Monday, October 06, 2014


A Circuit Judge was recently slapped on the wrist by the Second District Court of Appeal for abusing his discretion in child porn cases. From the appeals opinion it's been a long time coming. This is a judge who was reversed because he implied that he would never consider giving a lighter sentence in these cases no matter what the particular facts of the case even though a psychologist found that the defendant was a low risk for recidivism. 

Part of the problem is that judges are often taught by the cases they here. Judges who are in special divisions such as habitual offender divisions or sex offender divisions habitually hand out longer sentences even after they leave those specialty divisions. Rather than funneling all of these cases to special divisions perhaps it would be more humane for the judges as well as for the defendants to have these cases parsed out among all of the judges. 

It's not unusual for judges who routinely give out long sentences to become jaded. It's part of a continuing process that happens in the Tampa Bay area. In Pinellas County the judges who serve in the career criminal division are never quite the same when they leave. It's almost as if a little bit of their humanity is shed with each long sentence they were reluctantly forced to give. 

In Hillsborough County it appears that the judge may have succumbed to the rigors of being a sex offender division judge for far too long. It must be disheartening to listen to cases involving sexual battery, child molestation or child pornography over and over with victims who will never be healed. But not every child pornographer is a child molester and at minimum every case must be decided based not on the judge's preconceived notions but on the facts and the prevailing law. If a judge doesn't want to sentence defendants in a fair manner isn't there a judge in Tampa Bay who will?

In fact this very judge is now fighting not to give a deposition in a case in which it is alleged that he raised the bond on a defendant after conversations with representatives from the police - conversations which he allegedly failed to disclose to the defense and to which the defense was not privy. If established as true then there is precedent for a judge not only losing his seat but his license to practice law in Florida. In Miami a judge was recently disbarred for inappropriate communication with a prosecutor during a murder trial.

Normally one expects that even the worst judges are not so crass as to at least clothe their decisions in fair sounding language for unreasonable sentencing options. Yet I've found that reasonable language often leads to reasonable results. Here the appeals court  seems to indicate that there's a judge who no longer cares enough to listen to expert witnesses brought in by the defense because he has already made up his mind about the cases that come before him foolishly admitting his abundance of hubris and bias on the record.

Clearly, any judge facing such an appeals court decision should give some thought as to whether he really wants to be a judge. If any judge prefers to be an advocate rather than an impartial arbiter of law and facts, then wouldn't he or she be of better service to the legal community as a practicing lawyer?