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Jun 08 2013

This woman should not be a judge

Jonathan Turley has been rightly ranting for some time about judges who come up with novel sentences meant to humiliate the convicted. This risks making the judiciary a laughing stock. Recently he heighted this disgraceful display by a judge in the Cleveland Municipal Court system.

She wants someone to wear a sign around his neck that she made herself and when he did not, she piled on further punishments including 90 days in jail, with the threat of repeating it.

Watching her speak, you can see that she views the legal system as a vehicle for her grandstanding. Her sarcasm and snarkiness is unbecoming. There is also a hidden class element involved. You can bet that she would not treat a well-to-do defendant this way. They and their lawyers would have appeals and complaints to the bar association even before she finished speaking.

How she got elected beats me but she is a poster child for the case against the election of judges, a practice that strikes me as bizarre. But there surely must be some mechanism for the reprimand or removal of such judges.

A necessary qualification for a judge is a judicial temperament and this judge does not have it.

27 comments

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  1. 1
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Outrageous.

    ***

    Her sarcasm and snarkiness is unbecoming.

    I know you didn’t mean it this way, but “unbecoming” related to a woman’s professional actions (or unprofessional ones, as in the case here) sounds an awful lot like “unattractive.” “Unbefitting a judge” or something would be better.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    Could she be replaced by Judge Judy? I mean, if we’re going to have a “justice system” that’s a vehicle for bad acting, we may as well get the best.

  3. 3
    Mano Singham

    Interesting. I had not perceived the word as particularly gendered. I looked up the OED and it says it means “Not becoming or befitting; unsuitable; improper” which matches my use. Maybe if it used to comment one someone’s dress as opposed to behavior then it is gendered.

  4. 4
    mnb0

    Can judges in the USA be elected?! As a Dutchman I am stunned.

  5. 5
    maudell

    This stuff makes me sick. I have relatives who have been in similar situations. I don’t have the details of this case, but what bothers me is that most people remain in a ‘just world’ mentality when it comes to the law. If someone got arrested and got beaten by the police, they *must have done something wrong*. In the meantime, the preferable action for the accused is to shut up and take it. Talk about silencing. And it is a class thing (and very often a race thing too, though I see no evidence of it in this case).

    On another point, I find myself cringing even more when I see a woman and a racial ‘minority’ behaving that way. Not because it makes it worse per se, but I can’t wait to think: “there we go, certain groups will use this as proof that all women/ African American all like this and not fit to power”. I wish I could overlook that. It comes from my perception that many people think this way: http://xkcd.com/385/

    Regardless, this judge should not be a judge. She shouldn’t be given a warning or be lightly punished, she should be out of a court permanently for this patronizing, disrespectful use of her power.

  6. 6
    cafeeineaddicted

    To me it evoked the same feeling as ‘conduct unbecoming an officer’ would, which is kind of appropriate.

  7. 7
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I think the connotations are activated when it’s used about a woman, especially if referring to behavior more generally seen as masculine. The connotations would be lost, probably, if you said “behavior unbecoming a judge.”

  8. 8
    slc1

    Just to show that appointment of judges isn’t a panacea, Ed Brayton put up a post about an appointed federal judge (on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals no less) whose temperament ain’t much better. This filthbag was actually on the short list for a Supreme Court nomination by Ronnie the rat. Note my comment which also links to a post by Jonathan Turley on his website.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2013/06/08/ethics-complaint-filed-against-prominent-federal-judge/#more-19697

  9. 9
    Mano Singham

    Yes, many judges are elected. In Ohio, even the judges for the state Supreme Court are elected.

  10. 10
    Mano Singham

    Thinking over your comment, I began to wonder prompted me to use that particular word and what came my mind was the phrase ‘conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman’, which suggests that it may have originated in a more masculine, even military, context.

    It is interesting how the connotations of words change over time.

  11. 11
    Corvus illustris

    My impression is that judges in continental Europe tend to be appointed from university legal facultlies or from political offices in which “learned in the law” is more than a hollow phrase. In the US, though, even the requirement of university study for lawyers is historically recent. Popular election of judges is more common in the (broadly defined) West, and represents a populist reaction to the proverb “A judge is a lawyer who knows a politician”–frequently accurate for appointed judges.

  12. 12
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    *deep breath*

    I don’t know that it matters in what context it originated. It can be read in certain ways when applied to certain categories of people referring to certain types of behavior (although I do think, as I said, that these connotations fade away when it’s inserted in a phrase with a position or occupation explicitly noted; then it very clearly loses the relation to “unattractive” or “unladylike”).

    As a woman who’s been participating in discussions about language for several years, including about the worst, most misogynistic slurs, I have pretty much no interest in discussing intent – especially when I’ve noted that I’m sure there was no ill intent – or changing/varying connotations. I know you’re not aware of the history of these language debates at other FTBs, and I knew when I read your post that you didn’t intend to activate those connotations. But, on a blog where I wouldn’t have expected it, after someone was referring to me with a male pronoun, another commenter replied that I was “a lady,” to which a third responded that while I might be female I’m “no lady,” and no one challenged this. Those attitudes are out there. I can virtually guarantee that several men will read your sentence (consciously or not) as implying “unattractive” or “uppity,” and several women will cringe slightly at the ambiguous word choice. The problem is merely that your phrasing leaves it open to those readings. I’m just pointing that out for future reference. I hope you don’t read this as an attack or even criticism.

  13. 13
    Mano Singham

    Not at all. I am grateful when people point out nuances that I may have missed. That is how one learns and grows.

  14. 14
    Mano Singham

    In many countries some panel of peers such as a bar association vets candidates and presents a slate of people whom they think qualified to an elected official who then picks from that. This has the danger of becoming an insider’s club, of course.

  15. 15
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Thanks.

    Phew. :)

  16. 16
    Christoph Zurnieden

    It is ripped out of context, I have to admit but it fits so nicely: Francois Rabelais wrote in the end of the first book of “Gargantua”:

    Car ilz tous suyvront la creance et estude
    De l’ignorante et sotte multitude,
    Dont le plus lourd sera receu pour juge.
    – Rabelais “Gargantua”, c. 68,v.45–47

    In the translation of Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty and Peter Antony Motteux:

    For all shall be governed by a rude,
    Base, ignorant, and foolish multitude;
    The veriest lout of all shall be their judge

    Most modern democracies are aware of it and made rules to keep the disadvantages of free elections to a minimum. One of these rules is the separation of powers. Those powers must be independent, which forbids that more than one of them is installed by way of a free election. It is a bit more complicated than that but to give a small hint: the chance that the same people who elect the members of the legislative also elect the members of the judiciary is very large. For example: a conservative majority will vote for a conservative in the legislative and for a conservative in the judiciary, a progressive will vote for progressives in these offices, and so on. It will be quite hard to get real independence of the individual powers that way, especially if those elected need to get reelected after a short time to keep their jobs.
    So you have to appoint the judges in one way or another but beware: you will find out very fast that you just opened a fresh new can of worms, only slightly smaller this time.

    Democracy is a really bad form of government but as long as nobody finds something better…

  17. 17
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    I don’t know how far the difference in use of “unbecoming” is cultural; In countries which were ruled by Britain “unbecoming” would almost inevitably be associated with “conduct unbecoming”. It wasn’t only officers who could be dismissed for conduct unbecoming: any official whose behaviour- outside work as well as at work-was unsatisfactory in undefined ways could be accused of “conduct unbecoming” to their position.

    after someone was referring to me with a male pronoun, another commenter replied that I was “a lady,” to which a third responded that while I might be female I’m “no lady,” and no one challenged this.

    Again, this may reflect cultural differences. In British English “lady” often has negative implications- it’s the equivalent of “Lord” as a mark of respect or a title of nobility and in common usage implies an assumption of social superiority by the person called a “lady” .At one time the use of words like “lady-doctor” or “lady-lawyer” suggested that the people concerned weren’t interested in their professions as professions but as ways to dignity and/or a smart marriage.
    . There’s a famous old English music-hall joke that goes:
    “Who was that lady I saw you with last night?”
    “That was no lady. That was my wife.”
    So, saying you were “no lady” may not have been a put-down.

    2Who was that lady I saw you with last night?”

  18. 18
    Mano Singham

    I am curious. How on Earth did you arrive at your highly unusual username?

  19. 19
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    That’s what happens to some people who have trouble setting up a username, for some reason.

    I am grateful to sc-mess, though, for providing a typical example of the sort of tiresome, ignorant post that used to lead to literally days of arguing and to which I no longer bother to reply. That particular variant is so common it’s the center square of a bingo card.

  20. 20
    Francisco Bacopa

    This judge totally needs to get her own TV show. Audiences would eat it up. But I don’t think she really needs to be a judge in a real court.

    As for the whole “unbecoming” issue, I have never heard that term used as a gendered critique. Well, yes I have, but it’s almost always a masculine gendered term. “Conduct unbecoming for an officer” is about the only time I’ve ever heard that word and I usually imagine a man when I hear it. This judge is an officer of the court, so I think the term is appropriate.

    And look at that defendant: A tired, beaten-down old man. Is this form of humiliation going to make him a better person? Is more jail time really going to deter others from doing the same stupid things? As a utilitarian I don’t really believe in justice in the sense of giving people what they “deserve”, whatever that means. I believe the functions of judicial punishment are incapacitation (preventing dangerous persons from causing further harm), rehabilitation (helping people overcome their tendencies to harm others), and deterrence (harming one person to frighten others into not doing what that person did).

  21. 21
    Frank

    SC,

    “Unbecoming” and “unbefitting” seem to be equally appropriate. I would say that they are near synonyms. Neither is close to a synonym for “unattractive”.

  22. 22
    bad Jim

    ‘Becoming’ is definitely a synonym for ‘attractive’. See also Death Becomes Her.

  23. 23
    midorime

    It seems like SC and Mano resolved this well, so I wasn’t going to comment. But looking down thread there are more comments saying that they only associate unbecoming with gentlemen. So. I did cringe when I read it here. The word does have different connotations depending on the person it’s applied to. Applied to a person with power (officer, gentleman, etc) it suggests an abuse of that power and lack of decorum, i.e. acting below their station. Applied to a member of a group with less power (woman, minority), it implies that they are being indecorous by acting above their station, speaking out when they should be silent or demure. This situation is tricky as the individual has power as a judge, but as a woman and minority belongs to groups that are often silenced by being told that having opinions and being visible is “unbecoming”.

  24. 24
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Actually, isn’t the question of whether or how the judge’s behaviour is “unbecoming” irrelevant, when it’s a matter of judicial misconduct?
    Presumably the accused was convicted of a crime with specified minimum and maximum penalties which should have been applied after deliberation. Even if there is a “Such other punishment as may be deemed suitable…” phrase in the legislation, presumably there are norms for such penalties. Even- or especially, if they need not be qualified- elected judges must have limits to the discretion they can exercise and the penalties they can impose. Unusual penalties may sometimes be preferable to gaol or a fine, but imposing an alternative to gaol or a fine and then imposing both gaol and the aletrnative on someone who refuses to accept it is surely misconduct.

  25. 25
    Corvus illustris

    ‘Becoming’ is definitely a synonym for ‘attractive’.

    Even ignoring the ambiguity with the present participle of “to become” (Ger. werden), you can’t mean this! For example, it isn’t an adjective. You would never say* “What a becoming person!” This “becoming” is a present-participial version of what is really a different verb (sort of Ger. passen but not really), always used transitively even if its object is implicit, as when Mano meant “unbecoming (to) a judge” when he used it in the post. You cite “Death becomes her,” an active version of the same thing. (Sorry to bring in another language but the distinction doesn’t show in Eng.)

    *Even when you say “what a becoming garment” you’re saying “this garment becomes its (possibly potential) wearer”.

  26. 26
    Corvus illustris

    Unusual penalties may sometimes be preferable to gaol or a fine, but imposing an alternative to gaol or a fine and then imposing both gaol and the aletrnative on someone who refuses to accept it is surely misconduct.

    Well, there’s the Eighth Amendment to an old and inoperative document:

    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

    The syntax suggests that the prohibited punishment must be both cruel and unusual, I suppose.

  27. 27
    Kimpatsu

    This is how I take the word to mean, also; but then I am British…

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