Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Posted by Alan Childress
An Illinois state ALJ, in a Chicago-area case about alleged "locksmith fraud," said Monday he had to declare a mistrial because of the "personal attacks you've [the lawyer] made on my character, the so-called impairment." The Judge's department later offered that the Judge had, in the questioned earlier proceeding on Friday, been "groggy" from taking "some cold medicine." [This is of course the classic Stripes defense of the cab driver played by Chicago's own Bill Murray.] Whatever the grogginess and lack of focus in court that day and its putative source in some kind of generic NyQuil, the Judge's bigger problem--I am just guessing it will be--is that at recess he told a reporter, it is reported, that one of the locksmith company's representatives in the case, an Israeli man, "looks like a terrorist." [This is of course the classic Mel Gibson defense, though I am sure there is no evidence to support any claim as to who controls all the bank locks in the world.]
The Judge was apparently slurring to the reporter in both senses of the word, but I predict he will get no credit for his administrative efficiency. He obviously ignored Jeff Lipshaw's recent advice on being careful when talking to a reporter (and thus serves as a cautionary tale for non-readers of the Legal Profession Blog), in Jeff's post on a New Orleans judge. Synthesizing these two unrelated stories, which as a law prof I am paid to do, I add that it is probably not a smart idea--ethically or otherwise--for a lawyer to go duck hunting with the Illinois Judge. At any rate, the defendant's attorney stands by his statement that the Judge had been "impaired" and everyone in the courtroom knew it.
The story was reported here this morning (without any of my inserted snarkiness or tone) by the Chicago Sun-Times, in a story by Stephanie Zimmermann called, "Mistrial in locksmith fraud case after 'attack' on judge." As a serious aside, I wonder why (if all these facts are true) the Judge had to try to place the blame of the mistrial on the lawyer's "attack" instead of simply declaring a mistrial with an apology or at least without assigning blame. The headline becomes, unfairly [though the unfairness is not Zimmermann's], one of mistrial due to "attack on judge" rather than mistrial based on "judicial impairment and injudicious statements by the Judge." I mean I know that's why the Judge spun it that way, but to me it is compounding judicial misconduct, days after the sobering effect of the incident, to blame the lawyer for objecting and treating the statements as "personal" if the conduct was made in court and to a reporter about the case. The lack of personal responsibility after, to me, is worse than the courtroom impairment, if not the outrageous ethnic slur.