Miscarriages of justice at the hands of attorneys and judges
June 29, 2007
After more than 10 years as an English/Spanish interpreter in Northern Nevada courtrooms, I have a healthy respect for the American system of justice. Nevertheless, my faith in that system is occasionally shaken by stupid, incompetent and/or vindictive attorneys and judges.
There have been several recent examples of what I’m talking about, none of them in Nevada. Front and center is the case of ex-Durham, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong, who turned the lives of three Duke University lacrosse players into a living hell by charging them with rape during his re-election campaign last year. Nifong got his comeuppance last month when the North Carolina Bar Association disbarred him from the practice of law, a penalty he richly deserved.
You all know about this miscarriage of justice by now. In a cynical pitch to politically correct voters, Nifong vowed that he wouldn’t allow Durham to be known for “a bunch of Duke lacrosse players raping a black girl” and called the players “a bunch of hoodlums.” Of course he was re-elected for protecting an alleged minority rape victim from rich, white predators.
The only problem was that the alleged victim’s story changed every time she told it, while the accused players produced airtight alibis. During his ethics trial, Nifong acknowledged that he knew there was no DNA evidence connecting the three defendants to their accuser when he indicted them for rape, sexual assault and kidnapping.
Months later, the state attorney general determined that there was no evidence to support Nifong’s politically motivated prosecution, and cleared the accused players of all charges.
Among the serious charges that Nifong faced was that he withheld DNA evidence from defense attorneys, and that he lied to the court and its investigators. A three-judge panel concluded that the ex-DA broke professional rules of conduct more than two dozen times.
“We acknowledge the actual innocence of the defendants, and there’s nothing here that has done anything but support that assertion,” said the chief judge as he announced Nifong’s disbarment. The players’ attorneys have vowed to seek criminal contempt charges against the rogue DA, and I wish them well.
A $54 Million Pair of Pants
Another recent miscarriage of justice – although justice was served in the end – occurred in Washington, D.C., where an administrative law judge (yes, a judge) sued the Korean immigrant owners of a local dry-cleaning establishment for $54 million for a pair of lost trousers.
Judge Roy Pearson, Jr. sued Soo and Jin Chung for the “mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort” he experienced after they lost his pants. Pearson argued that he was a victim of fraud because the cleaners had displayed a “satisfaction guaranteed” sign, and he wasn’t satisfied, even though they offered to replace his pants.
But in a common-sense decision late last month, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff said Pearson “wasn’t entitled to any relief whatsoever” and added that “a reasonable consumer wouldn’t interpret ‘satisfaction guaranteed’ to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer’s unreasonable demands …” Let’s hear it for Judge Bartnoff and hope we never have to appear before her deranged colleague. Meanwhile, the Chungs have already spent tens of thousands of their hard-earned dollars to defend themselves against Pearson’s ridiculous lawsuit.
“We would like to think this is the end of this story,” the Washington Post commented, “but given Mr. Pearson’s penchant for litigation, the Chungs are bracing for an appeal.” Message to Judge Pearson: Enough already! Get a life!
Taxpayer-Funded Sex Changes
And finally, we have the ongoing case of a transsexual Massachusetts prison inmate who sued the state to force taxpayers to pay for a sex-change operation. Michelle – formerly Robert – Kosilek, who is serving a life sentence for murder, argues that the state is violating his/her Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment by refusing to pay for an elective operation. The state has already spent more than $50,000 on experts to testify about an operation that would cost about $20,000.
According to the AP, “The duration and expense of the case have outraged some lawmakers who insist that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for inmates to have surgery that most private insurers reject as elective.”
“Other folks … have to go through their insurance carrier or save up for it,” said State Sen. Scott Brown, who opposes Ms. Kosilek’s surgery request. “Yet, if you are in prison, you can do it for nothing? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
It sure doesn’t, and I hope the judge who is hearing this laughable (if it weren’t so expensive) case rules in favor of the taxpayers and gives Kosilek exactly what he/she deserves: Nothing.
In 2002, presiding U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that the prisoner was entitled to treatment for gender-identity disorder, but stopped short of ordering a sex-change operation. Wolf hasn’t indicated when he’ll rule on the current case. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, five prison inmates have sued the state for refusing to provide hormone treatments and/or sex-change surgery at taxpayer expense.
Because these outrageous cases make a mockery of our judicial system, attorneys and judges all over America should police their colleagues in order to put a stop to politically motivated prosecutions and frivolous lawsuits. By doing so, justice would be served.
• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and part-time court interpreter, lives in Carson City.