Thursday, May 2, 2013

Black Robe Disease

I normally don't write about local cases that didn't happen in Harris County, but I think that this story is an exception.

If you are a local reader, I'm sure you've read by now about Margaret Young, the venire member held in contempt by Judge Kelly Case for failing to attend jury duty.   She opted to attend a celebration of a student being diagnosed as cancer-free, rather responding to a jury duty summons.

Here's the irony behind the story -- every day, a large number of people completely disregard their jury summons.  They just toss it in the garbage.

In the vast majority of those cases, absolutely nothing happens to the person who failed to attend jury duty.  I mean, seriously, nothing.

In the case of Ms. Young, it is my understanding that she called in and attempted to reschedule.  Due to the fact that she actually felt enough civic responsibility to call in, the Court was made aware of the fact that she did not plan on coming.  Since she had made her name available to the Court, Judge Case had the luxury of having an actual named person to single out for skipping jury duty.

Thus, the contempt charge.

The fact of the matter is that if Ms. Young had just tossed her summons in the trash can, she never would have ended up spending six hours in jail for missing jury duty.

So, yeah, Judge Case just taught us all a fantastic civics lesson -- you are better off ignoring the judiciary than trying to negotiate with them.

I'm tremendously disappointed in Case.  I don't know the man well.  I watched him in a DWI trial once and was very impressed by his trial ability and knowledge as a defense attorney.  I thought he would be a judge that took into account the fact that there are always two sides to every story.

I am, however, glad to see Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon's response.

I've known Brett for a long time now, and I've always been a fan.  His words in the article are very telling.  As quoted in The Courier of Montgomery County:
"The six hours she spent in custody is already 'immeasurably more onerous than the lawful remedy of a fine at your disposal,' Ligon said."
Mr. Ligon is entirely too diplomatic to state, "What the hell were you thinking?" but that gets pretty close.

This case is pretty infuriating.

Jury service is never convenient for anyone, but those people who actually bother to try to reschedule should always be accommodated.  Otherwise, you send out the screaming message to just toss the summons altogether.

The fact that Ms. Young had such a fantastic reason to miss jury duty only magnifies the judicial arrogance behind Judge Case's incredibly misguided use of his power.

There is a phrase attributed to judges who believe that their power supersedes the interests of all others and makes them, somehow, superior to all others -- Black Robe Disease.

There isn't a lawyer who has ever handled a case that hasn't seen it -- in one form or the other, in varying degrees.

I am just genuinely shocked to have seen it so early and so significantly with Judge Case.


Anonymous said...

You apparently don't practice much in the federal courts because potential jurors who skip out on jury duty get hauled into court all the time to explain their absence (at least in this jurisdiction they do). Your post (although I'm sure unintentionally) also leaves out some pertinent facts. She had already rescheduled her jury duty report date based on another excuse. This was her second attempt at rescheduling. She was attempting to reschedule it a second time so that she could attend the student's function. She intentionally ignored the court when she failed to appear for jury duty after having been told her request to reschedule (again) was denied. As well, we assume when people don't report for jury duty that they have ignored their jury summons, but you fail to recognzie that those people as well, may have rescheduled. It's fairly obvious that she took the philosophy that it's better to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission (seeing as though she asked for permission and was denied). I guess she learned that's not always the case.

Anonymous said...

There still is a difference between direct contempt in open court and contempt requiring a hearing before you go to jail.
If you tell a judge in court what you think of him/her or disrupt proceedings or something like that, it's direct contempt and generally the judge can just slap the person in jail.
This wasn't that. THe juror ignored a jury summons. She was entitled to a hearing before she was jailed.
It looks on the surface like newly elected Judge Case overstepped his authority. I hope he learns from this mess up.

Anonymous said...

Point taken! If I can't make jury duty I will just toss in the trash.

No, not really, there are a couple of place's in town that I like to eat at. I guess I will keep on doing my duty. Then I will go have that margarita with my Mexican food.

SEC Rules said...

Anon 11:31,

How do the Feds establish the requisite NOTICE?

Dropping a jury summons off with the USPS is hardly constructive notice.

Murray is spot on!

SEC Rules

Bill Hawkins said...

Channel 2 had a piece on this today -

Bill Hawkins

Anonymous said...

This is a case of Montgomery County Law. The judge doesn't know who doesn't show up out of the hundreds of notices sent out. Some court clerk got pizzed off at this poor lady and told the judge to have her arrested in order to send a message to all the peasants that bother her everyday.

Anonymous said...

9:47 - "Some court clerk got pizzed off at this poor lady and told the judge"....yes, there maybe one or two clerks that have "that" kind of relationship with their judge. More often than not, the court clerk is looked at as the least educated person in the court room. When in fact, if it wasn't for the court clerks, the courts couldn't do a thing. Court clerks would rather have others arrested, those who really "pizz" them off, like rude bastards that think they are all that (including "black robes", some attorneys,etc. Not you Murray...)Court clerks don't have a "dog in the hunt" when it comes to random citizens, just those with whom they deal with daily. They need to get paid much more while some judges need to be off the bench like this arrogant...... you fill in the blank!

Anonymous said...

A court clerk did not make this decision and is not to blame here. Kelly is a good guy, but he certainly did not help his standing any by letting that snake Brian Wice defend him. He needs to swallow his pride and apologize.

Anonymous said...

Well, ask any citizen of Montgomery County who has called up there wanting to reschedule their jury summons, and they will tell you what kind of 'tude they have up there.

Anonymous said...

Always seems to be a sinister aura in Montgomery County

Anonymous said...

The last time I got a jury summons for Montgomery County and was going to be out of the country, I simply went on line and reset. It was quite easy.

Anonymous said...

Does Reasonable Doubt exist anymore? Do you?