Are more judges arming themselves in self-defense?

This story out of Toledo suggests that the answer is yes.

This trend is not entirely surprising, given the high-profile, violent attacks on judges in recent months. But it’s not at all clear whether–and how–concealed carry by judges would affect the regular work of courthouse security staff.

An interesting, and somewhat sad, development.

Connecticut family court judges under attack

This depressing story relates the brutal public invective that some family court judges in Connecticut have recently experienced–including a slew of anti-semitic, racist, and homophobic slurs. And it’s not just on social media. Opponents of the judges have erected vicious billboards on interstate highways, and have shown up to public hearings provocatively dressed to draw attention to their hatred of the judge.

The problem is compounded, first, by the nature of family court cases, which are often highly emotional and difficult. The well-accepted standard of doing what is in the “best interests of the child” is easy to state, but not to easy to apply. A second aggravating factor is the ongoing political fight between Connecticut’s legislators and Governor Dannel Malloy over judicial appointments and reappointments. And, of course, delays and court costs only add to the stress of the litigant experience.

So there is much room for improvement. But obviously no judge (indeed, no person) deserves to be attacked based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like.

Poland continues political intimidation of judges

Last summer, the world watched as Poland’s ruling PiS (Law and Justice) Party instituted a series of “reforms” designed to intimidate or replace much of the state’s judiciary. The European Union has continued to put pressure on Polish authorities to revitalize judicial independence, but apparently the crackdown continues.

The Guardian reports that three high-profile Polish judges have complained of state-sponsored political intimidation:

Judges involved in politically sensitive cases or who have expressed opposition to threats to judicial independence have told the Guardian they are frequently threatened with disciplinary proceedings and even criminal charges, and in many cases are subjected to allegations of corruption and hate campaigns orchestrated by leading PiS politicians.

“I became an enemy of the state,” said Waldemar Żurek, a district court judge in the southern city of Kraków, who served as spokesman for the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), the body that appoints and disciplines Polish judges, until it was taken over by government appointees this year.

As the public face of the KRS’s attempts to argue for judicial independence, Żurek received hundreds of abusive and threatening messages to his work phone after false allegations about his personal life were published in pro-government media outlets. Members of his family were also targeted.

Judicial independence is perpetually fragile–in every country, and in every era.

Rosen on Taft on judicial independence

Longtime readers of this blog know how much I have come to respect William Howard Taft as a Chief Justice: his tireless efforts to modernize and autonomize the federal judiciary transformed the Third Branch forever. Now, Jeffrey Rosen has written a short and masterful book on Taft, ostensibly focused on Taft’s Presidency, but delightfully cognizant of Taft’s lifelong judicial temperament and ambitions.

I shall have much more to say about Rosen’s book soon, but in the meantime I was delighted to see him blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy last week. The subject: what would William Howard Taft do about the political challenges of our day? The final installment, on Taft’s approach to judicial independence in the face of persistent populist attacks by prominent politicians (sound familiar?) is here.

Hong Kong magistrate endures racial slurs after sentencing politician for baton attack

Hong Kong magistrate Bina Chainrai sentenced a local politician to three months in prison for hitting a pedestrian with a baton during pro-democracy protests in 2014. Dozens of supporters of the politician responded after the sentencing by hurling insults and racial epithets at Magistrate Chainrai. On Wednesday, several members of the Hong Kong bar condemned the slurs and pledged support for an independent judiciary.

The tone of the condemnations, however, struck me as a bit odd. One group stated, “Any attack on judges for reasons unconnected to their decisions, irrespective of their nationality, sex or other personal attributes that they possess, are wholly unacceptable and must be strongly condemned.” Another said that “personal attacks on a judge for reasons unrelated to the judgment is an attack on Hong Kong’s judicial independence.”

I have added emphasis to both statements to make the problem clear. Personal attacks on a judge are plainly unacceptable when they are based on the judge’s race, gender, nationality, and so on. But equally inappropriate–at least from the American point of view–are personal attacks on a judge based on the substance of the judge’s opinion. It is fine to challenge a judge’s reasoning, or suggest that the opinion will lead to bad policy, but ad hominem attacks are never acceptable.

The United States is struggling through its own crisis of civility these days. The President has issued crude tweets about judges on several occasions. Some self-styled progressives cheered when Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016. And a small cadre of academics are even trying to suggest that basic civility is a racist construct.

It’s sad to see the same problem infecting Hong Kong. Norms of civility must go hand in hand with the rule of law, in every nation and in every era. Critique judicial decisions, yes, but leave the personal attacks at home.

 

Venezuelan judge seeks refugee status in Canada

The swirling political and financial chaos in Venezuela has been closely coupled with the ongoing desecration of judicial independence by President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Now the evidence of that desecration is starting to gush out.  Toronto’s Globe and Mail has published a story on Venezuelan judge Ralenis Tovar, who fled to Canada with her family in July and is now claiming refugee status there. Judge Tovar alleges that as a judge in Caracas, she was forced to sign arrest warrants for Maduro’s political enemies.  She further claims that the Maduro government tapped her phones and even attempted to kidnap her daughter from school.

From the Globe and Mail interview:

On her way home from work on Feb. 12, 2014, Ms. Tovar received a series of phone calls from an unknown number. Assuming it was an inmate, she didn’t answer. Then the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court phoned and told her to pick up the calls. She did and was told to head back to the office.

Ms. Tovar said the court was surrounded by the National Guard and military intelligence officers when she arrived. She was greeted by four public prosecutors, who guarded her office’s door as she sat down.

She was given a folder with three arrest warrants inside. She said she didn’t recognize the first two names, but was shocked when she read the name on the third warrant: Leopoldo Lopez.

“I felt petrified because internally I knew what was the purpose of that warrant, which was to silence a political leader who was an obstacle for President Maduro,” Ms. Tovar said.

Given that it was 2 a.m., Ms. Tovar asked the prosecutors if she could review the warrant the next day. She said they laughed sarcastically and told her that if she didn’t sign it, she would end up like Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a Venezuelan judge who was allegedly raped in prison in 2010.

Terrified, Ms. Rovar signed Mr. Lopez’s arrest warrant.

Judicial independence and political freedom go hand in hand.  When one erodes, the other cannot be far behind.