Tuesday, October 31, 2006
There Go De Judge? Let's Hope So
A little more than a week from now, if Jesus tarries* and Utah voters are wise, Judge Leslie Lewis will be out of a job. Utterly devoid of judicial temperament or corresponding intellectual endowments, Lewis, who has afflicted the state's 3rd District Court for several years, has been targeted for recall by a citizen's group outraged over an incident last February in which she ordered the arrest of a courtroom spectator for leaving the room.
The spectator, Kent Jacobson, was on hand for a hearing involving his brother Michael, who was accused of (and later found guilty of) a poaching-related offense. Little Miss Lewis (hereafter referred to by her given name, as is appropriate in dealing with any other ill-behaved child) is apparently one of those misguided people who view nature through a Disney filter: The wild is a joyous realm in which anthropomorphized animals gambol about, speaking English and playing soccer, and every hunter is a heartless bipedal predator bent on slaughtering Bambi's Mother.
Because of her strong feelings about hunting, Leslie recused herself from the case, but like any other termagant unduly infatuated with the sound of her voice, she had to say her piece before doing so. This she did at great and (owing to the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard quality of said voice) excruciating length, mocking and ridiculing not only the accused poacher, but hunters in general.
“I have a prejudice concerning deer hunters and people who kill deal and transport deer that have been shot,” Leslie sniped, according to a transcript of the incident. “Have you ever actually looked at a deer when they're alive?... And it doesn't bother you that you can see its heart beating?... I'm asking you a question, I expect an answer.”
No doubt acting on an impulse shared with others in the courtroom, Kent Jacobson, heaving a weary sigh, left the courtroom – which was an act of gentlemanly restraint in the face of Leslie's arrogant, juvenile provocation. In a fit of childish pique over the fact that a member of her audience was leaving in disgust, Leslie directed a taunt at Mr. Jacobson: “Are we boring you?” When Jacobson left the room without replying, Leslie sicced the Bailiff on him.
“Now, why did you feel the need to make such an explosive and clear indication of your displeasure or boredom at being here?” Leslie upbraided Kent Jacobson, once he had been dragged in front of her.
Bear in mind, that 1) Leslie had asked Kent a question, and 2) that she had just ordered Kent's brother Michael to answer a previous question. Like any rational adult, Kent proceeded to supply an answer.
“OK, it's not just the displeasure of being bored here,” he began, offering a fully responsive answer to the question just asked by the snitty, arrogant little girl play-acting the role of a judge. “The problem is, we have just as much rights of going out and shooting deer as you have the right...”
Following some brief cross-talk, little Leslie ordered that Mr. Jacobson be arrested – for the supposed offense of answering a question he had been asked in court.
“Put him in custody,” snipped the little caniform female to the Bailiff, before directing some more trash-talk at Mr. Jacobson. “I'm not going to argue with you, and you have no business chastising me, sir, and I did not make a comment you have any right to correct.... I don't want to hear a word from you. You and I are not in the same position, we are not having a dialogue.”
“I was bored,” mumbled Mr. Jacobsen as the Bailiff took him away.
“You're bored?” mocked little Leslie from the bench. “Let's see how you feel in the holding cell.”
At this point, if this incident had taken place in a self-governing community in a free country, one of two things would have happened: Either the Bailiff would have refused to carry out this patently illegal arrest, or the spectators in the courtroom would have interdicted that arrest. But the Bailiff obeyed the illegal order, and the spectators passively permitted Leslie to commit the crime of false imprisonment.
(Click here to see a video recording of this incident.)
Leslie's little tantrum reminded me of a similarly repellent episode that took place about a year ago.
In October 2005, the then-CEO of the company that until recently employed me was forced to resign. As he left the office, carrying a company-purchased laptop computer, the former CEO was gently and respectfully accosted by a meek but dutiful company officer, who had to check to see if any of the company's proprietary information was still on the laptop. This is called “due diligence,” just as Kent Jacobsen's composed and polite comments to Leslie is properly described as “answering a question posed by a judge.”
According to several eyewitnesses, the ex-CEO whirled on the company official (who may be the most unassuming person I've ever met) and hissed at him: “I can still fire you.”
That's what was on the tip of that guy's brain, as it were, as he was resigning his position. He was not thinking about the company's future, or dwelling on considerations of his family's financial well-being; he was entirely preoccupied with the thought that he was losing the ability to fire people.
I suspect that similar fleeting impulses ricocheted around in Leslie's uncluttered mind as she dealt with Michael and Kent Jacobsen. Because of her irrational aversion to hunting, she was going to miss out on sending someone to jail – unless, of course, she could provoke Michael into doing something that could be construed as contempt of court. Michael didn't commit that offense. Neither did Kent, as the record reflects; he was, after all, trying to answer an open-ended question posed by the silly little girl playing dress-up in judicial robes on that occasion.
But Leslie was determined to send someone to jail, if only to demonstrate that she was “not in the same position” as the hoi polloi on hand to witness her descent into pure, unalloyed adolescent spite.
Kent Jacobsen spent several hours in state custody. That is an atrocity, a form of kidnapping – and it is the defining offense of what has been a hugely embarrassing judicial career. Leslie is as unqualified to be a judge as she is to be a pole dancer, although in the latter career she would have inflicted less damage on society.
Repulsive as her behavior is, Leslie is merely a symptom, in much the same way that an acutely painful rectal itch might be a warning sign of a potentially fatal cancer. The key to understanding why this is so can be found in two things: Leslie's arrogant statement that as a judge she was “not in the same position” as common citizens, and the obedience rendered to her by the Bailiff and the courtroom spectators.
As Roger Roots points out in a thought-provoking historical survey published by Seton Hall Constitutional Law Journal, our present system of “law enforcement” is based on collectivist premises entirely foreign to our constitutional system and common law heritage.
“Under the common law, there was no difference whatsoever between the privileges, immunities, and powers of the constables and those of private citizens,” writes Roots in summarizing his findings. “Constables were literally and figuratively clothed in the same garments as everyone else and faced the same liabilities – civil and criminal – as everyone else under identical circumstances.
Until the late 1800s, “police were a sanitation and repair workforce more than a corps of crime-fighting gun-slingers,” he continues. “Sheriff Wyatt Earp of OK Corral fame, for example, repaired boardwalks as part of his duties.” It wasn't until the dawn of the 20th Century that American communities alienated the law enforcement role – once carried out by Sheriffs, their deputies, and deputized posses of citizens – to professional police officers endowed with exceptional powers and prerogatives.
The most provocative finding in Roots' study, and the one most relevant to the incident in Judge Leslie's courtroom, is the following:
“Nothing illustrates the modern disparity between the rights and powers of police and citizen as much as the modern law of resisting arrest. At the time of the nation's founding, any citizen was privileged to resist arrest if, for example, probable cause for arrest did not exist or the arresting person could not produce a valid arrest warrant where one was needed..... [As recently as a century ago, police officers] who executed an arrest without proper warrant were themselves considered trespassers, and any trespassee had a right to violently resist (or even assault and batter) an officer to evade such arrest.”
"You're out of order! This WHOLE TRIAL is out of order!"
Under that standard – assuming that Roots' findings are reliable – Kent Jacobsen would have been fully within his legal and constitutional rights to resist the arrest order issued by Judge Leslie, and the courtroom spectators would have acted properly had they taken action to prevent Kent's arrest.
It should be remembered that the kind of outrage inflicted on Kent Jacobsen is hardly uncommon; in fact, summary execution during unjustified arrest is becoming distressingly common.
To cite just two examples:
*Last February, 43-year-old Michael Kreca was murdered by San Diego police when the mild-mannered, non-violent tech writer refused to submit to an utterly unjustified arrest. Kreca had been walking in Sorrento Mesa when he was accosted by two officers who claimed to have had heard gunshots. Kreca, who was carrying a firearm (as any rational person would when walking alone in San Diego) told the officers he had not been shooting and hadn't heard gunshots. He consented to a body search that turned up a 9mm pistol in the waistband of his baggy clothes.
One officer, Samantha Fleming, told Kreca that she was going to handcuff him “for her safety,” according to an official report. “No, you're not going to do that,” replied Kreca. “Let me go; I want to leave.” As he tried to leave, the other officer – Sergeant Elmer Edwards -- placed his gun against Kreca's chest and fired twice, killing him.
What a hero.
The official inquiry ruled that Sgt. Edwards “acted within the law,” since California statutes permit police “to use deadly force to protect themselves and members of the public from serious injury or death” -- which means, in practice, that police officers in that jurisdiction can murder civilians without consequence, unless said citizens are members of a protected minority class.
*Just yesterday, police in Jerseyville, Illinois killed 17-year-old Roger Holyfield, a youth who apparently suffered from emotional problems. Someone had called the police to complain about Holyfield's behavior: He was carrying a Bible and a cordless phone and shouting “I want Jesus!”
The troubled youth reportedly suffered from bipolar disorder, and from my admittedly untrained perspective, that seems like a plausible explanation. (“Religious preoccupation” is a common symptom of bi-polar disorder.) Rather than being treated as sick person needing treatment, the young man was treated as a threat to officer safety: He was surrounded by a scrum of police and Tasered twice when he became “combative.” Rushed to a nearby hospital, Holyfield became unresponsive; he was medevaced to Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis, where he died.
According to an eyewitness, four police, two State Troopers, and a plainclothes officer were deployed to deal with the supposed threat posed by one sick teenager armed with a Bible. Another commented that there were more than enough men on hand to subdue the youth without shooting him twice with 50,000 volts of electricity. Another witness contended that the police had acted properly: “[Holyfield] was struggling, he was resisting. [The police] did what the could to hold him down.”
Really? Seven tax-fattened heroes did everything they could to avoid using a consistently lethal “non-lethal” weapon on a sick, unarmed, non-violent teenager? Or did they simply do what was convenient, in the serene confidence that they wouldn't be held responsible if that young man died?
All of these episodes illustrate the often murderous impunity enjoyed by those who have been given a state-issued license to kidnap and kill other human beings. That license needs to be revoked immediately, from as many of those people as possible – and evicting Leslie Lewis from her judicial post in Utah would be a splendid way to begin.
*When I use the expression “if Jesus tarries,” I'm not being profane; I'm expressing frustrated impatience.
Oh, and my apologies to Flip Wilson, as well as his brothers Fetch and Scrud (that's an allusion to Utah's disinctive patois, of course.)
at 1:50 PM