Wednesday, January 13, 2010

78 Year Old Woman Jailed for 2-Weeks for Suspended Drivers' License

Let me preface this post, this is a very impoortant story.  This story is not, just, a curiosity;  it illustrates a very important point that if you at all care about the law--you should be thinking about and caring about, in my opinion.

From the Miami Herald, 78 year old Gertrude Shaink Trudeau of Hallandale Beach, Florida was jailed for 2 weeks over the Thanksgiving holiday for driving with a suspended license, get this--that was not suspended, well, it's suspended now beacause while she was in jail she could not get the required physical examination necessary for older drivers.  According to the story by Dan Christensen, despite the presence of lawyers, and a magistrate-judege, noone took note of this poor lady, who was arraigned in a video cattle call, then ignored for 15 days; this is from Mr. Christensen's report:

 "A 78-year-old Hallandale Beach grandmother ticketed for driving with a suspended driver's license spent 15 days in jail before authorities announced her license wasn't suspended and an outraged judge set her free.  County Court Judge Lee J. Seidman ordered Gabrielle Shaink Trudeau's release in December at her arraignment.`She's handcuffed like Houdini, for the record. She's got chains around her waist, and she's got handcuffs in front around her hands as if she was some kind of a violent criminal,' the judge said, according to a transcript. `I want her released. I think she's suffered enough at our system's mistakes.'

Court records show the officer ticketed Shaink Trudeau not for driving too slowly, but for driving on a suspended or revoked driver's license -- a criminal charge that carries up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The ticket required her to appear at the South Satellite Courthouse on Oct. 8. When she did not show, a judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest and set a $2,000 bond.

[Mrs.]Shaink Trudeau's license was revoked Aug. 27 by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for failing to respond to earlier correspondence regarding certain undisclosed medical issues, said Assistant State Attorney Hillary Gulden. The first letter was sent in March, a few weeks after Shaink Trudeau was convicted in Miami-Dade of improper backing following an accident there, Gulden said.

On Sept. 17, 10 days after her ticket in Hallandale Beach, the state received a response and restored Shaink Trudeau's driving privileges pending further review, Gulden said.  [Mrs.] Shaink Trudeau told a reporter she understood the notice she received from the state to mean she no longer had to appear in court. But she misunderstood. And six weeks after the warrant was issued, three brawny Broward Sheriff's deputies arrested Shaink Trudeau in her kitchen.

'They came on real strong, like I had killed somebody or something,'' she said.

Deputies took Shaink Trudeau to the Broward County Jail, where she was photographed, booked, fingerprinted and issued a standard khaki jumpsuit, jail records show. The next morning, Nov. 19, Shaink Trudeau made her first appearance before Magistrate Judge John ``Jay'' Hurley. A video of the proceedings, in which the judge and inmates can see each other on TV monitors, shows Hurley telling Shaink Trudeau that her bond had been set at $2,000.

No court personnel called to the judge's attention the presence of an elderly wisp of a woman who needed special handling. Two experienced assistant public defenders were standing nearby, but said nothing, according to Finkelstein.

`They let a judge give this person the bum's rush,' Finkelstein said.

Pretrial services division employees, who earlier that morning had found [Mrs.] Shaink Trudeau eligible for pretrial release on her own recognizance, also shot up no flare to alert the judge.  Guards took [Ms.]Shaink Trudeau back to jail for the next two weeks, including Thanksgiving.

Finally, at her arraignment on Dec. 2, prosecutor Gulden announced the state was dropping the charge because Shaink Trudeau's license was not suspended.

'On behalf of the system of so-called justice, I apologize,'  Judge Seidman said. `I accept that,' replied [Mrs.] Shaink Trudeau."
I've talked about the importance of small law, in the past on Bad Lawyer, and here is a perfect example of why this subject matter is so important.  The community's continued consent to be governed depends on respect for the law, which begins with respect for the people by the people at the lowest end of jurisprudence. 

Years ago I knew, and came to highly respect a local municipal court Judge, now deceased, as one of the shining exemplars of REAL law and genuine respect for the law, as well as respect for those he served.  That respect was reciprocated by his community and this Judge was easily re-elected again and again despite a "difficult" last name.  One of the most notable things about this Judge was his willingness to rule against the local police and when the situation called for it, to take on the OurState Supreme Court as when the Supreme's issued "I-Am-A-Judge-IDs" to carry with the drivers' licenses of Judges in the state presumably to get out of receiving a ticket.

When the courts of OurState instituted the closed circuit video system of arraignments, the Judge objected and said that in his view it was violative of the OurState Consitution which guarantees open and public judicial proceedings and the US Constitution "due process" guarantees.  I must say, I did not get his objection until this very moment.  He told me at the time, that while there certainly were security concerns--(explainer:  small municipal courts handle all arraignments of criminals arrested in their jurisdictions no mattr how violent or dangerous)--the Judge and the people have a constiutional obligation to see the accused in open court.  He told me then, but I didn't see it--that the mere fact of the accused, the citizen being in front of him, publically and in open court permitted the court in the first instance to live up to its constitutional obligations.   Closed circuit tv, is a poor substitute for appraising whether someone should be jailed for the next 15 days.  Mrs. Shaink Trudeau's situation provides us with a damning example of why we should all care about due process.


  1. Perhaps your best writin yet, Your Badness. As one who toiled much of his career behind a camera, I can state strongly that the electronic image is not the real person. The screens used in court in this and similar venues were showing judicial porn, and all of the officers of the system were watching slack jawed.

  2. Thank you, OK, this story explains precisely what animated me to become a lawyer, and why after my self-inflicted injuries I'd like to go back to it. It's heartbreaking to think, that we don't get it. That the law, that government is about ultimately protecting us individually and communally.

  3. Unlike you, I can and will name the municipal judge who received your compliments for following the law while respecting everyone before his bench---the great and the small.

    That judge was the Hon William Todia, of the Berea Municipal Court. Judge Todia ranks as one of our best judges in the history of Northeast Ohio, along with other excellent and well respected jurists such as the Hon. George McMonagle of the trial bench, the Hon. Leo Spellacy of the appellate division, and the Hon. Francis Sweeney of the Supreme Court.
    We lost a great judge when he retired from the bench, and we lost a great human being when he passed. R.I.P. Judge Todia.

  4. I remember Judge Todia, Anon 2:57 and he was one hell of a man! In fact I recall visiting him shortly before his passing, he had a hand-lettered sign in his hospital room, it said something like: "Wake Me Up if I'm Sleeping, I Want to Talk About You, I'll Have Plenty of Time to Sleep Later!"

    Truly, he was not just a great judge, he was as you say a great human being and he is alive in our hearts, our minds, and our aspirations!