I missed this video when it made the rounds of conservative blogs last month -- a bit surprising, given that bloggers posted it on youtube and msn. In the video, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig L. Schwall (R) scolds a woman in court after sentencing her ex-boyfriend to two life sentences plus 20 years for having sexually molested the woman's eight and sixteen-year-old daughters. Judge Schwall faults the mother of the victims and tells her that she is not a victim, that she is the cause, that she is just as guilty as the defendant. I was a little surprised to see conservatives, who frequently decry judges' attitudes of superiority and elitism, could watch a judge say to a woman that she was despicable for having forgiven her boyfriend for sexually violating her, and cheer him on as "the kind of guy I want on all criminal benches." Railing against victims' mothers seems to be a new step for Judge Schwall. In the past, he's gotten similar praise from a conservative columnist for using harsh words toward the actual criminal --
When Fulton Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall says "now it is my time to speak," watch out. With repeat-offender child molester Michael J. Pearson, he got right to the point: "Your perverted and morally repugnant conduct is most repulsive and despicable and cuts to the core of evil. Clearly you have no conscience. What you are and do and what you are all about is offensive to the souls and the conscience of a civilized society." He gave Pearson life without parole. "I am vehemently, adamantly, without equivocation of any kind or type whatsoever, opposed to parole for this defendant ever." Put him on the high court.However, a fuller transcript posted to a blog reveals that Schwall again saved some of it for the defendant's wife, the grandmother of the victim, because she took his calls demanding that she keep the victim from testifying against him:
Schwall: The grandmother of these children, your wife, is a coward. She is a coward because she can't come and sit in this courtroom and let all these jurors see that you're more important to her as a sexual predator than her grandchildren. She is a coward because she can have all these phone conversations and try to influence witnesses and try to tamper with witnesses, but she can't come here and let this jury see her face, and I cannot imagine the mothers of these children allowing them to have anything to do with the woman you're married to. And if I look or sound upset, I am. I am going to impute the conduct of the grandmother to you. She is despicable and disgusting, and she is morally bankrupt. She has chosen evil -- and you are evil -- over what is right and good and moral.ChaliceChick commenter Peacebang remarked, "Think he's running for office soon?"
Judge Schwall's rhetoric capitalizes on the judicial bully pulpit, but it accomplishes nothing in itself except getting his name in the newspaper and his face on TV. Yes, child molesters are bad, and repeat child molesters are worse, and they're getting duly punished in his courtroom. However, what good does it do to call non-defendants "despicable"? By all means, prosecute the mother in the first case for neglect, and the grandmother in the second case for obstruction of justice, and give the appropriate sentences as a judge who has them in his discretion should. Measures that are a product of the judge's status and control of his courtroom, on the other hand, make me wary. Judge Schwall made news in 2004 for doing something neither I nor any of the commentators I've read have heard of a judge doing: banning an expert witness from appearing before him.
Schwall also banned a Florida physician who worked as one of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses, Dr. Larry R. Williams, saying the doctor may never again appear as an expert witness in his courtroom. "If Dr. Williams violates the instant order by so appearing, the matter in which he appears shall be summarily dismissed with prejudice and Dr. Williams shall be subject to the contempt powers of this court," Schwall wrote.Earlier this year, Judge Schwall appears to have made a summary judgment that a transit agency was responsible for a rape because the victim was kidnapped from a parking garage at a transit station. As a matter of law, he may well have been right to do so, given that the agency appeared unable to substantiate its claim that it had not been negligent in securing the garage. Still, he once again felt the need to play the scold: "He lashed out at the transit agency for not being able to produce documents to back up their claim that there were plenty of officers on duty the night the woman was abducted from the Buckhead parking deck.
Veteran trial attorney Thomas W. Malone of Atlanta, who joined the State Bar of Georgia close to 40 years ago, said he also has never heard of a judge banning an expert. "I suspect the judge has that inherent authority to do that," he said. "But I cannot recall any specific instance of that ever happening."
I love adjectives too, but legal writing teachers all say that they aren't optimal in the law, and that it's better to use facts to impress the wickedness of one's opponents on your audience -- the same old "show, don't tell" commandment given to all writers. And whatever objection I have to this sort of judging is essentially a stylistic one. The Judge Judy style of railing at uneducated, low-income, mostly minority persons who come before a white, upper class judge bothers me and doesn't strike me as likely to make such people improve their ways. It's just an easy win, because no one is going to stand up and say that child molesters ought to go free or that their aiders and abetters should either. Telling these dregs of society that they are despicable simply appeals to the reality-TV viewer's impulse to like watching others be humiliated -- as evidenced by the enjoyment the conservative bloggers and their commenters took.