Monthly Archives: February 2012

How I Became A Judicial Reformist: Part 2

So why was I viciously attacked by system people?  That is a question I continue to ponder.

But surely, the attacks on me were numerous, frequent, and many, many judges and lawyers have lined up to share in the attacking.  The widespread effort to attack me (and I use this word to summarize the various forms of attack) has been assisted by court clerks, counter help, probation officers, and even the Fourth Judicial District Court Administrator.

I have several theories about why I have been attacked, and I’ll share those in later posts.

I am human, and surely there were times I have been hurt.  Anyone experiencing abusive conduct over a period of time is going to be worn down.  (Gosh – do you think that’s what they intended?)  But I don’t live in a “victim” space, and I quickly move through it and re-focus on what’s important.

I really never sat down and decided to become a judicial reformist.  It was my values and my commitment to my clients and the rule of law that compelled me to refuse to cooperate with inappropriate judicial (and lawyer) conduct that I observed.

A quick example of this is my refusal to tell my clients to lie under oath to get a guilty plea.  I was shocked to learn how much this happens.  Lying under oath (for any reason) is clearly illegal.  And I won’t have any part of it.  I shudder to think of the values of those lawyers and judges who participate in these “sham” events – staging guilty pleas so the appellate courts think they are real.  This clearly does not belong in a system that says it is about truth-seeking.

In the state criminal system, I represent private people who have been accused by government of wrongdoing.  I refuse to participate in a sham  judicial system, where private people are scrutinized down to the gnat’s ass, and public officials are protected by judges no matter how heinous their conduct.  I’ll discuss some of this in more detail in future posts.  But to me, this makes a mockery of the justice system, and I have refused to become a particpant in a sham perpetrated on the public.

Or, stated another way, I believed strongly that everyone needs to follow the law.  And I acted on those beliefs.  Some judges seem not to realize how insane it is for them to point fingers at private people saying we have to follow the law – all the while flagrantly violating the law themselves.  This judicial juxtaposition will also receive discussion in later posts.

But in my view, judges who do not themselves obey the rules breed contempt for the law, distrust of government, and generally undermine the rule of law in a democracy.   This is not a game.   And there is much at stake.  Asking to be placed in a position of trust in this democracy carries with it a heavy burden.  To whom much is given – much is expected.  I expect each and every judge to do their part in making everyone obey the law.  Or, they should resign.

I will continue to do my part.

Sometimes my part is simply standing strong (like an oak in a harsh windstorm) while a judge pressures you in chambers to plead your client guilty.  It’s uncomforatable, but it’s really not hard to do if you have convictions.

Sometimes it means calling out the judicial conduct (for example, I tried making complaints to the Judicial Standards Board – that’s a whole ‘nother set of posts, people).

And sometimes it means being willing to stand up if you are attacked for reporting a judge’s bad conduct.

I’ve always known that an attack on my law license would eventually come.  I’ve prepared for this day.

I am prepared to stand strong in these harsh winds.  I have nothing to hide.

Of course, judges will ultimately control what happens to me in this fight about my license.  I will demand a jury of my peers, but I presume that will be denied.  No matter what happens in this case, no matter what happens to my law license, I have no regrets.  It has been my pleasure to be a representative of uprightness – even when I am the lone soldier.  And I would do it all again.

How I Became a Judicial Reformist: Part 1

“There is no greater burden than carrying an untold story.”
–Maya Angelou

I did not set out to be a judicial reformist.

I began practicing law in 1988, civil litigation.

Around the year 2000, I encountered a case that changed my consciousness about the justice system.  I became convinced that innocent people were getting convicted of crimes, and sought to use my skills to help people prove their innocence and to exercise their constitutional rights.

I decided to ‘retire’ from what I had known as the practice of law (where the central goal was to make money), and to embark upon a new phase of my life.

This new phase was marked by a commitment to representing people of color in state criminal court, giving people the best defense I could, even if they could not afford it.

Defendants have a constitutional right to trial by a jury of their peers.  I naively assumed my clients merely needed to ask for a jury trial (that’s sure how it seems on tv).  I quickly learned the inordinate pressure on lawyers to plead their clients guilty even if they are not, to avoid a trial.  This shocked me.  The fact that other lawyers in the system were just ‘going along’ with it also shocked me.  I have never been able to understand why judges and lawyers who took an oath to uphold the Constitution could be part of this system.

This new phase was also marked by a commitment to always doing the next right thing – no matter how many people within the justice system pressured me to do otherwise.

The ‘next right thing’ meant, for example, researching the law to determine what it requires.  What it requires of my clients, or me, but also what it requires from government officials including judges.

It meant doing the next right thing for the client, such as not pressuring an innocent person to plead guilty.

Sounds good and honorable, right?

(Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.)

My Heartfelt Disclaimer

Look, as much as I’d like to, it just isn’t possible to include in every post a disclaimer about the ‘good’ judges. You may see a lot of criticism of certain judges on this blog. But that doesn’t mean I think all judges are bad, or engage in bad conduct. In fact, the judicial branch is full of ‘good’ judges. By ‘good’ judges I mean: 1) judges who strive to obey the law and apply the law to the facts; 2) judges who work to serve the public (by being patient, temperate, judicial, and by not always making it all about them); and 3) judges who strive to obey their judicial ethics canons. Those judges know who they are, and the criticisms on this blog are not about them.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to push the ‘good’ judges. I am. Anyone who knows me understands that part of my role in this complex organism we call the justice system, is to push the envelope into the future. If I could have but one wish granted, it would be that the ‘good’ judges carry some of the load in reporting judicial misconduct. First, it is their duty. Canon 2.15 requires judges to report each other under certain circumstances. And a system of ‘self-governance’ simply will not work if judges do not report each other. And Second, why would ‘good’ judges put all the load on people like me and my clients? We have the least power in the system, the least standing, and the least ability to gather the needed evidence. So, Judges, the next time you get an email from your colleague blasting a party or a lawyer, the next time you hear some inappropriate gossip over breakfast – don’t sit there in silence. SAY SOMETHING! I will keep working it from out here. But those of you in there are needed, too. Together we can do this.

Judicial Reformist Jill Clark Targeted

In February 2012, the Director of the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (the prosecutorial arm of the Lawyers Board) served “public charges” against Minnesota lawyer Jill Clark. Apparently someone wants Clark, a noted proponent of judicial reform, disciplined for criticizing judges.