want a photo of themselves with the judge as they begin their new life.  But bailiffs in those courtrooms know what to expect.

It is absolutely not common for a judge in any other setting to leave the bench for an excursion around the courtroom while court is in session.

Here's a news article about a judge in Louisiana who wandered around the courtroom DURING A JURY TRIAL!  And that wasn't the worst of this judge's behavior.  He acted favorably toward the defense witnesses, and appeared bored with Plaintiff's witnesses.

“Judge Ellender’s insidious actions of leaving the bench, wandering around the courtroom, looking out the windows, eating candy and otherwise failing to pay attention to the proceedings communicated to the jury in a non-verbal way his opinion that the trial was not serious and could be treated as a joke....”

And apparently this was the THIRD time this judge was disciplined for this type of behavior.

The Louisiana Supreme Court rule that the plaintiffs were entitled to a new trial because the trial judge’s behavior created a miscarriage of justice.

Ya think??!

Friday, October 21, 2016

COUNTING BY 7S by Holly Goldberg Sloan [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library e-book [2014]

Description: Willow Chance is a 12yo child genius, trying to make her way in the world.  When her adoptive parents die in a car crash, she is once again orphaned, with an uncertain future.

Plot:  Willow finished a state test in 17 minutes and achieved a perfect score, which everyone believed was because she cheated.  She is therefore sent to the school counselor, who isn't able to do much for her because of his own personal issues.  Later, her adoptive parents both die, and Willow is taken in by the single mother of a new friend.  Together, they keep one step ahead of social services and try to make a new life for all of them.

Characterization:  The characters are well developed for a middle grade novel, with individual personalities.

Setting:  Bakersfield California.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  This is a middle grade novel.  Very diverse.  I liked how each character was unique, which doesn't always happen, especially with middle grade books.

Overall:  This book has a literary feel, and despite the sad beginning, it is positive and uplifting.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 17, 2016

The court bailiff protects the judge

The court bailiff's job is to maintain order within a courtroom and protect judges, jurors, and other court personnel.  In California, most bailiffs are law enforcement personnel, typically from the Sheriff department.  Bailiffs formerly were a separate department called the Marshal, but several years ago the Marshal merged into the Sheriff department.

A while back, I was in court one day, watching another trial while waiting for my own case to be called.  In the middle of the testimony of that trial, the bailiff interrupted and said “Your Honor, I need you to leave the bench.”

Without any further comment or explanation, the judge immediately rose and left the bench, disappearing through a side door.  I've never seen a judge move that fast.  He was out of the courtroom within five seconds of that request.

The attorney in trial, his witness, and the other party, all stood there at counsel table with confused looks on their faces.  They were in the middle of trial!

The bailiff who'd made that announcement hustled out through the main courtroom door at the back.  The court clerk migrated toward the exit doors near the front of the courtroom.  Those of us more-experienced attorneys motioned to our clients and we started moving toward the court clerk.

This particular courtroom was the closest courtroom to the courthouse entrance and must have been a short-cut because several seconds later, about 8-10 bailiffs erupted into the courtroom through the front doors, almost knocking down those of us who'd congregated there, and ran out the main door.

About five minutes later, our bailiff returned and announced “the situation is under control”.  The judge returned and the trial resumed.

I learned later that someone had made a scene while entering the courthouse through the weapon screening station, and the security staff had deemed it a sufficient threat that they called for back-up.

Eviction cases can cause heated emotions.  If there is no bailiff in the courtroom to protect the judge, in most instances the judge cannot be on the bench.

Friday, October 14, 2016

MURDER AS A SECOND LANGUAGE by Joan Hess [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library audio book [2013]

Description: This is #19 in the Claire Malloy mystery series.  In this book, Claire decides to volunteer as a tutor at the literacy center, helping adults who are learning English.  Unfortunately, one of the more abrasive students is killed.

Plot:  Claire tries to sign up as a tutor for adults learning English, but misses the mandatory training meeting.  Instead, she's conscripted to serve on the board of directors, where she learns of some questionable activities regarding the Literacy Center, and stumbles upon a murder.  I didn't figure out whodunnit until almost the very end of the book.

Characterization:  The characters are well-rounded and have individual personalities.  Claire can be a little whiny.  Her daughter Caron, a high school senior, is really obnoxious and if she was my daughter, I would definitely have a problem co-existing with her.

Setting:  Arkansas.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by Meredith Mitchell and she did a nice job.

Overall:  This is the first book of this series that I have read.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 10, 2016

When life imitates the movies

Have you seen the movie Hopscotch with the late, great Walter Matthau?  It's my favorite movie, and I watch it at least once per year.

This news story is an eerily similar scene from Hopscotch come to life.

Back in 2014 in Idaho, a tenant gave the police permission to search for her ex-boyfriend in the house she rented.  She even gave them her keys.

Police allegedly spent about 10 hours shooting tear gas into the home, smashing windows, and doing other stuff they’ve probably seen TV cops do.

Eventually, after enough time had passed that the police were reasonably sure no one was inside, they did enter the house.

“The dog they found in a back bedroom was arrested without incident.”  No mention of the charges.

I can certainly understand the police hesitation to just go in to the house through the front door with the key, especially knowing the person they were seeking was suspected of stealing guns, and especially in today's climate of police shootings.  But ten hours?  Now if the person holed up inside the house was threatening to kill hostages or something, maybe that would have been justified.

But it took the police ten hours to learn the only one inside was a dog.

The tenant, formerly cooperative with the police, surely regretted her cooperation.  She and her children lost all of their personal possessions, and were unable to live in their home for the following two months.  She's filed a lawsuit demanding $350,000 for this incident, which does seem excessive given that (1) she didn't own the house, and (2) she wasn't inside at the time.

Go watch the movie Hopscotch.  When you get to the scene I've mentioned here [and you'll definitely know it when you see it], have a good laugh.  It's a great movie.

Friday, October 7, 2016

UNLEASHED by David Rosenfelt [Book recommendation]

Book obtained from: Library audio book [2014]

Description: Defense attorney Andy Carpenter's accountant Sam receives a call from a high school friend Barry, who needs help.  Sam is delayed in getting to his friend's house, and Barry leaves on a private plane without him.  The plane crashes, Barry's wife is accused of murdering him, and Andy takes the case.

Plot:  Andy defends Barry's wife.  Things don't look so good, but a twist takes the case in a new direction.  There is a sub-plot that becomes related to the main plot later in the story.  The sub-plot was a little distracting at first, because listening on audio didn't give me any visual clues that a new chapter was addressing the sub-plot.  At first the two plots seem unrelated and when a sub-plot chapter began, it took me a few seconds to realize it was the sub-plot.

Characterization:  Andy Carpenter is wise-cracking and really funny.  I think I laughed at least 2-3 times in each chapter.  He has a very dry sense of humor.  The other characters all have individual personalities and add quite a bit to the story.

Setting:  New Jersey.  Nicely described, I was able to picture every scene.

Other:  The audio book was narrated by Grover Gardner and he definitely added to Andy's characterization.  Great narrator!

Overall:  This is the eleventh book in this series.  All have a dog in them.  Even the dogs have individual, well-developed personalities.

Grade: A-

Monday, October 3, 2016

Read those "Terms of Service" agreements!

As an attorney, I am forever advising people [and not just my clients] that they need to read every document before signing it.  Most folks agree that's the smart thing to do.  But do they always comply?

I think not.

It would take the average user 40 minutes a day to read all of - and that's every day - to read all of the privacy and terms of service policies that we encounter related to the different services that we're using all the time.”

A study out of the University of Connecticut asked volunteers to sign up for a new social networking site called Name Drop.  Buried within the lengthy Terms of Service was a clause that all information collected on the site would be shared with the National Security Agency [NSA].  Also included was a term that payment would include the user's firstborn child.

Only one person out of 500 volunteers objected to sharing his information with the NSA.  And 98% didn't even notice the firstborn clause.

The Name Drop social networking site wasn't real, and maybe the volunteers knew that, but I suspect those volunteers did was most of us do all the time.  Without reading the lengthy Terms of Service, we just blindly click on “I agree”.

Be careful what you sign, whether it's a hard-copy signature, an electronic signature, or otherwise.