Sunday, April 18, 2010

Great Days in the Criminal Justice System (The Marrying Kind Division)

BALTIMORE, Maryland - Becoming a judge, it would seem, cannot be easy. There are the years spent toiling away in law school, law firms, prosecutors' offices; there is the politicking and the glad-handing; there is the prospect of winding up on the night court bench; there is Sarah Palin. 
   Actually, Sarah Palin has nothing to do with judgeships, at least not until she's elected president in, we hope, two-thousand-and-never. We merely mention her because, well... she's just so weird, isn't she? 
   Anyway, with all the challenge and hassle of becoming a judge, you'd think that those attaining such a lofty perch would be clear-minded enough not to, for example, declare a hiatus in the trial of a man accused of domestic battery and then officiate a courtroom marriage of the man to his alleged victim, which, by law, excuses  her from testifying against him. 
   Yet this is exactly what happened recently in Baltimore, according to a March 17 piece in the ABA Journal ("Law News Now") sent to us by a Los Angeles lawyer with a keen eye for these kinds of shenanigans. 
   The Baltimore County District judge, a man named Darrell Russell, Jr., has been taken off the bench and remanded, as it were, to his chambers. There, the ABA Journal reports (quoting ABC News; the media plot thickens), he will review motions and civil cases. 
   It is possible that Judge Russell will also, in chambers, weep uncontrollably and drink himself stupid. This is not meant libelously; we do not know Judge Russell personally, and presume him to be a man of impeccable credentials, his penchant for sabotaging domestic violence trials notwithstanding. It's just that most anyone in his position would be forgiven for crying and drinking in chambers; what else are you going to do there, watch "Law and Order" and gnash your teeth? 
   We do know this about Judge Russell: he has a lovable sense of humor. An audio recording of court proceedings in the momentarily suspended trial captured the judge telling the defendant, Frederick Wood, twenty-nine, that because he found Wood not guilty, he could not sentence him to any crime. 
   "But," Judge Russell added, speaking to Wood and referring to Wood's blushing bride, "earlier today I sentenced you to life - married to her." 
   (A legal note: the ABA Journal reports that in courts of law, spousal privilege "can be asserted to prevent husband and wife from testifying against each other." Gays and lesbians eager to enter the holy state of matrimony ought take note.) 

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