This blog has been closely following the Democratic primary elections for county judge in Brooklyn, New York, where voters were forced to choose between candidates approved by the Democratic party machine and a group of “insurgents” running on an independent slate. The election took place earlier this month, and the results are … flabbergasting.
Back in May, I flagged an interesting story about state courts radically revising the cash bail system for criminal defendants. The changes were notable in part because bail is a quintessentially American practice, and a classic example of the court system’s interdependence. In an op-ed today, Walter Olson argues that revisions to the bail system may also have had the unintended effect of causing judges to hold more criminal defendants in jail pending trial:
An early report in March by Kelsi Loos in the Frederick News-Post found that since October the share of Maryland defendants held without bail had increased from 10% to 14%. The Washington Post later reported that from September 2016 to May the figure had jumped from 7% to 15%.
Meanwhile, fewer released defendants are showing up for trial. The Post, confirming anecdotal reports, writes that the “failure to appear” rate in January was 14.5%, up five points from October. Failing to show up for court sets up a defendant for more-severe consequences down the road, which can include being held without bail.
At their core, principles of organizational independence teach that decisions have a wide range of ripple effects on all aspects of the organization. As Olson notes, it is too early to say whether Maryland’s numbers reflect causation, statistical noise, or something in between. But there should be little surprise that the decision to limit bail options, without providing other formal mechanisms to deal with moderate-level offenders, would lead to some noticeable changes in the way the system operates.
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In March, I flagged a story about Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino, who was elected last November after running a particularly ugly campaign against his opponent, Gregg Lerman. udge Santino ran ads suggesting that Lerman, a defense attorney, represents “murders, rapists, child molesters, and other criminals.” She was subsequently investigated by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, and admitted to violating two canons of judicial ethics. The Commission has yet to issue a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court about Judge Santino’s punishment, if any.
In the meantime, there has been an interesting ripple effect. It turns out that before her own election, Judge Santino briefly served as a campaign manager to another Palm Beach County judge, Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo. In light of this fact, Gregg Lerman (Santino’s former opponent) asked Judge Caracuzzo to recuse herself from all cases in which he was representing a party. Judge Caracuzzo agreed.
Although requested by Lerman, the recusal now makes things more complicated for his practice. There are fewer judges available to his clients, which may lead to more delays in the administration of justice.
All involved insist that there are no hard feelings about the earlier campaign. But judicial elections have these sort of ancillary (and ultimately predictable) effects. At minimum, a lawyer in Mr. Lerman’s shoes might think twice before seeking a judicial position in the future.
Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit has established a series of problem-solving courts, which are designed specifically to get at the root of nonviolent criminal activity, and get the offenders the help they need to become productive citizens. State court systems around the country have begun to adopt problem-solving courts, to critical acclaim.
It appears that Florida’s work in paying off, at least with respect to participation. Participation in its drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans courts is collectively up more than 45% over this time last year. This is encouraging precisely because problem-solving courts are not easy for the participants: they must make a financial investment in the program, and must complete all the requirements of participation, which can last a year or more.
Problem-solving courts are not appropriate for every crime or every criminal, but their success suggests that court systems can help their communities by thinking flexibly about their roles and responsibilities outside of traditional adjudication.
The devastation in the Houston area from Hurricane Harvey has extended to the state and local court systems, which have effectively been shut down. State courthouses in Harris County, Texas are closed all week, and several other counties are scrambling to shift proceedings to available venues. The federal courts in the Southern District of Texas also suspended operations for several days, a major development given that the district receives more than 14,000 filings a year. The Eastern District of Texas and Western District of Louisiana also closed courthouses in light of the hurricane.
In the wake of real tragedy along Harvey’s path, the inconvenience of a closed courthouse is admittedly relatively minor. But as those in the Gulf Coast begin the long process of reconstructing their communities, an operational and fully functioning court system will be a welcome development.
Mississippi state judge Carlos Moore has been the subject of several threatening social media posts, including one stating, “You’re a piece of **** I guess you need a bullet in the head.”
Police believe that the posts are related to Judge Moore’s decision to remove the Mississippi state flag from his courtroom. The state flag contains a miniaturized version of the Confederate flag in one corner.
The local police have issued arrest warrants for two men for cyberstalking threats.
I reported last month on a motion to disqualify a Florida state judge from presiding over a case after it was learned that she was Facebook friends with opposing counsel. The twist on the case was that the counsel in question had previously been a judge himself, and the Facebook connection dated back to a time when both judge and counsel were on the bench.
On Wednesday, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal issued a ten-page order, concluding that disqualification was not necessary. The key language:
We agree with the Fifth District that “[a] Facebook friendship does not necessarily signify the existence of a close relationship.” We do so for three reasons. First, as the Kentucky Supreme Court noted, “some people have thousands of Facebook ‘friends.’…
Second, Facebook members often cannot recall every person they have accepted as “friends” or who have accepted them as “friends.” In a recent case, a student, who had over one thousand Facebook “friends,” did not know he was a Facebook “friend” with another student he was accused of assaulting….
Third many Facebook “friends” are selected based on Facebook’s datamining technology rather than personal interactions. Facebook data-mines its members’ current list of “friends,” uploaded contact lists from smart phones and computers, emails, names tagged in uploaded photographs, internet groups, networks such as schools and employers, and other publicly or privately available information. This information is analyzed by proprietary algorithms that predict associations. Facebook then suggests there “People You May Know” as potential “friends.”
This is a thoughtful and sensible opinion, and the pervasive use of scare quotes around the term “friend” is a telling indictment of how distant our human relationships have grown in an age of social media.