Gavel Grab

Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect’s Lawyers Face Furloughs

Due to across-the-board budget cuts on the federal court system, the lawyers defending Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are being forced to take three unpaid weeks off even as they prepare his defense, reports the Associated Press.

Federal public defender Miriam Conrad’s office in Boston was appointed to represent Tsarnaev, but her office will have to complete the three furloughed weeks before the end of September, the article says.

Public defenders in the trial for Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law requested that his case be delayed due to budget constraints (see Gavel Grab). U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan has called it “extremely troublesome” and “stunning” that these budget cuts are delaying prosecution.

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California Courts Stretched Thin by Budget Cuts

California courts continue to be squeezed by budget cuts, and some judges are considering shrinking juries in criminal cases from 12 people to eight to reduce costs.

The California Judges Association has endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to pare down jury sizes for misdemeanor crimes, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. A group of Superior Court judges is pushing for total elimination of jury trials for crimes “punishable by less than six months in jail.”

“The biggest complaint we get is the time wasted by the legal system in the process of impaneling jurors,” said Sonoma County Judge Rene Chouteau.

The committee of judges predicted that impaneling smaller juries could save around $5.1 million. Public Defender Jeff Adachi questioned whether the courts would be “sacrificing the quality of justice to meet a budget.” Read more

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Prosecutor’s Bias Complaint Against Judge is Dismissed

The Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct has dismissed a complaint accusing Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond B. Dougan of bias in favor of defendants. The complaint was brought by Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.

The chair of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s “fair and impartial courts committee,” Thomas Hoopes, applauded the outcome, according to a Boston Globe article. “The Mass bar has had a strong and abiding concern that this process would affect the independence of judges here in Massachusetts. We view this as central to fair and impartial justice,” he said.

Conley accused the commission of failing to exercise transparency. “The judicial conduct commission offered no explanation for its decision,” he said. “The entire process took place in secret and out of public view.”

To learn background about the complaint, click here for Gavel Grab. In August, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rebuffed a bid to force Judge Dougan  to turn over notes and other materials involved in his decision-making; to learn about that ruling, click here for Gavel Grab.


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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Andrew Cohen completes his two-part series in the Atlantic Monthly on the Supreme Court and the military. In today’s installment, Cohen explores why Supreme Court Justices do not visit military hospitals despite the absence of a law or policy that prevents them from doing so.
  • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson will not grant an injunction to stop Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law from going into effect this November, the Huffington Post reports. Opponents of the law intend to appeal the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
  • The Nieman Journalism Lab writes that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has again ruled in favor of OpenCourt to continue the broadcast of court sessions online. OpenCourt was part of a case from last month where a local district attorney sued the Quincy District Court for plans to stream jury trials.

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Judges Win ‘Deliberative Privilege’ in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled unanimously that judges cannot be required to disclose their thought processes about cases. The court rebuffed a prosecutor’s bid to force Judge Raymond B. Dougan (photo), accused of bias in favor of defendants, to turn over notes and other materials involved in his decision-making.

The decision, citing judicial independence as “one of the cornerstones of our constitutional democracy,” established a “judicial deliberative privilege” in Massachusetts, according to a Boston Globe article.

Although the decision was not the first to establish a “judicial deliberative privilege” in a state, it was notable for multiple reasons, legal analyst Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic online:

“First, it comes at a time when judges all over the country are under political attack by partisans critical of particular rulings — or even of the right of courts to exist at all. Just this spring, remember, Republican presidential candidates were threatening to subpoena federal judges to Capitol Hill. Read more

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Targeted Judge Challenges Authority of Ethics Body

In an unusual Massachusetts case, a state judge is challenging the authority of the Commission on Judicial Conduct to ask questions about his reasoning in dozens of cases.

Judge Raymond B. Dougan (photo) is accused of bias in favor of defendants, according to a Boston Globe article. The judge, supported by a number of retired state and federal judges, asserts that judges should not be required to disclose their inner thoughts about cases. He has asked the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to quash an investigatory subpoena, the ABA Journal reported.

To let a prosecutor effectively penalize a judge whose rulings he disagrees with amounts to a threat to judicial independence, said the judges supporting Judge Dougan.

But J. William Codinha, the special counsel who has led an investigation of Judge Dougan, maintained that if the judge succeeds,  “no sitting judge need ever remain truly impartial, for he may not be asked under oath if he is, and any improper bias or influence can remain safely concealed.’’


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Chief Justice: California Budget Cuts Imperil Justice

In her first State of the Judiciary address, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye warned that courtroom closures and budget cuts imperil justice.

According to a Sacramento Bee article, California has seen four years of budget reductions, and there are “closed” signs on courtrooms and clerk offices in 24 counties.

“We are beginning to see the strains that we think are unbearable for us,” Justice Cantil-Sakauye told reporters. “It really is becoming a crisis for us, and it’s something that we need to shine the light on.”

During her speech, she stressed the need for the Legislature to restore funding to the courts. She discussed how courts are needed more as greater numbers of Californians are seeking help, but resources to fund the courts are declining. In four years, she said, the budget crisis plaguing trial courts has resulted in total cuts of $653 million.

Read more

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MA High Court Rules in Favor of ‘OpenCourt’ Project

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of project OpenCourt’s ability to record, stream online, and archive public court proceedings, reports the Nieman Journalism Lab. The high court declared that restricting the project’s rights to publish was a violation of First Amendment press protections.

In its decision, the court said that those opposed to OpenCourt failed to show a compelling justification for government censorship of the online material, according to the Boston Globe.

This decision came during Sunshine Week, a national initiative meant to promote a dialogue on the importance of open government and freedom of information. OpenCourt was conceived as a way to make local Massachusetts courts more accessible to the public through technology.

OpenCourt placed cameras in courtrooms that could live-stream footage online in 2011, but by last summer, a local district attorney had filed motions to shut off livestream videos and keep the project from publishing them online, the article says.

According to the Nieman article, a judge denied the motion to remove the livestream, but did not comment on the archived records. However, as other state actors became involved, OpenCourt fought to keep its online resources.

“When there are less and less reporters out there to be the bridge to what’s going on in the nation’s courts, there needs to be a way for the public to be informed about how justice is administered in this country,” said John Davidow, the project’s executive director. “We felt that it was really an important right for us to fight for in the courts,” he said.

The Supreme Court’s decision can be found here.

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'Mad as Hell' MA Judiciary Grabs Attention

At least one Boston editorial board is siding with the top Massachusetts judges who are protesting large court funding cutbacks. A Boston Herald editorial, headlined “Judges on warpath,” declared:

“Make no mistake, the judiciary has declared it’s mad as hell and not gonna take it any more. Good for them!”

The editorial also pointed out that state courts serve a distinctly different function from other arms of government, and budget-writing lawmakers don’t always remember that:

“What they — and the governor, who has never been a friend of the judicial system — seem to forget is that the courts are not a program that can be cut to fit their whim or tough economic conditions. The courts are not in control of how many people come through their doors — either under arrest, awaiting trial or looking to redress some grievance through the civil system.”

Earlier this week, top state judges urged Gov. Deval Patrick  to impose a moratorium on new judicial appointments and said 11 of the state’s 101 courthouses would have to be closed (see Gavel Grab). The judges said  a court funding cutback of more than $24 million, on top of earlier cuts, was straining the judicial system.

The judges’ pronouncement, if intended to draw attention to their budget crisis, succeeded, a Boston Globe article said: Read more

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Massachusetts: Showdown Over Court Funding Cuts

In Massachusetts, there’s a showdown between the state’s top judges and the executive branch over court funding cutbacks.

Gov. Deval Patrick was urged by top judges to impose a moratorium on new judicial appointments and also was told 11 of the state’s 101 courthouses would have to be closed, a Boston Globe article said.

Every person’s right to swift justice is jeopardized by the budget that Patrick recently signed, warned Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court and Robert A. Mulligan, chief justice for administration and management, in a joint statement.

The justices of the Supreme Judicial Court sent Patrick a separate letter seeking a halt to appointments of new judges and citing the impact of years of budget cuts. A Worcester Telegram & Gazette article gave this excerpt:

“Simply put, for every judge and clerk magistrate that you appoint, the trial court will have to lay off three more support personnel. We make this request for a moratorium on appointments with great reluctance and regret. The people of Massachusetts deserve better. But the fiscal jeopardy into which the operation of the Trial Courts has been placed demands extraordinary action.”  

Mark Reilly, legal counsel to Patrick, rejected the moratorium plea and called the judges’ statements “confusing at best.” He elaborated: Read more

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