A three-judge panel in California found misconduct in Judge Edmund Clarke, Jr’s treatment of one or more jurors in a jury pool for a murder trial.
Your challenge: Guess which of the incidents was found to be an abuse of judicial power and authority.
A. Judge Clarke also told a potential juror who wrote that she had only $25 in her checking account that “every one of these lawyers spent more than that on lunch today.” He excused the juror, and after she left, Clarke told everyone in the courtroom how much the juror had in her account. When a second potential juror disclosed he had only $33 in his checking account, Clarke again announced the amount and said that his savings put the other juror “in the shade with that big account.”
B. Judge Clarke reduced another juror to tears reprimanding her after she appeared to change a form to indicate that she did not speak English, which he found incredible. She said had lived in the United States for 25 years. Clarke said,
“Most people that have been in this country for 10 years have picked up enough English. [Twenty] or so, they’re moving right along. And 25 years is—so you better have a different reason why you want to be excused than that.”
After she began weeping loudly because, she said later, she was ashamed because she didn’t speak English, he dismissed her from the panel.
C. Finally, Judge Clarke became annoyed at a juror who had written on her hardship form, “Having Severe Anxiety!!” next to her drawing of a frowny face. “I work as a waitress and make minimum wages, plus I’m planning a wedding in two months and all of these things, especially this courthouse are aggravating my anxiety terribly. On the verge of a meltdown!” Clarke excused her from jury duty, but when she added that the clerk who was checking in potential jurors was “really disrespectful” to everyone, he told the woman that she could stay in the hallway and tell him more at the end of the day. When the dismissed juror insisted that she had to leave, he said,
“No, you’re staying. You’re staying You’re staying on. I’ve been a judge for seven years. No one’s ever complained about my clerk. But I’ll be happy to hear your complaint at the end of the day. So go to the hall and stay and come in, act like an adult and you can face her and tell me everything she did wrong.”
The woman did as she was ordered and apologized to Clarke after waiting for an hour court to be adjourned. The judge asked her how she would have felt if he came to the restaurant where she worked and criticized her in front of everyone, saying,
“If you came here thinking that this was going to be Disneyland and you were getting an E Ticket and have good time, I’m afraid you have no sense of what is going on in this building. Now, seven years ago the first clerk that was assigned to me, she’s still here. The only clerk I’ve ever had. One juror, in all that time, out of thousands, has ever complained about her. That’s you. You can leave now knowing that’s what you accomplished.”
D. All of the above.
Take the poll, and then go to the answers after the jump.
The three judge panel found that only C constituted a breach of judicial ethics. The Commission on Judicial Performance, charged with making the final ruling based on the panel’s recommendation, agreed regarding that incident, writing…
We conclude, as did the masters, that Judge Clarke’s disparaging and discourteous treatment of juror 7122 violated canon 3B(4), requiring a judge to be patient, dignified and courteous to jurors and others who appear before the court. The judge was dismissive of the juror’s claim of anxiety, lectured her and made condescending comments about acting like an adult and not treating the court like Disneyland.We independently conclude that this conduct also violated Canons 1 (a judge shall uphold the integrity of the judiciary), 2 (a judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety), and 2A (a judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary), and constitutes prejudicial misconduct.
The Commission also found that the judge’s “disparaging and retaliatory treatment of a juror who was simply voicing a complaint about how a clerk was treating jurors would be considered prejudicial to public esteem for the judiciary in the eyes of an objective member of the public,” and that making the juror wait for an hour in the hall for her dressing down violated Canon 3B(5) (a judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice) and
constituted an unjudicial act by a judge acting in his judicial capacity.
To put it more succinctly, Judge Clarke behaved like a bully, not a judge.
While the three judge panel only found misconduct in the treatment of the Juror in C, however, the Commission’s vote was D, “All of the above.” In the case of the woman he did not believe couldn’t speak English, the Commission found that the judge “violated his duty under the canons to be patient, dignified
and courteous to those who appear before him.” They also found that his treatment of the two jurors who disclosed their lack of assets constituted “conduct
prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute,’ concluding,
Even if Judge Clarke thought he was engaging in humorous banter, joking about a juror’s limited financial resources and revealing personal financial information in open court, particularly when the juror expressed that she did not want that information to be disclosed, is manifestly discourteous and undignified.
I suppose I agree that treating jurors like this undermines the willingness of citizens to give their time to the important civic duty of jury service, but:
1. The judge was obviously having a bad day, and could have been cut some slack. I think if he had not been admonished earlier for some harsh comments in a trial, this episode may have been handled with an unofficial phone call.
2. Judicial staff takes a lot of abuse, and I admire the judge for his loyalty to his clerk. One trait that I despise is people who bully or denigrate lower level employees–clerks, receptionists, secretaries— when they don’t have the courage to confront the people who are in charge. He crossed into bullying territory with juror C, however….though….
3. …drawing a frowny face on a note to a judge should carry extra consequences.
4. The panel found the judge to be unethical because he accused the juror in B of lying. If he had just reprimanded her for never having the respect for her country and fellow citizens to learn to speak English, I’d be applauding. She should be publicly criticized for that. It embarrassed her? Good.
Pointer: ABA Journal