The Rio de Janiero State Court in Brazil will begin prosecuting corruption cases through special “faceless” courts designed to hide the identity of the presiding judges. It is the seventh Brazilian state to implement such a system. The change is coming after more than twenty judges received police protection from death threats by gangs and organized crime.
Under the new system, three judges will rotate every sixty days and all decisions will be signed by the principal judge. Variations of the system were used to protect judges in Colombia in the 1990s.
This is obviously an extreme development, and the safety of the judiciary must be taken seriously. But it comes at a serious cost — the accused will not be able to know the identity of, the very person who will be condemning them to prison (or worse). It’s a dark moment for everyone when due process must be diluted for the sake of judicial safety.
In early May, a thoroughly bizarre and tragic story came out of Indianapolis. Two Indiana state judges, in town for a statewide judicial conference, had been shot outside a White Castle restaurant in the wee hours of the morning. Both men survived the shooting, and police concluded early on that they had not been targeted because they were judges, but the incident left the entire state judiciary shaken.
Now another strange turn: one of the injured judges, Andrew Adams, has been indicted by a grand jury for his role in the incident. He faces seven counts of low-level felony and misdemeanor charges.
The prosecutor has been very careful to stress the complicated nature of the investigation, which involved two grand juries and everyone claiming self defense. In the meantime, the Indiana Supreme Court has suspended Adams without pay, pending the outcome of the criminal charges and any related disciplinary proceeding.
I did not post about the shooting when it happened because the facts seemed so uncertain. But moving forward, the story certainly bears watching.
One of the main concerns expressed by lawyers and judges about courtroom cameras is that they will lead to grandstanding and obnoxious courtroom behavior. But the experience in Minnesota state courts suggests that these concerns are overblown. Using a bit of a loophole in the law — sentencing proceedings do not require assent from the parties — more media are gaining camera access to high-profile sentencings. The results have been mostly positive.
There are ample reasons to want to protect the privacy of victims, jurors, and witnesses during trial. But there are also ample reasons to make the open forum of the courtroom truly open to everyone. Video access of court proceedings is assuredly compatible with safety, due process, and substantial justice.
Yang Sung-tae, the Chief Justice of South Korea from 2011 to 2017, has been indicted on a string of charges relating to abuse of power and dereliction of duty while in office. The charges include influencing politically significant trials under his watch, as well as punishing other justices who were critical of his actions.
From the Korea Herald:
One of the high-profile cases Yang is suspected of having influenced was a damages suit filed by Korean victims forced to work for Japanese companies during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
Yang is suspected of having ordered senior officials at the NCA, the top court’s administrative body, to find ways to delay court proceedings for the case, mindful of the Park administration’s wishes to mend ties with Japan.
On Yang’s watch, the Supreme Court also allegedly collected inside intelligence from the Constitutional Court to keep it in check, covered up irregularities involving judges and interfered with the trial of Won Sei-hoon, a former spy chief accused of leading an online campaign to help then-presidential candidate Park Geun-hye win the 2012 election.
Yang has denied the accusations.
At least 100 other judges and legislators are also under investigation. Stay tuned.
Regular readers of this blog know that I am a strong advocate of courtroom cameras to promote transparency and educate the public about the work of the courts. So when access to courtroom cameras is abused, I am obligated to note that as well.
In a truly odd case coming out of San Juan County, Washington, the court dismissed assault and trespass charges against a criminal defendant after it was discovered that the local sheriff was manipulating a courtroom camera to view defense documents and a juror’s notebook during trial. The manipulation was only discovered when the defense attorney was reviewing a calendar at the court administrator’s desk during a break in the trial.
Loring [the defense attorney] said she was reviewing a calendar at the desk of Jane Severin, the court administrator, which has two computer monitors — one for work and the other showing views from security cameras in and outside the San Juan County Courthouse. According to court documents, Loring said her attention was drawn to movement of one of the normally stationary cameras. A closer look revealed it was the camera located above the jury box in district court, and that it was panning, tilting and zooming in on the jury box and counsel tables.
The sheriff maintain that any camera manipulation was accidental and unintentional. The judge dismissed the case.
Sort of, according to this wonderful article in the Japan Times. It relates how the Japanese courts, operating under the country’s nascent constitution in 1891, refused to bow to political pressure in Japan’s own “trial of the century.” And the Czar-to-be played an important cameo role.
Continue reading “Does Japan owe its tradition of judicial independence to Czar Nicholas II?”
A remarkable story from Chehalis, Washington. Judge R.W. Buzzard was completing a criminal hearing when two defendants–handcuffed and wearing prison garb–decided to turn and flee the courtroom. They ran down a stairwell and attempted to escape the building. Courtroom video shows Judge Buzzard leap from the bench, pull off his robe, and give chase. Near the bottom of the stairwell, he apprehends one of the defendants (the other was caught a few blocks away).
The courthouse video is here.
The incident raises obvious questions about courthouse security:
“These things don’t happen very often,” said Sheriff Rob Snaza. “They’re few and far between.”
Snaza said this represents the second such incident within the last couple of years, that he’s aware of. There are monthly meetings to discuss courthouse security issues.
During this incident, Snaza said, security measures and quick communication made deputies aware of the incident quickly. The only deputy in the room did not give chase because he had two other inmates in his care, said Snaza.