Monday, January 25, 2016

Incompetent judges

I don't even know where to start on this one.

An “octogenarian senior federal judge” in Virginia apparently has a “history of screwing up trials.”

Federal judges are appointed for life, so the only ways they can be removed from office are (1) die, or (2) voluntary retirement, or (3) impeachment. So basically, they hold that position for as long as they want it.

Now, most federal judges can tell when they need to retire. But, unfortunately, there are some who can't. This apparently includes Judge Robert G. Doumar.

The circuit judges [Court of Appeal] really hammered Judge Doumar in their latest opinion, including citing opinions where they had benchslapped him in the past. The case on appeal was sent back down to the district court for resentencing before a different judge.

In my own practice in state court [I am rarely in federal district court], I encounter judges every week who appear to be at least as incompetent as this federal judge. It is theoretically easier to remove a state court judge because they are elected for 8 year terms, but they can be (1) voted out, or (2) recalled. Also in state court, judges are subject to peremptory challenge. Each party can ask to be reassigned away from a judge they don't like, within 10 days of the case being assigned to that judge. The court will then assign a different judge to hear that case. My firm does this quite frequently, because there are certain judges for whom the phrase “incompetent” is an understatement.

Because my area of practice [evictions] is one that almost no judge voluntarily wants to be assigned to hear this calendar, most of the time the bench officers we are assigned are (1) commissioners [who we don't have to accept, but we generally do because they usually want to do a good job], (2) brand new judges [who most of the time have no clue but want to do a good job], and (3) what we call “disciplinary assignments” [judges who irritated the presiding judge sufficiently that they are assigned to a calendar that no one else wants]. It's this third set of judges that we most often file a peremptory challenge against.

The number of incompetent state court judges who are assigned to the calendars that no one wants is sometimes amazing. Not all of the judges on these calendars are bad, but there sure are a lot who are. These calendars include evictions, small claims, traffic, criminal misdemeanors, and juvenile dependency.

Yes, judges are human too.  But you'd think that after two or three problems like this, someone would pay attention.


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