Saturday, June 8, 2013

Beneath the Robe

Really, it's no different from auto mechanics or proctologists.  Some are good, some are bad, most are middling.  And then there are the outliers: the extraordinary and the appalling.

As with auto mechanics and proctologists, so with judges.  I've written from time to time about good judges, those who do the right thing, act without fear or favoritism and follow the law and the facts wherever they lead.  And I've written about - well, there's Sharon Keller.  There's also Edith Jones.  Like Keller, she hangs out in the Lone Star State and wields the jackhammer of justice with little regard for such niceties as --

Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Much as I want to talk about Judge Jones, I must first leave Texas for a quick foray to the west coast.  Tuesday, a panel of the 9th Circuit issued its opinion in Deere v. Cullen, a death penalty habeas appeal from California. 

Ronald Deere was sentenced to die by Judge Fred Metheny of the California Superior Court.  Actually, Metheny sentenced him to die a couple of times, most recently in 1986.  At a time when, well, two-thirds of the panel thought nothing much and affirmed it all so that Deere can be executed some day if California ever gets back into the killing business and actually gets as far down the list as he is.

But you know, there are three judges on an appellate panel, and sometimes it's important to attend to what the one dissenting has to say.  Judge Fletcher began his dissent this way.
The majority holds that a judge suffering from dementia may sentence a man to death. I disagree.
Not surprisingly, the majority would disagree, too.  They said that Deere didn't present enough evidence that Judge Metheny suffered from dementia in 1986 to convince the California courts to do anything about it.  And since they hadn't proved it to the satisfaction of the state courts . . . .  Here's how the majority put it.
The dissent says, "The majority holds that a judge suffering from dementia may sentence a man to death." We hold no such thing.  What we really hold is that the anecdotes drummed up many years after the time in question do not support the claim that Judge Metheny was impaired in 1986, particularly in light of the California Supreme Court's laudatory affirmance of Judge Metheny's supposedly-impaired 1986 rulings.
Sure.  Because if the defendant's lawyers say so, and present evidence of it, it's gotta be bullshit.  Which brings me back to Edith Jones. 

Jones sits on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which is based in New Orleans (though her chambers are in Houston).  The 5th is responsible for hearing appeals from federal courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.  Jones was, for some time and until recently, the Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit.

Now, and to dispel some possbile confusion, nobody's saying that she suffers from dementia.  She's not a terrible judge because she's mentally incompetent.  She's a terrible judge in the same way that Killer Keller is a terrible judge.  She's callous and mean and nasty and biased.  She's the judge who - really, I can't do better than to quote Wonkette and retain the links.
You guys, have we ever turned you on to Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones? We mean, have you ever really listened to her, man? She’s a trip. Such big hits like “Scream At Fellow Judges During Oral Arguments,”  the evocative “Supreme Court is the Source of Moral Decay,” the ear-worm “If You’re Not Actually Raped No Way is it Sexual Harassment,” and her biggest number to date: “It’s Cool if Your Attorney Sleeps Through Your Trial Because Fuck You.” 
In February, Jones left the comfort of her chambers in Houston and her courtroom in New Orleans to give a lecture on the death penalty at the University of Pennsylvania's law school.  There is, apparently, no transcript.  There is, however, Marc Bookman's affidavit.  Here are the highlights of what Wonkette refers to as “Blacks and Hispanics, You So Criminal!”
  • The United States system of justice provides a positive service to capital-case defendants by imposing a death sentence, because the defendants are likely to make peace with God only in the moment before imminent execution;
  • Certain 'racial groups like African Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime," are "'prone' to commit acts of violence," and get involved in more violent and "heinous" crimes than people of other ethnicities;
  • Claims of racism, innocence, arbitrariness, and international standards are simply "red herrings" used by opponents of capital punishment;
  • Capital defendants who raise claims of "mental retardation" abuse the system.
  • The United States Supreme Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia prohibiting execution of persons who are "mentally retarded" was ill-advised and created a "slippery slope";
  • Mexican nationals would prefer to be on death row in the United States rather than in prison in Mexico
  • The country of Mexico does not provide and would not provide the legal protections that a Mexican National facing a death sentence in the United States would receive.
I've taken that set of bullet points from a formal complaint against Jones filed Tuesday by a number of civil rights organizations and experts in legal ethics (Yes, Virginia, there are legal ethics) accusing her of judicial impropriety and misconduct and, especially, of bias and prejudice.  Bookman's affidavit was appended to the complaint.  

The picture, largely self-portraiture of a woman so caught up in and committed to her prejudices and her ignorance that she cannot judge outside them is wholly damning  The world is good and evil.  Our client's are evil.  Evil at one thing, evil at all.  No room for nuance.  Or fairness.

Sadly, I imagine that Jones will survive this - as Keller did the charges against her.  Would that our clients survived the two of them.


  1. "Meicfan nations would prefer to be on death row..."

    I think you mean "Mexican Nationals would prefer..."

  2. It would have been easier to cut and paste, but the pasting wasn't working well. Nor, it appears, was the typing. I'm correcting it.