Ethics Quiz: The Improper Jury Instruction

At least a dozen Pennsylvania murder convictions may be reversed because Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes included this description of reasonable doubt to instruct her juries:

“Each one of you has someone in your life who’s absolutely precious to you. If you were told by your precious one’s physician that they had a life-threatening condition and that the only known protocol or the best protocol for that condition was an experimental surgery, you’re very likely going to ask for a second opinion. You may even ask for a third opinion. You’re probably going to research the condition, research the protocol. What’s the surgery about? How does it work? You’re going to do everything you can to get as much information as you can. You’re going to call everybody you know in medicine: What do you know? What have you heard? Tell me where to go. But at some point the question will be called. If you go forward, it’s not because you have moved beyond all doubt. There are no guarantees. If you go forward, it is because you have moved beyond all reasonable doubt.”

U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh ordered a new trial for a man convicted following this instruction, and Hughes may have used it in 50 cases.

This is why I am making this an ethics quiz: I have no idea why the instruction is wrong, or confusing. I’ve read McHugh’s opinion, and I still don’t understand what the alleged problem is, unless this judge just doesn’t want to anyone convicted. (He’s an Obama appointment, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with anything, for Chief Justice Roberts tells us so). The decision is here, and this the judge’s reasoning: Continue reading

Now THIS Is An Incompetent Judge…

oops

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. Continue reading