Fox Guarding Hen House? Judges Supervise Behavior of Judges


“Justice” Not Always Found in Justice System

In my opinion, there are many things that occur in the criminal “justice” system that are not just or fair. For example, I have represented clients that were convicted of Underage Drinking and received a more severe license suspension than someone that was convicted of second and even third offense of DUI. A normal person would think that getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and driving drunk repeatedly would have a more a severe sanction on a license than simply drinking underage. I also do not think that it is fair that a Penn State student that gave his high school friend a small amount of marijuana is charged with a felony and faces a two year mandatory minimum sentence because it occurred within a school zone, meaning within 1,000 feet of Penn State property. While many people, including many district attorneys, l disagree with me and believe that the “school zone” mandatory minimum sentences are appropriate, it must be noted that the Pennsylvania Sentence Commission based at Penn State has recommended that the legislature repeal the school zone mandatory minimum sentencing law. So the group that the legislature pays to gather information and make recommendations agrees with me that the school zone mandatory sentencing law is not fair.

Many people that I speak with are often surprised about how strict Centre County is with regard to prosecution of offenses, even relatively minor offenses such as Underage Drinking. I routinely hear from people that “where I come from, we have real crime, so the police do not care about Underage Drinking or Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana.” The statement regarding law enforcement’s relative indifference to minor offenses is probably true. While the law is the same across the state, the law is not uniformly applied across the state. Urban areas, such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, probably focus limited law enforcement resources on more severe crimes and generally ignore Underage Drinking and marijuana possession cases.

Do Rules Apply to Everyone, Including Judges?

Aside from laws being enforced differently across Pennsylvania, many people also believe that the rules do not apply to some people based upon wealth and social status. In a recent case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had to consider whether a decision from the Court of Judicial Discipline (CJD) that removed a judge from office should be upheld. In the case, the judge was accused of not appearing on 30% of the scheduled work days over a 2 year period of time. It was also alleged that when the judge did show up to work, she was routinely at least 30 minutes to an hour late.

Part of the judge’s job was to deal with cases of students skipping or being repeatedly late to school. Ironically, the judge that was responsible for punishing students for absences and tardiness was often absent or late for the truancy hearings.

It was claimed that the judge abused her power by treating people poorly and demeaning them. Finally, it was alleged that the judge did not hold hearings in some landlord/tenant hearings despite the fact that such hearings were expressly required by Pennsylvania law.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the CJD that the judge’s actions were so egregious that they brought the judicial office into disrepute, which was a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Court also agreed that the judge’s removal from office and lifetime ban from holding a judicial office was an appropriate sanction under the circumstances.

Most Judges Follow Rules

I have been a Penn State criminal defense attorney since 2004, so I have appeared in front of many judges in many different counties, including Blair, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, and Mifflin counties. Over the years, judges have disagreed with some of my legal arguments, but they generally did so in a respectful and professional manner. I believe that I have only witnessed a handful of situations in which I believe that a judge abused their power and authority. In my opinion, people in general tend to the follow the rules. Judges are no different, and they tend to comply with their ethical rules and obligations.  While some judges get paid to be on TV and are paid to be disrespectful to get higher ratings, most judges treat the people before them with respect.