Judges are no different from anyone else police must deal with in the criminal justice system. There are good ones and there are bad ones. Unfortunately for crime victims, it seems to take waves of adverse national publicity for a really awful judge to get the boot, and to me that's akin to punishing the victim.
When I took cases to court as a police officer, I had no choice when it came to the judge I drew. That was not true of defense attorneys. They would often have a case repeatedly continued for two reasons: (1) in order to receive a more favorable judge or (2) attempt to catch me off-guard so I would miss a court appearance in order to move for dismissal. It was sneaky at best, but I have to give them credit for doing their job. This doesn't mean I liked it nor thought it was honorable, though. It seems to me the whole point of defending the accused is to ensure the innocent go free and a client's constitutional rights are not violated.
The tactics I saw in court were mostly geared toward winning the case, even if the defendant was guilty. And there were a few judges who went right along with that kind of thinking.
One judge in particular stands out in my memory. In an infamous case, he took a piece of paper, wrote the words "not guilty" on it, held it to his forehead and swiveled his chair back and forth so those in the courtroom could read it — while the arresting officer testified.
Everyone knew this judge was a flake, but no one would do anything about it. Year after year the man sat on the bench, even though the decisions he rendered and the manner in which he rendered them gave his profession double black eyes. Fortunately, he only tried misdemeanors.
When he retired, a general sigh of relief went up from the criminal justice community. The relief ended abruptly when he was appointed as a temporary judge to sit in during vacations and illnesses. Long-suffering prosecutors and law enforcement officers had to endure this clown yet a little longer.
I don't mean to imply that there weren't good judges out there at the time. There were — and are — some mighty fine ones. Although personally I liked ex-prosecutors as judges, I went before some really fair and honorable judges who'd never sat on my side of the courtroom during their legal careers. I wasn't asking for an edge in court, although I certainly wouldn't turn one down, I just wanted a fair judge.
As a detective, my partner and I believed our job was not to prove a certain person committed a crime so we could charge him or her, but to rule out any culpability on the defendant's part. When we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual was innocent and all of the evidence continued to point to that person as the perpetrator, we made the arrest. Our goal was to bring the guilty to justice and that is what we tried hard to do.
The goal of every police officer should be to resolve a case fairly and within the confines of the law. To facilitate this, judges must be unbiased and fair. For police to build good, solid cases that rest firmly on constitutional grounds only to have a judge who belongs in a zoo turn the courtroom into a joke is an affront to what matters the most in these cases: justice.
A judge that abandons justice for power should be tossed out of office. The judicial community needs to police itself so that cops can better do their jobs.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.