Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Hitler's Dog?!"

Debra Cassens Weiss who does sober versions of what I do here, but for the ABAJournal.com has this account of a Wisconsin U.S. District Judge chastised by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for remarks he made in sentencing a cocaine dealer.  This is Ms. Weiss' summary:

"A federal appeals court has ordered a new sentencing hearing in a drug case because of the trial judge’s 'extraneous and inflammatory comments,' including a remark about Hitler’s dog.

The opinion by the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blasted U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa of Wisconsin for his remarks, according to the Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog Proof and Hearsay.  [Judge] Randa made the dog comment after the defendant, Jose Figueroa, claimed he was a good family man. 'Even Adolf Hitler was admired by his family,' Randa said. 'Adolf Hitler loved his dog. Yet he killed six million Jews.'

[Judge] Randa had sentenced the defendant to nearly 20 years in prison for dealing millions of dollars in cocaine, a punishment at the low end of the sentencing range. The opinion by Judge Diane Wood said Randa should nonetheless be resentenced because Randa’s comments were so utterly out of bounds.'

During the hearing, Randa commented on Figueroa's immigration status and talked about Figueroa’s native Mexico, linking the country to drug and immigration problems in the United States. 'The southwest is being overwhelmed,'  Randa said at one point. At other times as he commented on illegal immigration, he referred to 'you people' or  'those people.'

'The district court linked the drug trade to Mexico, then to Colombia and Venezuela, and then to Iranian terrorists through the person of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez,'  Wood wrote. 'Turning to punishment, he remarked that Figueroa should be happy that he was headed to an American rather than a Mexican or Turkish—prison, and that Figueroa’s conduct could have resulted in execution had it occurred in Malaysia or Thailand.'"
Judges in OurCounty courts make the Hitler's dog remark and in the words of Judge Wood, even more "inflammatory" remarks.  In fact several local judges have been admonished for these sorts of remarks over the years, usually the ill-advised comments are intended to send a message beyond the courtroom, and having met many subjects of these diatribes outside of the courtrooms who were the subject or spectators to such remarks--they hear the message, but they are often powerless, or they believe they are powerles to address the behavior angrily addressed by the Court.

It's pretty obvious from a number of stories in the blawgs that federal appellate courts are looking to reign in the improvisational outrage by trial judges.  The Circuit Courts appear to be concerned that bias and prejudice "leaking out" and causing unnecessary judicial procedures to revisit decisions that may or may not have been correct as a result of inflammatory language by trial judges.

Link to the 7th Circuit decision in U.S. v. Figueroa.

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