Now THIS Is An Incompetent Judge…

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U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi was removed from St. Charles, Louisiana jury trial for criminal fraud in February, then her replacement declared a mistrial. Nobody knew why until the Associated Press got transcripts unsealed. They do not give one great confidence in the management of the justice system.

In one unsealed transcript (PDF), federal prosecutors and a public defender jointly called  U.S. District Judge Donald Walter ,who took over the case from Minaldi,  to ask him to grant a mistrial. The chief judge had assigned Walter to the case in an order that cited Minaldi’s inability to be present at the trial, but provided no additional explanation.

Minaldi was unable to be present because she doesn’t have the requisite awareness of the world around her or of the requirements of her job to be a judge. The botched trial included this ominous incident:

On the last day of the trial before it was suspended, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Moore was questioning a witness about the defendant’s grant application which had been filled out on a computer. Judge Minaldi interrupted the witness to ask what a “drop-down box” and “drop-down menus”  were.

“I have no idea what that means,” Minaldi said, regarding the reference to drop-down menus.  “No offense, but if I don’t understand it, I don’t think anybody else is going to understand it,” she continued. “I’ve been to law school. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I have no idea what y’all are talking about.” After another question—Minaldi didn’t understand references to “Y’s and yeses” in relation to the answers to yes or no questions on the application—the judge recessed the court for lunch.

“Get your act together. Okay,” Minaldi told Moore. “I have no idea what’s going on here. Get your act together.”

Because it was HIS fault she had no idea what was going on.

You know, for years I’ve been joking in legal ethics seminars, as we discuss law and technology competence, that the average judge is five years behind the average lawyer in technological expertise, and the average lawyer is five years behind the average 12-year-old. This gap, however, isn’t funny when it get as bad as what that transcript shows. Obviously Judge Minaldi doesn’t use a computer, or if she does, she uses it as a doorstop.  In 2016, not knowing what a drop-down menu is comparable to not knowing what a TV was in 1975. A judge this ignorant of the world around her cannot possibly render competent judgement about what occurs in her court; she’s living in 1985. She doesn’t understand the culture; she doesn’t know how people live today, and worst of all, she can’t access the main source of information available to everyone else.

When I read the transcript, I assumed she had to be ancient, but she’s just 57 (nominated by President Bush in 2003—helluva pick, Bushie!) There’s no excuse for a judge being that out of touch, and I’m sure she’s not the only one. This alone should get her retired, but it wasn’t even the main reason for her removal or the mistrial.

In the transcript of the phone call, the public defender, Cristie Gautreaux Gibbens, described to  Judge Walter  voir dire, where the judge questions jurors, explains their duties, and dismisses individuals who appear unfit or unwilling to be objective and fair after objections and challenges by the attorneys in the case. Incredibly,  Judge Minaldi  didn’t ask jurors about their citizenship, explain the burden of proof, the presumption of innocence, or the defendant’s Constitutional right under the 5th Amendment  not to testify. There were no preliminary instructions on the juror’s duties or the requirement that they refrain from discussing the case, either.

When the prosecutors asked for curative measures to be taken and Gibbens moved for a mistrial, Minaldi explained why the instructions had been wanting: “I forgot!” Seriously…she told the lawyers, according to the transcript,  “You know, it’s so seldom that we have jury trials here, I forget. OK. I forget but I rely on you to remember.”  She then ordered Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker, one of the prosecutors, to instruct the jury, since she didn’t know how any more, presumably.  Walker instructed jurors about reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence and the need to refrain from discussing the case, but now he moved for a mistrial too, joining the defense. Walker explained that having him, in essence, do the judge’s job made him “an arm of the court, and I think that prejudices all parties and I don’t think that’s curable.”

He was right. The judge was replaced and the trial began afresh, but the more important issue is why Minaldi is presiding over cases at all.  Where is the oversight of judicial competence? She was also removed from a criminal case without explanation in March—gee, I wonder why?—but she’s still a judge.  Why? And how many federal judges—they are supposed to be the best ones. you know—are as clueless as Patricia Minaldi?

_____________________

Pointer and Facts: ABA Journal

28 Comments

Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Rights

28 responses to “Now THIS Is An Incompetent Judge…

  1. Too bad you couldn’t have the Looney Tunes theme playing in the background.

  2. Other Bill

    Anyone, particularly a federal judge who gets a cushy salary and an office and a secretary FOR LIFE, who says “ya’ all” is ipso facto an idiot. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

    • Something idiotic about 2nd Person Plural?

      Seems quite useful to many — hence it’s resurgence in the English language.

      • Becky

        Ok, if you want to make fun of legit colloquialisms, you have to at least spell them properly: Y’ALL. Which is a contraction for you all. Use real stuff to call her an idiot (which she truly sounds like), but come on, y’all ain’t really a disqualifier. Even all y’all is legit, just informal.
        Signed, Another Native Texan

        • Other Bill

          Hah.

          Having grown up on the fringe of the Deep South, I know all about Southernisms. Sorry, using “y’all” in a Federal District Court sounds moronic. Does she address counsel as “you guys?” Does she call her clerk or bailiff “Babe?” It’s bad enough the Gaineses can’t avoid these annoying colloquialisms, but a Federal District Court judge? Come on.

          Southerners get a bad rap from the rest of the country and are accused of being dumb because they speak with a Southern accent. Don’t give the rest of the country a chance to double down on this unfortunate misconception.

          (And I know Texas is not part of the South, being an independent and vastly superior nation state. Hah.)

          • “Southerners get a bad rap from the rest of the country and are accused of being dumb because they speak with a Southern accent. “

            Southerners get a bad rap from the arrogant and increasingly intolerant left-leaning elites in New England and swathes of the Left Coast. The rest of the country is probably pretty cool with an America that has regional differences.

            So what?

            “Sorry, using “y’all” in a Federal District Court sounds moronic. Does she address counsel as “you guys?”

            That several regions have also developed a 2nd Person Plural in other forms, such as “you guys” or “youse guys”, indicates a clear need for one. Just seems southerners use one that flows well as a single syllable. Laughable? I think not.

        • Slick Willy

          Now we conjugate:

          Singular: You
          Plural: Y’all
          Central Texas Plural: All Y’all

  3. Arthur in Maine

    More interesting information about this gal: http://www.kplctv.com/story/24729006/update

  4. joed68

    No no no! You’ve said “Now THIS is an incompetent judge” before.

    Unless maybe you meant to say “incontinent.”

  5. The news report implied there may have been some inappropriate professional courtesy involved, which didn’t turn into a full fledged DWI charge until the news channel asked for the dash cam footage. It seems more than one official is still living in the past…stuff like this doesn’t wash anymore…

  6. Matthew B

    The silver lining is that there was at least an ethical prosecutor. With so much bad news about prosecutorial misconduct this part is nice to hear.

  7. dragin_dragon

    Her hair is purple.

    • Other Bill

      A George W. Bush appointee. Ugh.

      She scolded the police for Mirandizing her. Great judicial temperament, obviously.

      • dragin_dragon

        She was drunker’n a skunk, so I’m not surprised…but her hair is PURPLE!! Isn’t there some sort of rule against that? If there isn’t, there should be.

  8. dragin_dragon

    And OB, we once had a judge, and I think he was Federal, but I could be wrong, named ‘Barefoot’ Sanders. Turned out he was a pretty good judge.

    • Other Bill

      The ones that were characters (and good, but sometimes bad, judges) all got run off decades ago. They were sometimes politically incorrect. How anyone can remain politically correct with all the dregs of humanity parading through your court room day in and day out is beyond me. And that’s just the lawyers! (Just kidding.)

      • dragin_dragon

        Actually, I rather like it (No offense, Jack. Some lawyers are good). More on Barefoot…He was a US District Court Judge, and a confidant of LBJ’s Barefoot was not a nickname but was his actual middle name. He died in 2008.

  9. Slick Willy

    “…And how many federal judges—they are supposed to be the best ones. you know—are as clueless as Patricia Minaldi?”

    Most of them

    The perks of the job are an invitation to living in a bubble, after all.

    • Eternal Optometrist

      I’d like to know what your basis is for saying many federal judges are as clueless as this one. I have been in front of many federal judges and on the whole they are excellent.

  10. Slick Willy

    Eternal,

    My comment is based on human nature, backed by many actual court cases:

    http://lawlessamerica.com/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=advsearch2&search_id=73&Itemid=100

    Human nature is to strive for improvement when there is a reason to do so, be it carrot or stick. Once these reasons are removed, we tend to lose focus at best, and become corrupt in the worst cases.

    This is true when you have basic needs met with little or no output on your part needed, and there is no existential threat to your life (family, possessions, etc.)

    This describes Federal Judges, as well as welfare recipients.

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