Judges do things that are disliked by either party all the time. You take it in stride and you deal with it. There are some actions, however, that leave you so dumbfounded that you don’t know what to say, let alone what to do.
Sometimes they come from so far out in left field, that the only response is .. Only in Texas..?
Take Judge Carolyn Marks Johnson, for example. She was presiding over the DUI trial of Casey Price and things seemed to be going well. Evidence was presented by both sides and the jury was given its charge.
Suddenly, though, after the jury retired to deliberate, something came over the Judge. Perhaps it was ennui, perhaps the sanity switch finally settled into the off position.
While the jury was out, according to Price and her attorney, Paul LaValle, the judge started talking about what the sentence would be when the jury came back with a guilty verdict.
Offensive certainly and undercutting the appearance of impartiality, but not unheard of. Then the crazy-meter really kicked in:
Then the judge decided she wanted Price to immediately take a drug screen urine test and ordered the bailiff to contact the Pretrial Services facility in the courthouse to arrange it.
The judge also said if Price tested positive, the results would be given to the jury, says LaValle.
To say that this was highly improper and had no basis whatsoever is an understatement. It’s bad enough that this judge decided sua sponte that she had the authority to order randon drug testing of a defendant – note that this was a DUI trial – but the bit about giving the results to the jury is preposterous.
Over the vigorous objection of defense counsel and the scared silence of a rookie prosecutor, the Judge ordered the testing.
Then something happened that must have given the defense a glimmer of hope that the Judge would come to her senses: the jury returned its verdict – not guilty.
Of course, when a Judge is far our in left field, nothing will stop him/her. Having already committed to this outrageous course of action, the Judge carried through with it.
Price was required to take the drug test, which came back negative. A further slap in the face – and indicative of the vindictive nature of this judge – was the fact that when the results finally came back a few hours later, the Judge was gone.
So what was the point of the drug test if the Judge wasn’t going to stick around to find out the results?
It seems that the Judge had made up her mind that the defendant was guilty of DUI and if the defendant was guilty of DUI, then surely the defendant must be guilty of taking other illicit substances. Such abuse of judicial power is astonishing and since judicial oversight organizations rarely do more than slap the wrist of offending judges and banish them to undesirable locations, the only thing that might get her actions noticed is a lawsuit:
[Defense counsel] has, however, filed complaints with the Texas attorney general and with the U.S. attorney accusing Johnson of the crime of official oppression, arguing that once the not-guilty verdict arrived she had no jurisdiction or right to enforce custody of Price.
He also filed a lawsuit in state district court Thursday seeking $1 million in actual and another $1 million in punitive damages — from Harris County, the sheriff, the district attorney and Flores, and Judge Johnson.
This was the perfect storm for Price: an overzealous judge and a mute prosecutor. (The prosecutor’s inaction here should not be overlooked. As they like to remind us, they are charged with the administration of justice. There is nothing worse than a prosecutor standing by while a judge eviscerates the judicial system and fundamental notions of justice and freedom. I certainly hope this rookie got a stern talking to.)
Lucky for her, this jury found her not guilty, otherwise who knows what sort of sentence she would have gotten from this judge.