By Christopher J. Berry

Some of the nation's most powerful, and dangerous people are not carrying weapons.  Nor do they wield their destruction on the streets.  Most of the damage is done while sitting "on the bench" or in a box.  When their power is abused, little or nothing is done to remove them.  Between judges and jurors is the power to incarcerate, even kill.

I've found many judges to be fairly respectable.  They do their jobs properly, and make sound decisions.  I've read accounts of judges being lenient where it is due, and throw the book at someone when they truly deserve it.  I've read accounts of the opposite.  Some have let truly violent people back into our streets on multiple occasions.

Take this new trend of the "three strikes" laws that are popping up over the county.  Hailed by DA's and the FBI as one of the reasons why the crime rate is so low, some judges use this as an excuse to lock away non-violent offenders for a long time.  Again, others must be commended; when some people are up for that "third strike," some judges omit previous convictions if they believe the suspect deserves it.

This is a lot of power for one person, and most the time, they are not accountable for it.  It's difficult to remove a judge from the bench, unless there is a massive media effort behind it.  I'm thinking back to California in the late 70's, and the push to remove Rose Bird from the bench.  Bird was decisively liberal, and yes, California at that time was conservative, especially in the south.  They media seemed to favor her removal, and after much effort by state Republicans, she was ousted.

That battle was more political.  What about the ones we hear about in the press that operate a "revolving" courtroom?  I don't see much effort from the press to remove them.  I mean "revolving" in a dual sense, one as an exit to the streets, and two as an entrance into prison.  What about the ones who are not doing their job competently?  If you or I are not competent in our jobs, we often times end up without one.  If you're a judge, no matter.  The only way to have your bench pulled is if a panel of your comrades decide to do so.  Again, it's political, no judge wants to piss off another because they like their cushy jobs.  Those with that decision have then failed in their ethical and moral obligations.  Furthermore they are hypocrites, for they have failed to uphold the law.

Take a case from the state of California. Huntington Beach police officers found Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Borris sitting on a curb next to his dented 1996 Jeep Cherokee at about 1:25 a.m. Saturday, police said. They arrested him after determining he had been drinking. Tests revealed that Borris, a judge for six years, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 percent, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent, at the time of the crash, court records show. Borris was held for about four hours at Huntington Beach jail. Granted, the judge did not attempt to use his position to influence arresting officers.  The good news?  Presiding Superior Court Judge Kathleen O'Leary removed county judges from the case. The case will be assigned to a Los Angeles judge.  The bad news?  I predict he'll walk on this one, and retain his bench. He was only in jail for four hours?  I know people who were held overnight in jail, and never charged with a crime.

My other favorite example is good ol' Judge Ito of the O.J. Simpson case.  This guy should be put on trial for incompetence.  He let things happen in a courtroom where no reasonable judge would, and showed what a total sham the judicial system can be.  Ito put his own ego in the spotlight, and basked in the glory of it all.  He didn?t care about a fair trial, he was pleased to become a household word.  In a word, treason.

In Boston, Judge Robert Howarth sentenced a man convicted of beating his girlfriend to psychological counseling and to take a martial arts course, stating that it would help him control his anger.  The man later attacked the same woman, and was finally sentenced for three to five years by a different judge.  Judge Howarth also found a woman in contempt of court, merely for giving her accused abuser the finger.  She spent 10 days in jail, and her contempt case was finally overturned by an appeals court.

I used to work for a firm that was in construction litigation for a case.  The civil engineers that returned from the courtroom were amazed that the judge presiding over the trial kept falling asleep.  I asked what they did, I would have loved to taken a big thick binder and slam it down on the table.  They merely waited until he finished his nap.

My own experience has not been all peachy either.  Granted, the judge was pretty fair, except in two areas.  The first, he allowed photographic evidence that did not have a time/date stamp, was very blurry, and didn?t even show the face of my accuser.  My counsel objected, but was overruled.  Second, state law says that each party pays their attorney fees, but even though I was found innocent, I got stuck with paying half of the accuser's, by ruling of the commissioner.  This is common in the family court system; it's a different animal from criminal or civil in California.  Amazingly, anything goes, and sticks.  Appeal?  Sure, got several grand to go to a state court?  I'll bet you they uphold it.

Hey, are you easily led and have no opinions of your own?  You might have an exciting career as a juror!  Too bad the pay isn?t good, and you only get called once in a while.  Some jurors truly scare me, as attorneys make sure that they stack the deck with people they think will win them their case.

Again, I go back to the O.J. Simpson case.  The evidence was clear; DNA, bloody Bruno Mali footprints.  This group of people let him off.  Why did this group let him walk while in a civil trial, they found him guilty?  Anybody else, myself included, they would have thrown the book at us.  Why would it be likely to convict us, and let a famed celebrity go?  Granted, they believed that the police corrupted the evidence.  Hypocrites!  Juries all over the nation should be letting people go on that basis, especially in Los Angeles.  If it's believed that police corrupted evidence in one trial, it safe to say that they did so in many.  Why has this issue only been raised successfully in one trial? 

There was a trial in California involving a speeding motorcyclist, and a truck that he hit.  Cut and dried, they motorcycle was speeding and driving recklessly.  The cyclist brought a civil case against the truck driver, and won.  Turns out that the jury was mesmerized by slick computer animations produced for the trial.

Some time ago, a civil case was filed against Remington, makers of firearms.  Turns out someone tried to clean a shotgun and did not unload it.  They shotgun went off, the man sued Remington, and won.  I cannot fathom what went through these jurors' minds in thinking that the incompetence of one man was the fault of a whole company.

Attorneys do everything in their power to sway the members of a jury.  They, like the media, know that razzle-dazzle and tugging on heartstrings can win their case.  Never mind the law, bend it until it snaps.  With that in mind, they usually don?t want people with strong conviction or opinion.  In a recent case, one attorney asked prospective jurors if they hated lawyers.  He was quickly deflated by a judge who said, "I do."  On HBO, there was a program about one of the jurors on the O.J. Simpson civil trial.  She believed that she was chosen because she was naIve, being from a small town in Missouri.  She had no idea what she was getting into.

There are critics who cite that criminal charges be brought against those who fail to appear for jury duty.  What about the attorneys who clear entire rooms of people, wasting everyone's day because they did not fit a profile they were searching for?  Is this thinking going to solve the problems with the judicial system?  I think not.

With all this inconsistency, one can quickly conclude that when someone stands accused of a crime, it is like rolling the dice as to the outcome of the trial.  It deeply depends on the judge presiding over the case, and in jury trials, the people selected for the box make a huge difference too.  Money will greatly influence your case, in that the caliber of lawyers you choose possibly plays the greatest role.  Let's face it, if the Public Defender is there for your ass, its going to jail.  And will the wise judge let that happen?  Sure.  I'd say there is a pretty good chance of it.  I suppose in a capitalistic society that paying good money for a good lawyer is acceptable, but in a country that claims everyone gets a "fair trial" regardless of whether they can afford an attorney or not is just plain bullshit.