Daily Archives: May 3, 2008

Judge gets award for upholding the law

Alternative title: “Our standards are so low”.

Remember David Pollitt? [Previous posts here, here, here and here] Yeah, he’s the guy whose release from prison after maxing out from his sentence had his rich neighbors in an uproar. They didn’t want him living in their cul-de-sac, so they staged protests and feverishly dialed into “Idol Governor”, simultaneously pressing 0 for the operator (I guess 1 for complete abrogation of the rule of law and 2 for abandonment of common sense weren’t enough. They went straight for the operator Governor).

So the Governor, as any good Governor would do, stepped in and asked the chief prosecutor attorney general to intervene to see “if we could have this here guy locked up longer than his sentence”, because well, “I’m the Guv’nor dammit and I should be able to”^.

Thankfully, the only person who could actually make Mr. Pollitt go back to jail remembered that there’s something called the law, which is written in these things called books, to which we do something called follow.

Judge Susan Handy was rather skeptical of the legal basis for this “request” from the Governor and reached back into obscure legalese to pull out a rarely heard term called “Illegal”. Never heard of it.

Anyway, whatever this “illegal” action was, it was coupled with some other bizarre phrase known as “standing”. I guess if you aren’t standing, you can’t do something illegal. My head is spinning.

[insert deafening silence, followed by sound of crickets chirping]

So. The point of this nonsense post is that this past Thursday was the 50th Anniversary of Law Day. Judge Handy received an award from the New London County Bar Association. In keeping with the tradition that lawyers are the most uncreative people on Earth, who have an affinity for campy, cheesy names, the award was called the Liberty Bell Award. Because, I guess, someone rang Liberty’s bell.

“I am both humbled and, I have to say, completely overwhelmed, to receive an award for simply doing the job you entrusted me to do,” said Handy, who was appointed to the bench 15 years ago and serves as presiding judge for criminal matters in the New London judicial district.

Let’s be clear: this post is not about Judge Handy at all. She obviously did the right thing. What disturbs me is that doing the right thing now leads to awards and needs to be recognized. How skewed has our notion of justice become that a judge who follows the law and does the most obvious thing has be to feted.

“Let’s imagine if Judge Handy had not ruled as she did,” [Chief Court Administrator Judge Barbara] Quinn said. “A man who had completed his prison sentence would have been unjustly held. The neighbors and some politicians would have rejoiced, along with many members of the public. I would submit to you, however, that the damage to the constitutional rights of every member of the public would have been shaken to the core.”

Why must we imagine? It should be unthinkable that she would rule any other way. This should have passed silently in the night – yet now we have to beat it over people’s heads that she did the right thing.

Congratulations, Judge Handy and I hope this keeps giving you the courage to do the right thing. What worries is me is now I don’t know how many judges would have done the opposite.

^Obviously she did not say that. I don’t know what she said. That was an attempt at humor.

Forced confession results in acquittal

The Kwame Wells-Jordan trial in New Haven has had it all: false confessions, recanting co-defendants, a near-fight between the state’s star witness and the prosecutor, a cop who has since retired amidst scandal and expert testimony on false confessions.

In the end, it looks like the system worked. A jury returned not guilty verdicts yesterday on all counts. Wells-Jordan was charged with being an accessory to assault, robbery in the first degree and conspiracy to commit robbery. The victim, Herbert Fields, was shot dead during this robbery by another man, who plead guilty to murder.

The recantation and coercion:

But when Johnson [the co-d] testified during the Wells-Jordan trial, he recanted his police statement. Michael Holmes, who police believed was the third person involved in the robbery but was not charged, also contradicted his taped statement.

Wells-Jordan did not testify on his own behalf, but his aunt and legal guardian, Julia Sykes, testified she and her nephew underwent lengthy, high-pressure interrogations in September 2006 and two months later, the day he was arrested.

Skyes, Johnson and Holmes said [now retired, but still embroiled in scandal police officer] Willoughby told the three teenagers a lie in an effort to get them to confess: that their handprints were on Fields’ car. That handprint really belonged to [someone else].

There were two interviews between Wells-Jordan, his aunt and the police, the latter resulting in the false confession. The circumstances surrounding the confessions involved the usual “we know what’s best for you, so if you tell us you did it, you won’t be a defendant” spiel.

The expert: