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Monday, January 09, 2017

SO NOW YOU'RE A JUDGE IN CRIMINAL COURT

So now you're a judge in criminal court. You drew the short straw in the New Year judicial rotation and ended up at the confluence of NW 12th Street and 12th Avenue; just a stone's throw from the Miami River. 
You've decorated your chambers, entered the phone numbers into your cell phone, found your parking spot, frowned at the dearth of good lunch places nearby. 

Now what?  A few helpful hints. 

1. The REGJB opened in 1962 and has been full of judges ever since. It will be full of judges long after you leave. You are not indispensable. Anybody can deny a motion to suppress, deny a continuance, deny an objection, read the jury instruction on reasonable doubt, tally up and impose a maximum sentence, and come down from the bench like Moses off the mountain, robes flowing, and graciously hand jurors a certificate of thanks. You can and will be replaced and life will go on without your brilliant legal insights. So just try and do the best you can for the people who appear in court. 

2. You're the Judge. You make the call. You can call your friends, the administrative judges, or whomever about WHAT an arthur hearing is, but you can't call them to ask what you should do. You wanted the job, you make the call. It's not fair to the parties to have another judge, who didn't hear the evidence, make the decision. 

3. When a lawyer asks for a continuance because they are going away, do not show your ignorance as a trial lawyer by asking when they are coming back and setting the trial for the next day. It takes a lot to get a case ready for trial, and no one wants to spend their vacation worrying about the trial set to begin the day after they come back. 

4. The prosecution is not always right. And when they are wrong, innocent lives are ruined. Never forget that. When the job seems mundane and it's just another boring burglary trial of  GORT/PERP who did it- and you make that call before the case begins- it's time to transfer to family or civil. 

5. No matter how good you were, it's not your case. It's the lawyer's case. Let her try it. 

6. No infant is born to parents who dream of him committing a crime. No child in kindergarten says they want to grow up to be a drug dealer or burglar or thief.  We don't live in a fair world. The universe is indifferent. But behind the veneer of a defendant is a person with hopes and dreams. Most people are redeemable. 

7. Before you sentence someone to prison, go to a prison. The great (and now former) Federal Judge John Gleeson took his staff every year to Danbury prison to see the effect on the people he sentenced. 
We can't think of one judge in Florida who does that on a regular basis. 

8. Don't revel in minimum mandatory sentences. All that means is that the Florida Legislature decided that the 24 year old prosecutor who has been in court all of six months has more wisdom about what should happen to the defendant that you do. Sucks if you really think about it. 

9. One of the very best judges to ever grace the halls of the REGJB- USDC Judge Federico Moreno once sentenced a defendant below the guidelines on a murder (might have been a manslaughter) case AFTER trial. Because that's what the facts called for. Losing a trial does not mean a defendant gets punished for going to trial. Being a tough sentencer does not mean you will work less- although judges have been buying into that faulty thinking for decades now. And do you really want to frighten an innocent person into pleading guilty? Is that why you became a judge? 

10. The only reputation you will develop when you start voir dire at 3, openings at 6, and testimony at 7 is that you're an idiot. Jurors will hate you, and the defendant will not get a fair trial. People will not whisper behind your back "that judge is amazing...s/he tried a case until midnight yesterday." What they will do is repeat what you did with the words "ass"; "jerk"; "idiot"; "big-ego"; "robe-its" and such.  

11. When the job is no longer fun, quit. 

12. Change is the price of survival.

Go forth and do good. Do justice. Be wise. Be fair. Be nice. Read the motions you get. Have fun. 

See you in court.  


27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe that the short straw got dependency court in the beautiful new children's courthouse.

Anonymous said...

Why does number 5 presuppose that the females don't get to try their cases??

Anonymous said...

Treat everyone who comes before you with respect. Don't belittle defense attorneys in front of their clients...in fact it goes a long way to tell the client what a great job the attorney did, especially when they are getting an unusually good plea.

Even if you were not in private practice in your former life, understand that defense attorneys are often required to be in multiple places at the same time. If you have a sounding set for 9 and you happen to be on the bench until 11 anyway, don't give us a hard time when we walk in at 9:45. Chances are we were speeding down 95 from Broward with our blood pressure spiking. We don't need the added stress, our jobs are tough enough.

Hire a nice JA. That goes a long way and it reflects positively on you.

Offer court pleas whenever you legally can and the facts warrant such judicial interference. If the prosecutor is being unreasonable and you know that a little tweaking will make the defendant take the plea, get involved. Client with a ten-year old possession prior who gets arrested for cocaine possession doesn't want to lose their license but will accept a withhold? C'mon...close it out.

Don't be afraid to reject a really bad deal - i.e. Donte Stallworth. I love Dennis Murphy to death but he should've rejected that. 30 days for DUI manslaughter because he had the ability to pay the family millions? Not fair and no legal justification. Case had no more weaknesses than those where defendants are sentenced to years in prison. Should've been 364 minimum.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, 24 year olds usually haven't finished law school, so I don't think they are handing out minimum mandatory penalties. I get that you hold min/mans in disdain, but your hyperbole undercuts your otherwise excellent post.

Anonymous said...

13. When you are up for election, you will not get an opponent because you sent someone to jail, or followed the law, or denied a motion. (Unless you have an easy last name to beat) You will get an opponent because you are always late, mean, rude, and have convinced everyone that your black robe allows you to do all these things. Be on time, apologize when you are not, never embarass a lawyer in front of their client, and don't be petty.

14. Don't be afraid to ask the State, "why?" Sometimes the answer will help you make your decision.

15. You will never have a quiet courtroom by you or your bailiff yelling at everyone.

16. Those people in orange to your left or right, say "good morning to them." Unreal what a little respect can do.

17. Don't put fear in clients by getting all upset because their lawyer is not there. "You better go call him and get him here" is unecessary. It's not the client's fault their lawyer is not there. Maybe their dealing with another judge who thinks they are more important than you. There are other lawyers there. Handle those cases. Tell the client "not a problem we'll wait for your lawyer."

18. When you ask the State or PD to talk to someone. Don't 2 minutes later bitch and moan about where the state or PD went.

19. Sometimes security takes a while, parking takes a while, the bus is late. Issuing Bench Warrants at 9:03 doesn't make you a tough judge, it makes you an asshole.

20. Most of the lawyers in front of you are young. Talk to them about what they did right and wrong after a trial. They appreciate that. If you were a lawyer who never tried a case, never mind.

21. There will be more arraignments tomorrow. Your numbers are only relevant to other judges. No one else cares.

Anonymous said...

2:07

I always hate hearing people say the Donte Stallworth plea was a really bad deal. That's like me blindly saying you are a really bad attorney, because all I know about you is your moronic post.

The Stallworth plea was actually a bad deal for Stallworth. There was ZERO PERCENT chance the SAO would prove causation in that case, because anyone (drunk or sober) would have hit that guy crossing the highway at that time.

Anonymous said...

You just can't win with some idiots. If you had said in #5, "Let him try it," some jerk like 11:57 would have asked why you presuppose that only men try cases. To be safe, from now on no use of gender pronouns. Stay with "it."

Anonymous said...

I started at the SAO at age 24. Most start at 25.

Anonymous said...

2:38 (and the Judges): Be willing to think outside the box - I graduated high school at 17, undergrad at 21, law school at 24. Trying cases as a 1st year lawyer at 24. So while you may claim hyperbole, simply because something is outside of one's own experiences doesn't make it any less true.

Anonymous said...

2:38- I was admitted to the bar at 23

Anonymous said...

All good advice, but I"m with 9:07. Being on time and nice cures an awful lot of ills.

Anonymous said...

Dear new judge.

Please do NOT make me fax my motion to your chambers where YOU will tell me when the fucking motion will be heard.

Anonymous said...

When you're late, say sorry.

Anonymous said...

13-21 are great, I want that person on the bench. I would add, take the time to remember the lawyers names who frequently appear in front of you. Calling a lawyer by their name, ie, good morning Mrs x, would you like to call a case? Goes a long way.

Anonymous said...

I was a lawyer at 30.

Anonymous said...

Stallworth got the deal he did because of the causation issue. If Lurvey & Lyons would have tried it they would most certainly have gotten a misdemeanor.

Anonymous said...

1. Give me a quick date when I want to calendar something. It's not a privilege but a right to appear. You wanted the gig, you're a public servant and justice delayed is justice denied. I expect by Nebbia matter to be on calendar immediately .

2. Take me out of turn, at any time. Waiting until after the arraignments is silly. The judges that took anybody at any time ( Shumacher, Piniero), they were done with their calendars faster than anybody.

3. Take the bench at the latest by 8:30 ( unless you have parenting issues) I'm appalled at public employees taking the bench 9:30-10-00. In every aspect of every sector , it is expected to get an early start .

4. Never, ever bad mouth a lawyer, especially before a client.

5. Don't jerk people around / lead them on. Considering granting a defense motion yet waiting for the State to first make their move is so lame ; it's a false promise.

6. Don't force trials upon parties that want continuances and punt when the parties actually want a trial. Remember , trials , certain trials , put everybody's feet to the fire , something very necessary in criminal law.

7. Don't try to do anything possible to trigger a speedie trial waiver

8. Not getting involved with a case is simply not doing your job

9. Control your court room and neither allow lawyer bickering nor pontification

10. Loosen up, don't be wound up so tight and have some patience with your audience. There's a lot of unsophticated and disenfranchised people in the court house.

11. Your JA must be nice and polite.

12. Start the trials in the morning and don't work well into the night

13. If you impose a " trial tax" you're a loser, asshole

14. Treat the victims and civilian witnesses with respect , they didn't ask to be there

15. Don't ask me to do a " rule to show cause" if you're not going to do anything. I know you're not going to do anything so don't offend me by asking for me to do the bullshit "rule to show cause." By the way, a subpoena isn't worth shit in Miami-Dade county because of the judiciary. Your pansy ass approach to nobody ever showing up to depos is precisely why the county has issues where other counties do not . It's unheard of the blow off a depo anywhere else.

16. Don't ask me for campaign me if you have never asked me how my family is doing.

17. Understand how vital the concept of checks and balances are. Don't let the prosecutor run the court room. Sometimes their position is based upon office policy where they don't expect for their every position to prevail, they want you to over rule them

18. If the defense lawyer is not there, be cool. Most defense attorneys have more than one case so they will be on time for the first case and late for the others

19. There are some excellent judges to emulate and shitty ones to learn from. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, there are plenty of good judges to model yourself after.

Anonymous said...

12:53

Another one who thinks they know it all. Take the bench by 8:30 at the latest? A large percent of clients have childcare issues. If all divisions also started at 8:30 then the line to get in, as well as parking, would be even worse. There is a reason the times are scattered as it eases the flow into the building.

You asking for them to take you versus handling arraignments first fails to appreciate that the Department of Corrections needs to transport human beings back to correctional facilities by specific times. If a Judge waits too long to get all of the inmates handled, they miss the early bus and are stuck at the Courthouse all day.

Anonymous said...

Hey, work with us.
Don't tell us things like:

"I only do motions on...."
"Fax the motion to my chambers (what no email....you do know this is 2017?) and I'll have my JA tell you when I set the motion. Please include all bad days for the next 6 years."
"I already ruled on that"
"prepare a memo of law on your motion terminate probation early"
"Your client must be here for soundings even if he lives in London"
"I never grant that motion unless the state agrees"

Anonymous said...

Read the motions in advance. If it's a novel issue or an issue you've never encountered before, read the cases cited in the motion. Take this seriously. It's very clear when a judge has done his or her homework and when a judge hasn't. Your job is to make rulings. Make informed rulings.

Don't give the State eleven continuances to respond to a Rule 3. Just because it's a post-conviction motion and just because its author is an indigent inmate doesn't mean he's not entitled to a modicum of due process.

Judge Jonathan T. Colby (Ret.) said...

Wait until you see how JUDGE MICHAEL HANZMAN is as a jurist when he comes to the criminal division next week. I guaranty that my best friend Michael will be incredibly intelligent, so very professional, extremely considerate of true due process and Justice and beyond reproach with respect to ethical issues.

Michael is a judge because of his true love of the law. He is an academic. He achieved the highest score on the Florida Bar exam. He has published numerous law review and a Journal articles over the years. He is a respected REAL trial lawyer and national figure in the area of complex class action litigation and civil law. He will enthusiastically become a criminal law and procedure scholar with your guidance and his devoted study.

When I was a Judge, I appointed Michael as the Special Master in the DuPont Benlate cases. He easily sorted out and ruled on all of the issues with well reasoned concise opinions and recommendations. The lawyers loved and respected him.

He may appear somewhat serious and formal at the courthouse, but I can assure you that he is very humble, very kind, extremely generous to those less fortunate and he is dedicated to strictly following the law and the Constitution. If you are a criminal defense attorney, he will make sure that he is prompt, polite, timely, fair and will do the right thing. If you represent the State, be prepared with case law, be on time, be straight forward and be at your best when you try a case. Handle yourself as you would be in Federal court.

Always be truthful. Be academic. Be polite. Be prepared to prove what you assert.

I am sharing this as Judge Hanzman's best friend. He is so humble about his immense experience and success. He is a loving husband and a great dad. I am proud of his strong desire and devotion to the law. He doesn't need to be a Judge, or even need to work anymore. How many can say that they put on a tie and suit each day in order to make our society more humanistic, fair and with the desire to make our judicial system the best in the country. He is a Judge for all of the best reasons.


PS: I miss all of the wonderful experiences and friendships that I made at the Justice Building. God bless you all and a Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

1253 should the Judge also Provide cookies and milk

man the fuck up

Anonymous said...

Don't show up late every day and forget to say sorry for being late.

Don't believe everything a cop tells you.

Don't forget to be nice to even the worst lawyers.

Don't forget that you serve us, we pay your salary and we expect you to do the right thing even when not popular.

Make your JA answer the fucking phone.

Ask the litigants if the date you set works OK for them.

Don't keep us here after 6:00 pm unless there is a really good reason and then, give the jurors a chance to call home. (Do you hear me Billy Thomas?)

Don't start 90% of conversations with "I don't mean to be rude but,...: (Do you hear all of us Dava Tunis).

If you see a lawyer with serious personal problems, like booze or drugs, take them into your chambers and ask if you can help. Ask them if you can call FLA and get someone to meet them and help. Tell them you care about them as a person but, you can't tolerate an impaired lawyer in court representing a client. Try to fix the problem.

Make us all feel at home in your chambers.

Anonymous said...

I thought the take the bench at 8:30 comment was way off base also.
Other sectors often do start early; and they end early too. The construction guys at the lot next door start at 7. But at 3pm, they're out of there. At 3 I'm often just getting back from courthouse and my day effectively is starting over. Since I don't leave office til 7:30-8 pm, it's nice to have that extra hour in the morning to prepare for the day.
Early bird gets the worm - but who wants worms?

Anonymous said...

Even if you were admitted to the Bar at 24 or 25 years of age, there is no way you were handling felony cases with minimum mandatory penalties then. So pipe down, Doogie Howsers. The criminal justice system is not caving due to people who have been alive for a quarter of a century sending people to prison for 10/20/life case, for narcotics trafficking, or for raping kids.

Unknown said...

Wet foot dry foot ending does anyone care?"

Anonymous said...

Well said