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|Oct 6th, 2009, 01:20 PM||#3|
Join Date: Mar 2008
Are Female Judges Better than Male Judges?
We admit, it’s a thorny and controversial question to ask — whether judges of one sex are “better” than judges of another.
But a group of law professors — NYU’s Stephen Choi, Duke’s Mitu Gulati and Chicago’s Eric Posner, have taken a stab at it. For now, their short answer: no.
But let’s take a step back and ask a more fundamental question: Why take on this project at all? After all, it’s only bound to get poked at, criticized, and questioned, questioned, criticized and poked at. The trio, along with a researcher and PhD candidate, Mirya Holman, writing in Slate, explain the inquiry this way (click here for the group’s full paper):
Many conservatives believe that gender should not factor into the choice of judges and justices. For them, [Justice] Sotomayor was an affirmative action candidate. Because many fewer women than men went to law school in the 1970s and 1980s, and more women drop out of legal practice to care for their families than men do, the pool of judicial candidates today is dominated by men. It stands to reason that if male judicial candidates are passed over in favor of women, less qualified people will be selected.Fair enough. But now, another rather fundamental question: How does one go about judging a judge?
The group claims to “have come up with some indirect measures of judicial quality,” which include: “productivity (how many opinions judges write), influence (how frequently other judges rely on their opinions), and independence (how often judges dissent from opinions written by judges who belong to the same political party).”
The findings are interesting. On the one hand, the group finds that, indeed:
female judges are less qualified, based on traditional metrics, than male judges. They have attended lower-ranked colleges and lower-ranked law schools, they are less likely to have had judicial clerkships (a prestigious job often taken by top law school graduates), and they have less experience in private practice before becoming judges.Okay. So you might expect, if you place any worth in the criteria in the “traditional metrics,” that female judges perform worse. But this isn’t the case, the group finds:
[W]e find no statistically significant differences between the decision-making ability of male and female judges in any of our data sets. Female judges are cited just as often as male judges; they write as many opinions; and they are just as likely to dissent, and to dissent from opinions written by judges who belong to their party.So what explains the ’surprising’ findings. There are, write the group, two possible answers.
First possibility: “Women might be better judges than men, and that would explain why less experienced women perform just as well as more experienced men—with women’s ‘life experience,’ in effect, making up for their more limited legal experience.”
The second possibility: “that presidents (and governors and others who select judges) look for characteristics other than elite education, legal experience, and similar markers. Perhaps they do this because such factors only poorly predict a person’s success as a judge.”
The group concludes:
The fact that female judges are selected from a shallower pool of talent does not imply that they are worse judges than men. In fact, the evidence suggests that they are at least as good as male judges, perhaps better. When she sat on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Justice Sotomayor ranked among the most cited federal appellate judges in the country. Bring on the women!
|Dec 14th, 2009, 01:30 PM||#4|
Join Date: Mar 2008
Judges Judging Judges: Is the Process Too Secretive?
Is the process by which federal judges are reprimanded and disciplined shrouded in too much secrecy?
It was a question asked by Houston Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen in a story from this past weekend.
Federal judges have made illegal campaign contributions, falsified court records, and illegally concealed cash gifts and gambling debts. Many more have engaged in unethical or irresponsible acts, according to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle of more than 3,000 judicial misconduct matters nationwide and analysis of related records over 10 years.Most of the complaints are meritless, explains Olsen, products of disgruntled litigants.
At the same time, the system of reviewing the misconduct complaints are made by a group that might, at least on its face, seem perhaps to be not the most objective — the judges themselves. Writes Olsen: “At the pinnacle of the power structure stand chief circuit judges — a dozen men and women who quietly dismiss about 98 percent of the 700 complaints that arrive annually at regional U.S. courthouses scattered from San Francisco to New Orleans to Washington, D.C.”
Chief judges alone generally decide whether to conduct even a “limited review” — which usually involves reading case documents or sometimes asking a judge to respond. Rarely, those judges form committees to formally investigate — but those findings are almost never revealed.
In 2006, a Supreme Court-appointed committee, formed in response to congressional complaints, released a report on the secret disciplinary system. The committee, led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, found supervising judges handled run-of-the-mill matters well, but handled more explosive situations with less aplomb.
According to Olsen, few cases better illustrate the judges’ insistence on secrecy than that of former Edward Nottingham (pictured), the former chief judge for the District of Colorado.
Records show that Nottingham faced at least seven formal complaints over the years, initially for abuse of power and bias, and later for potential criminal allegations. None resulted in formal disciplinary action or prosecution.
Yet in 2008, after allegations of misconduct reached the public, Nottingham abruptly resigned. He said his decision was “in the public interest and the interest of the federal judiciary.”
The misconduct complaints were dismissed as moot. The disciplinary system does not apply to ex-judges, and its findings and recommendations were never released to the public.
Nottingham, did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s examples like these that seem to be behind the calls for more transparency and accountability.
“Any type of misconduct impacts upon the integrity of judges and erodes public confidence in the federal judiciary,” said U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who has fought for years to improve judicial accountability.
|Dec 31st, 2009, 08:11 AM||#5|
Join Date: Mar 2008
Judicial Misconduct: The Mice Guard The Cheese
Does the federal judiciary do a good enough job investigating misconduct complaints against its fellow judges?
It’s an oft debated topic that gets a particularly detailed airing today in this Houston Chronicle piece.
A spate of recent high-profile complaints against judges, including the sexual-abuse charges against former Texas federal judge Samuel Kent (pictured), has prompted experts and members of Congress alike to call for reforms and more disclosure of federal disciplinary decisions, the Chron reports.
(Click here and here for LB coverage of the Kent case.)
The chief judges of the federal circuit courts oversee complaints against all the circuit, district, bankruptcy and magistrate judges in their regions.
But in seven circuits, according to the Chron, chief judges took no public disciplinary action at all in the last decade, “meaning not a single federal judge faced any sanctions in 29 states with more than 875 full-time federal judges, despite thousands of complaints.”
Citing one example, the Chron notes that James B. Loken, who oversees the 8th Circuit, has never formally investigated a complaint since becoming chief judge in 2003, according to Michael Gans, the 8th Circuit Clerk who works with Loken.
Early in his tenure, Loken dismissed misconduct complaints from an attorney as “signed by a person whose signature is illegible.” Later, Loken rejected published allegations that a U.S. district judge in St. Louis improperly urged 314 newly minted citizens at a public ceremony to register and vote for his congressman friend “so he can continue his good work.” Loken accepted the jurist’s denials without formal review. Gans declined to comment about these matters.
In fairness, rogue federal judges are likely few and far between. And the current disciplinary apparatus helps preserve the independence of the federal bench. The federal justice system would break down if every complaint from disgruntled litigants got a full airing.
But it’s also true that the system leaves “the mice in charge of the cheese,” as attorney Lara Bazelon told the Chron. In a recent Kentucky Law Journal article, Bazelon wrote: “Judges are human beings just like the rest of us, and putting on a black robe should not immunize them from legitimate punishment.”
|Jan 6th, 2010, 07:13 PM||#6|
Join Date: Jun 2007
Counting Crows Play Wilkes-Barre: New Charges of Justice Run Amok
The allegations in the Luzerne County, Pa., judicial scandal are ugly enough: In exchange for kickbacks from private detention centers, former county judges Michael T. Conahan and and Mark A. Ciavarella sent hundreds of juveniles off to the centers, sometimes for rather lengthy stays. But we recently got wind of an allegation tucked into a civil complaint concerning Ciavarella that’s really not for the faint of heart.
Read more: Counting Crows Play Wilkes-Barre: New Charges of Justice Run Amok
|Dec 23rd, 2011, 12:21 PM||#8|
Judge Makes Mistake In Allowing Letting Jury Hear Drug Cartel Evidence
Feliciano Covarrubias was arrested at about 3:00 a.m. on May 6, 2010 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry coming from Mexico to California with 193 pounds of marijuana hidden in his Ford F250. A dog specially designed to detect narcotics smelled the marijuana.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office subsequently charged him with possession of marijuana for sale (Health and Safety Code § 11359) and transporting more than 28.5 grams into California (a violation of Health and Safety Code § 11360(a)). Covarrubias was convicted and sentenced to three years of formal probation with various conditions and 240 days in jail.
He then appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court violated Evidence Code § 352 by allowing an agent from Immigration Customs Enforcement testify about the structure and practices of drug trafficking organizations, i.e. drug cartels. The agent said he had been involved in hundreds of marijuana smuggling investigations. He testified, furthermore, about the market price of the quantity of marijuana seized, $185,000. Most importantly, he described what a mule was and that in his many years of experience, he had never been involved in a case involving a “blind mule,” i.e. a courier who does not know he is transporting drugs.
The clear suggestion, Covarrubias’ attorney argued, was that Covarrubias was a professional mule for a drug cartel and therefore, jurors easily found him to have the mental state necessary for guilt. Covarrubias’ attorney characterized the agent’s testimony as “profile / modus operandi evidence” to further a stereotype of a drug courier in his client.
In short, it was more prejudicial than probative, especially because the prosecution failed to show Covarrubias was associated with a drug cartel at all, as he was not charged with conspiracy to import drugs.
The prosecution argued that such evidence was relevant and probative to disprove Covarrubias’ defense that he did not know there was marijuana in his truck.
The trial court in San Diego allowed the agent to testify, over Covarrubias’ objections.
In finding judicial error at the trial court, the Fourth Appellate District (in People v. Feliciano Covarrubias (2011 DJDAR 18102)), noted first the general rule with admitting any evidence: it must be relevant and have a certain minimum degree of reliability. This makes the evidence probative to some degree. The evidence’s effect must also not create a substantial risk of juror confusion, unfair prejudice or unreasonable delays.
In analyzing the agent’s testimony and the other evidence in the case, the Fourth Appellate District noted that unless a defendant is associated with a drug trafficking organization, profile evidence is generally inadmissible to prove guilt (although they might be helpful to law enforcement at the investigation stage). In the case of Covarrubias, the prosecution presented no evidence whatsoever linking Covarrubias to any trafficking organization. Therefore, since the agent insinuated that Covarrubias was part of a large-scale operation, the trial court made a mistake in allowing the agent to testify as he did.
However, the Court found “it was not reasonably probable that the verdict would have been more favorable to Covarrubias if the trial court had excluded” the agent’s testimony. In other words, the admission of such testimony by the agent was a harmless error. The court pointed out that when questioned by border agents, Covarrubias admitted he owned three of the seven bags containing marijuana, meaning he knew what was in the bags. He then later changed his account once the agents revealed they knew the bags’ contents.
Consequently, the Court concluded, the verdict would have been the same even without the agent’s testimony, so the verdict was affirmed.
This article was written by Greg Hill. He has defended burglary cases in both state and federal court, as well as DUI’s, domestic violence and drug offenses all over the state of California. He is an attorney in Torrance, California and a former Marine Officer. He is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate (B.S., 1987), Boston University graduate (M.B.A., 1994) and Loyola Law School graduate (J.D., 1998). An arraignment is a criminal proceeding where the defendant is called before a court, informed of the charges, and asked to enter a plea. If you have never been arrested, you might not understand the point of an arraignment hearing. So why is this type of hearing important? Here are some of the reasons why the State might hold an arraignment:
While the whole process of an arraignment hearing may seem rather unimportant, it is an extremely critical process and is not to be taken lightly. It is often where first impressions are made and the prosecution reveals its attitude about the seriousness of the charges, a likely plea bargain and the character of the defendant.
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