The ABA Journal reports on a wide-ranging public discussion between Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Judge Ann Claire Williams in Chicago. Worth a full read.
The Ontario Judicial Council has issued its disciplinary opinion regarding Justice Bernd Zabel, the Hamilton-based trial judge who wore a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” baseball hat into his courtroom on the day after the U.S. presidential election last November. The hat, of course, is associated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. It is uncontested that Judge Zabel wore the hat into his courtroom, stated “Just in celebration of a historic night in the United States,” and then removed the hat, placing it on the dais with the MAGA phrase visible to all in the courtroom. He presided over about ten matters before taking a recess, at which point he removed the hat from the courtroom. The hat did not return after the recess.
Unsurprisingly, Judge Zabel’s behavior spurred sharp reactions, including 81 formal complaints from a variety of public interest organizations, lawyers, and law professors. (I informally critiqued his actions on this blog as well; see link above.) Interestingly, however, none of the formal complaints came from any lawyers or parties before Judge Zabel that day. Indeed, lawyers in the courtroom that day, and those who have appeared before Judge Zabel in the past, defended his overall judgment and integrity even as they classified the events of that morning to be a professional mistake.
Judge Zabel, too, quickly realized his error. After the Globe and Mail ran a story about the incident two days later, the judge made a public apology in his courtroom. He explained that he was trying to make a humorous gesture, that in retrospect it was entirely inappropriate, and that he sincerely regretted the decision. Later, Judge Zabel sought out private lessons on judicial ethics from another member of the bench.
The judge’s contrition notwithstanding, the Hearing Panel of the Ontario Judicial Council on Monday suspended Judge Zabel for 30 days without pay. This was the most severe sanction they could issue, short of removing the judge from office. In my view, it was too harsh a sanction, supported by surprisingly slipshod reasoning. More below.
Justice Esther Hayut was unanimously elected to the position by the country’s Judicial Appointments Committee. The vote appears to have been pretty pro forma, in that the position traditionally goes to the longest serving justice. But the unanimity of voting members also masks some tension between Israel’s right-leaning and centrist parties over the composition of the Supreme Court. The Times of Israel has a fuller explanation.
The United States District Court for the District of Vermont will close its Brattleboro courthouse at the end of this month, with the retirement of Senior Judge Garvan Murtha. Judge Murtha was the only federal judge sitting in Brattleboro.
This is another example of the courts trying to balance cost and efficiency with access to justice. It is probably not a catastrophe for a single courthouse to close and district business to consolidate, especially in a geographically small state like Vermont. But it does say something to smaller communities about their relevance in the eyes of the justice system when an existing courthouse closes.
In Kenya, that is.
“A declaration is hereby issued that the presidential election held on August 8 was not conducted in accordance to the constitution and applicable law, rendering the results invalid, null and void,” said Judge David Maraga, announcing the verdict of four out of the court’s six judges.
The electoral board “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the elections in accordance with the constitution,” Maraga added. Two of the court’s judges dissented with the verdict, saying the will of the people should not be nullified due to challenges that arose during the electoral process.
New elections must take place within 60 days, according to the ruling.
This is a remarkable display of judicial independence, unprecedented in Africa. And it appears that everyone will abide by the order peacefully. At the same time, however, President Uhuru Kenyatta has lashed out at the judiciary, promising to “fix” the judicial system should he win the revote.
Judge Richard Posner, a fixture on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for decades, has announced his retirement effective tomorrow, September 2. Judge Posner has been one of the leading American public intellectuals of my lifetime. Even (especially) when I disagreed with his conclusions (legal or otherwise) , I always enjoyed his crisp and compelling explanations for his position.
(h/t Howard Wasserman)