Activist Judges

ACTIVIST JUDGES….Allow me to start out the day by posting about a minor pet peeve of mine. This story appeared in the LA Times this morning:

Juror No. 2386 had been sitting in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for two days, waiting to be grilled by lawyers, when he let out a loud yawn.

“You yawned rather audibly there. As a matter of fact, it was to the point that it was contemptuous,” said Superior Court Judge Craig Veals, who was presiding over jury selection for an attempted murder trial.

“I’m sorry, but I’m really bored,” the juror replied.

….”Your boredom just cost you $1,000….I’m finding you in contempt,” Veals said, according to an April 1 court transcript. “Are you quite so bored now?”

This did not happen during a trial. It happened during jury selection. And the juror involved had not done anything to draw attention to himself before this incident.

Judges have a legitimate need to keep control of their courtrooms, and sometimes this requires sharp language or threats of contempt. But too often they act like petty dictators. In this case, the judge had allowed lawyers to ramble on for two days in a process that shouldn’t take more than a few hours, and then blew up when someone staged a minor protest by yawning a little too theatrically.

I say: take control of the jury selection process and quit wasting everyone’s time. The purpose of jury selection is to discard jurors who are unable to judge a case fairly, not to grill them on every detail of their personal lives in order to figure out which ones are most sympathetic to your case.

So count me on the juror’s side here. The judge should have kept things moving, and in any case should have been able to control his courtroom with a warning, not a childish loss of temper and an absurdly high fine (which he later reduced to $100). What’s more, I don’t blame the juror for arguing with the judge when he was cited. Why shouldn’t he when the judge was so obviously abusing his authority?

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