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Life Tenure for Federal Judges Raises Issues of Senility, Dementia

Issues related to aging and dementia increasingly plague the federal court system, where judges in their 80’s and 90’s are shouldering a larger portion of cases.

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(iStockPhoto)

This story was co-published with Slate.

Judge Richard Owen of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan gathered a group of lawyers in his courtroom in 2007 to discuss the possible leak of sealed documents in a business case. As the hearing got under way, Owen, then 84, asked for someone to explain this newfangled mode of communication the lawyers kept mentioning -- e-mail. "It pops up in a machine in some administrative office, and is somebody there with a duty to take it around and give it to whoever it's named to?" he asked.

Some of the lawyers figured that Owen, whose chambers came with a mimeograph machine when he became a judge in 1973, was just behind the times. Others wondered if the judge's memory was failing him. After all, the most famous case in his long career -- the back-to-back trials of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone -- had revolved around a single e-mail. Yet he now acted as though this was the first he was hearing about it. "He didn't understand what was happening in his own courtroom," said one lawyer present that day.

Owen's memory lapses popped up at critical moments. A month after his e-mail query, the judge stumbled badly when handing down a life sentence to drug dealer Darryl Henderson for his connection to a robbery crew that murdered three people in a Bronx apartment. The prosecutor had previously called Henderson "the key into that apartment," because Henderson was sleeping with the apartment's female tenant and conceivably helped the murderers get past the front door. In Judge Owen's mind, the metaphorical key became a literal key. He announced that the tenant had given Henderson "a key to get into that apartment," and seemed unperturbed when the prosecutor explained there was no such evidence.

Then Owen expressed confusion over the relatively limited counts the jury had found Henderson guilty of and grew exasperated when the defense and prosecution tried to set him straight. Lawyers questioned whether Owen's mind was working well enough to be deciding matters of life and liberty. "Do I think age was a factor in some of his cloudy thinking? Yes," said David Patton, a defense attorney for Henderson. "There were many times when he seemed confused and exhausted.” Owen declined repeated interview requests.

Life tenure, intended to foster judicial independence, has been a unique feature of the federal bench since the Constitution was ratified in 1789. Back then, the average American lived to be about 40 and the framers didn't express much worry about senile judges. "A superannuated bench," Alexander Hamilton said, is an "imaginary danger."

No longer. Today, aging and dementia are the flip side of life tenure, with more and more judges staying on the bench into extreme old age. About 12 percent of the nation's 1,200 sitting federal district and circuit judges are 80 years or older, according to a 2010 survey conducted by ProPublica. Eleven federal judges over the age of 90 are hearing cases -- compared with four just 20 years ago. (One judge, a Kansan appointed by President John F. Kennedy, is over 100.) The share of octogenarians and nonagenarians on the federal bench has doubled in the past 20 years. The demographics of the federal bench have no analogue on the state courts, where judges mostly occupy their office for a term of fixed years and generally have mandatory retirement ages, often in their 60s or 70s.

Scholars like David Garrow of Cambridge University have looked at senility on the Supreme Court and called for a reconsideration of life tenure for its justices. But on the lower federal courts, where judges still wield enormous power, the failings that come with age have gotten much less attention. Sometimes, when judges stay on the bench longer than they should, no one questions their fitness. And most courts have no systemic way to deal with judges with age-related cognitive problems. "We are the worst fraternity in the world about this,” said Judge Boyce Martin, chief judge of the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals from 1996 to 2003.

For many older judges, no doubt, experience is a virtue. “My memory is not as acute as it was, [but] principles, I know, and my judgment is the same -- it may be better,” said U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, a Brooklyn legend at 89 and one of the nation's most respected legal minds.

But judges of advanced years are clearly at increased risk for trouble with memory and cognition. According to the Alzheimer's Association, about 13 percent of Americans over 65 have Alzheimer's and nearly half of those 85 and older develop it or suffer from dementia.

The judiciary does not assess the competence of its senior judges. The courts have no formal policy requiring, or even recommending, that judges receive medical checkups or consult with geriatricians. Instead, the institution relies on other judges to monitor colleagues, and, working discreetly behind the scenes, to push out enfeebled judges gently. Judge Dee Benson of U.S. District Court in Utah, age 62, likened the process to persuading an elderly parent to stop driving: "How are we going to get grandma off the highway?"

Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook is considered the most aggressive in monitoring judicial colleagues as they age. The judge who patrols that highway most aggressively is Frank Easterbrook, chief of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In the last four years, Easterbrook says, he has arranged for two colleagues to see neurologists. One was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and retired. The other insisted on returning to the bench after a stroke, but because he had difficulties "with executive function,” Easterbrook said, he removed all criminal cases from the judge's docket. Easterbrook has even publicly called on lawyers to contact his chambers directly if they think a judge is exhibiting symptoms of dementia -- a rare move by the bench to enlist the public in monitoring judges.

Why do judges outstay their welcome? Longer life spans and attachment to the job play a role. Another factor, judges and experts say, is that in some ways the job has gotten easier. Until the 1930s, district and circuit court judges functioned without law clerks. Now even district court judges get two apiece, and they can pick up the slack as a judge's output diminishes. A 2005 study offers a sense of just how long judges are holding on: More than nine out of 10 district court judges die within a year of retiring fully. "I can't remember a judge who went home to clip roses," said Bill Dazey, a longtime assistant federal defender in Indianapolis. "I just feel better working," explained 94-year-old Judge Robert McWilliams of the Denver-based 10th Circuit. "You can't just sit around the house watching TV."

And for nearly a century, Congress has invited judges to work less, starting at age 65, instead of retiring. A judge who goes on senior status, as the arrangement is called, still draws a salary and works as much or as little as he or she likes; meanwhile, the president can nominate a new judge to the take the spot the senior-status judge has vacated, at least on paper. It's a system meant to encourage elderly judges to make room for younger ones, without giving anybody the boot.

There's no question that the arrangement aids the smooth functioning of the judiciary. Senior judges provide the extra manpower needed to keep the federal docket moving, especially at times when the president and Senate are slow to fill vacancies on the bench. (At present, 101 seats are empty, a relatively high number). In 2008, judges with senior status handled more than 18 percent of the caseload in the federal trial courts, double the portion they handled a generation ago.

But the work-as-you-wish arrangement also insulates judges from normal retirement pressures and enables senior-status judges to stick around even if they are too enfeebled to do the entire job. Some senior-status judges, for instance, only hear cases that can be decided entirely on written motions -- like social security or habeas petitions -- which don't require the exertion of presiding over a courtroom or the risk of public scrutiny. Judge Owen now decides cases only in this way.

In a similar fashion, the 94-year-old Judge McWilliams generally leaves the heavy lifting to others on the three-judge panels he is a part of. For the most part, he has stopped writing precedential opinions, limiting himself to issuing short orders in less significant cases.

Judges facing age-related mental decline are prone to make rookie mistakes that harm the rights of the people before them. Judge John Shabaz of the federal court in Madison, Wisc., had a reputation as a strict sentencer who resolved cases at a brisk pace. But when he reached his mid-70s, attorneys began to suspect his mind was deteriorating. "He had trouble reading things out loud, such as plea agreements," lawyer David Mandell says. "He would start and stop and start over."

In August 2006, before announcing a 20-year sentence, Shabaz forgot to offer a convicted drug dealer the chance to ask for mercy, a right spelled out in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The judge reversed the process, first announcing the sentence and then offering the man a chance to speak. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit called this "the kind of error that undermines the fairness of the judicial process" and sent the case back to a different judge for a do-over. A story about Shabaz appeared in the Capital Times, a Madison newspaper, under the headline "Confusion in the Court." Easterbrook, playing his role as highway patrolman, sent intermediaries to persuade Shabaz not to return from a medical leave for shoulder surgery in 2008. For a while Shabaz resisted, but eventually he acquiesced, a colleague said. He assumed senior status in January 2009 and no longer hears cases.

Sometimes the problem isn't as clear-cut as forgetfulness -- a failing that, after all, is relatively easy to recognize. Attorneys say J. Thomas Greene, a U.S. district judge in Utah, seemed to grow more impulsive with age, a common sign that the brain's ability to self-censor is eroding. In 2006, Greene, then 76, presided over the trial of a man charged with lying about the disappearance of a teenage girl. At a proceeding to pick a jury, the judge asked prospective jurors whether they were acquainted, a question meant to keep friends from serving on the same panel. One man answered that he knew one of the other potential jurors, a woman. "I didn't recognize you," the woman exclaimed.

"She didn't recognize you with your clothes on," Greene shot back, shocking the courtroom.

Another impulsive outburst affected the sentence of a serial bank robber. "Maybe I'm a fool to have given you this kind of break twice, but somehow I have a feeling about you," Greene said, before sentencing the man to less than half the prison time called for in the federal sentencing guidelines. The appeals court threw out the sentence in a decision expressing concern that Greene hadn't taken the case seriously enough. Greene stopped hearing cases in 2008.

How common are such lapses? One answer comes from an experiment by the 9th Circuit. In 2001, the appeals court set up a confidential help line for judges, expecting most calls to be about depression or addiction. Instead, the overwhelming majority have come from judges concerned that elderly colleagues were showing signs of slipping, said Richard Carlton, the consultant who answers the line. He said that each year he receives calls about six to eight judges within the circuit whose "mental acuity or change in temperament, or other changes in behavior are troubling."

Beyond the help line, and the informal pressure of chief judges, the more formal remedies have little effect. The last impeachment for mental incapacity was in 1803. Judges also can be stripped of their dockets if a committee of their peers votes to issue a certificate of disability. That has happened just twice in the last 20 years. Fewer than 1 percent of the 5,277 complaints from litigants and lawyers against judges, filed from 2000 to 2005, involved allegations of mental disability. Generally protective of the bench and fearful of a backlash, lawyers rarely complain.

Without clear rules or a protocol to guide them, some judges initiate their own early-warning system, asking colleagues or a former clerk to let them know if they are slipping. Judge Weinstein of Brooklyn gets an annual neurological checkup, including a CAT scan. In an interview, he suggested that the judiciary should consider amending its ethical code to encourage judges to notify their chief judge about health concerns, particularly if they are taking medications that affect memory or emotional balance.

Judge Martin of the 6th Circuit would go further: He thinks regular mental and physical checkups for senior-status judges should be required. "Shouldn't you take that extra step of letting the government make sure you're as agile as you thought you were?" he asked.

Karen Williams knows firsthand what it means for a judge to face mental decline. While she doesn't support mandatory testing, she said she wouldn't object to a guideline that encouraged judges to consider regular exams. Named to the 4th Circuit at age 40, Williams was seen as a rising star, possibly even a Supreme Court candidate, until 2009. That's when she began to notice changes in herself. She struggled with spacial distortion. Even in familiar places, she couldn't remember which way to turn when she left a room. Stunningly, at age 57, Williams was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

There was no roadmap for what to do next. Could she continue working until her symptoms worsened? For how long? "I questioned how and who would determine when I reached the stage that my mental processes truly were affected to such a degree as to make me unfit to remain on the bench," she said in a written response to my questions in the most detailed public account she has given about her diagnosis. "Would it require daily, weekly, monthly testing? What kind of testing? What test result would be needed to equate with 'unfitness'?"

Though she still felt able to perform her duties, after reflection Williams decided to retire immediately. "It was inappropriate to continue working, knowing that at any time any opinions I wrote or joined could be challenged or second-guessed," she told me. She added that she "did not want to harm in any way the dignity of the court." Without rules or a policy to guide her decision, Williams had to make her own call. She decided to put the court first. But she may be more the exception than the rule.

Joseph Goldstein is a freelance reporter in New York.

ProPublica intern Joseph Kokenge contributed to this report.

USDJ William C. Conner was smart and sound at 87.

Many at 40 are simply stupid.

What do we do about that?

Warren langer

Jan. 18, 2011, 4:34 p.m.

From my 2011 “Resolutions” list.

U.S. Supreme Court.

Justices now are appointed for life.

Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito could still be wielding gavels in 2199!

When the Constitution was “borned” the average life expectancy was in the neighborhood of forty nine years. We are now expected to live until we are 78. I am rapidly approaching 84 and I am not going to give back six years although there are days it’s not such a bad idea.

Unless term limits are applied, Justice Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito could be drooling on valuable documents for decades or even centuries to come and would still be able to tell us corporations are people. (Or put us on the Tooth Fairy Standard if Gold is too costly.)

I am terribly serious about this. Supreme Court Judges should be appointed to, at the most, thirty year terms. (Serial droolers should be disqualified, impeached and sent home without dinner.)

Other current Lifetime appointments, usually involving Federal judgeships, should be limited to twenty years.

Supreme Court Justices – to serve thirty-year, non-reappointable – terms.

Kevin A. McDonald

Jan. 18, 2011, 5:19 p.m.

I imagine in many courtrooms the law clerks run the show and decide cases.

Gloria Grening Wolk

Jan. 18, 2011, 6:17 p.m.

Last month I filed a complaint with the 6th circuit against Senior Judge Karl S. Forester (E.D.KY). As senior, working part time, he delayed acting on the motion for more than two years, then circumvented the local procedures, refused an evidentiary hearing, and denied the defense’s motion to vacate. I would have been an expert witness for the defense but, unless he has read any of my publications since receiving a copy of the complaint, he has no idea what I could have contributed. He chose to count the pages of my affidavit (12) and count the pages of the attached exhibits (15), then dismiss this effort without reading. Was he ever competent, or is it his age? Why does he continue to receive taxpayer dollars when he is not competent to serve justice? (I can freely challenge his age since I am a year older. My genetics are likely to keep my brain cells working at max until I’m close to 100. Unlike Forester.)

Oh, if it were only the older judges we had to watch for problems.  Whether their poor decisions are due to age or senility, I think they are more due to lack of backbone to stand up for what’s right.

I understand this article to be addressing the granting of Federal Judges the same tenure as Supreme Court Judges. Many years of corruption in the judiciary should be addressed along with mental capacity.  When judges can facilitate end runs around the law, actual breaking of the law, (citing self established technicalities),and subvert truth and justice, these too deserve scrutiny. When judges having a vested interest in the outcome of a given case, refuse to recuse themselves, and the appellate cabal line up to defend those rulings to the death, there is NO JUSTICE. The “Facade of Justice” is upheld irregardless of truth OR law. The RULE of LAW is the “LAW OF RULE”, he who has the most money and power IS THE LAWMAKER. NO judge should be given a lifetime appt. Once ensconced they are virtually above the law, and their corporate sponsors OWN THEM.
Think this is a far fetched aberration, a conspiracy theory? Try going up against the energy industry in Wyoming, armed with truth and documentation, see how fast the wagons circle to protect the guilty. From EPA, DEQ, RCRA, The Federal and Appellate Courts to the Media. See how fast pertinent govt. and news documents get classified or disappear if you refuse to to be silently railroaded. ALL settlements are back door negotiations that never see public exposure. Guaranteed, there will NEVER be any OPEN COURT trials, nor will you be granted a change of venue. You will find, YOU HAVE NO RIGHTS.

People talking about average age are horribly misreading statistics.

The average ages were low because of a very high amount of infant mortality - 12% of children died before reach 1 year of age. A very large percentage of people died before they reached adulthood. The average life expectancy of a 25 year old male in the 1700’s was 60-65 years, and many lived well into their 70s and 80s.

In Canada, there is mandatory retirement for all federally appointed judges at age 75. We almost never have issues with senile judges.

Let’s not be so hasty to toss out the Constitution, folks, in order to better deal with cognitive decline, or other functional issues.
We do need to get circuits better organized to deal with colleagues, and to agree in advance.
We also need to pressure Congress to get moving on the confirmation process so judges who want to go on senior status, can. 101! (And I don’t know if that counts the late Judge Ross.) We have one vacancy in Oregon that’s 3 years old.

Watchful Waiting

Jan. 18, 2011, 8:30 p.m.

What irony. The legal and judicial community have been happily stripping the rights from elderly people and incarcerating them with impunity, both in our country and in “kinder, gentler” Canada too.

Why? There’s a great deal of money to be made in warehousing, drugging, medical services and lawyer fees. The impending retirement of the Baby Boomers, and how to cream off as much of their wealth, has been the object of the medical-legal community for a few years now.

In most jurisdictions, anyone who wishes to fleece a senior need only complain to a bureaucratic authority and whoosh, off the elderly person goes… to purgatory (aka nursing home) and then they are swiftly declared legally incapable. If they or their family try to stop it, whoosh, here come the lawyers. Or, maybe they’re in hospital or a nursing home, and they or a family member complains about their treatment or care, well, it’s not long before ....whooosh the doctor or administrator has the person’s legal rights removed so they won’t have to put up with any interference. It’s a perfect system – designed by lawyers, to put money in their pockets and those of their professional pals. The dignity of the Court….???????

It’s such perfect irony that the judicial community is getting hoisted by their own petard now.

Have a look at this Connecticut website for some examples.

http://ctwatchdog.com/2011/01/12/assisted-suicide-or-granny-snatching-liberty-or-death

Elderly woman locked in an Alzheimer’s ward:  http://elderadvocates.ca/senior-unlawfully-detained-and-locked-in-alzheimer-unit/

An elderly woman apprehended by authorities and hidden from daughter for 4 years:  http://elderadvocates.ca/myrtle-hofer-senior-apprehended-by-public-guardian/

http://elderadvocates.ca/senior-unlawfully-detained-and-locked-in-alzheimer-unit/

Public Guardian & Trustee refuses to assist elderly who are being incarcerated by the government in care homes:  http://elderadvocates.ca/tag/public-guardian/

@me You have it exactly right.  At the bottom of all this “justice system” we are supposed to have a judiciary that is held in check by those appointed to investigate complaints.

The facts are that the oversight review board, though delegated by Congress after a lengthy exhaustive “study”, in essence does nothing more than cover up for misconduct.

I’m afraid the constitution has taken a beating lately.  Our constitutional rights are being eroded daily but it would not surprise me that those who allow and perpetuate and promote that erosion would be the first to grab it as a shield to protect themselves.

As much as the constitution was a venerable document drawn up by men who were obviously intent on establishing a government very unlike the one they fled from, the constitution has only as much meaning as those in charge wish to apply to it.

They’ve already made several good swipes at it.  One, for example, is that those who face criminal complaints which would result in less than a six-month sentence are not entitled to a jury trial should they wish to.  So now our constitution says you have certain inalienable rights EXCEPT FOR.

Once you begin making exceptions you weaken the fabric until it is rotten and rips in two quite easily.

Jonathan Levien

Jan. 19, 2011, 12:40 a.m.

“Back then, the average American lived to be about 40”

As commenter Mike already pointed out, it’s the infant mortality rate that skews the average number. George Washington lived to be 67. Jefferson, 83. John Adams, 90. Ben Franklin, 84. John Jay, the first chief justice, died at 83.

Elle Jay Simpson

Jan. 19, 2011, 4:09 a.m.

What irony. The legal and judicial community have been happily stripping the rights from elderly people and incarcerating them with impunity, both in our country and in “kinder, gentler” Canada too.

Why? There’s a great deal of money to be made in warehousing, drugging, medical services and lawyer fees. The impending retirement of the Baby Boomers, and how to cream off as much of their wealth, has been the object of the medical-legal community for a few years now.

In most jurisdictions, anyone who wishes to fleece a senior need only complain to a bureaucratic authority and whoosh, off the elderly person goes… to purgatory (aka nursing home) and then they are swiftly declared legally incapable. If they or their family try to stop it, whoosh, here come the lawyers. Or, maybe they’re in hospital or a nursing home, and they or a family member complains about their treatment or care, well, it’s not long before ....whooosh the doctor or administrator has the person’s legal rights removed so they won’t have to put up with any interference. It’s a perfect system – designed by lawyers, to put money in their pockets and those of their professional pals.

The dignity of the Court….???????

Have a look at this Connecticut website for some examples, in our country and in Canada too.

http://ctwatchdog.com/2011/01/12/assisted-suicide-or-granny-snatching-liberty-or-death

Elderly woman locked in an Alzheimer’s ward:  http://elderadvocates.ca/senior-unlawfully-detained-and-locked-in-alzheimer-unit/

An elderly woman apprehended by authorities and hidden from daughter for 4 years:  http://elderadvocates.ca/myrtle-hofer-senior-apprehended-by-public-guardian/

http://elderadvocates.ca/senior-unlawfully-detained-and-locked-in-alzheimer-unit/

Public Guardian & Trustee refuses to assist elderly who are being incarcerated by the government in care homes:  http://elderadvocates.ca/tag/public-guardian/

When a judge today doesn’t know what email is, that is shocking (unless you’re as cynical as me, in which case it is not surprising at all).  How can we expect judges to make rational decisions for the modern age when they are unfamiliar with a commonplace piece of technology such as email?  Also, the declaration that a lifetime appointment necessarily results in an apolitical judiciary is completely unfounded.  This is a strange notion, considering that the judiciary itself is selected through a political process. 

The solution is term limits and a mandatory retirement age.  And, I think that the pace of change in the world today requires no more than 20 years be spent by any one person in such a position of power.  And, no re-appointments either.

Note the GOLD FRINGE on the flag in the courtroom you happen to be in, for whatever reason. This denotes ADMIRALTY (marine) LAW. Under Admiralty Law you have no more rights than a foreigner on American soil. You are virtually a non American. This law favors corporate autonomy and negates human and civil rights. In these courts,the end result of ALL charges brought against the corporate and energy giants are being determined in advance and the courts only go through the required procedure, to give the appearance of due process, minimize or conceal the fallout, and limit liability. The vast majority of these cases pass by without any public knowlege. You can read about Admiralty Law on the net. From local municipal courts to the state Supreme Courts, Constitutional Rights are being not just being eroded, they are being stomped on. The WORD, justice is all you are entitled to. (Note the lower court display of fringed flags.)
  How many people know the Erin Brockovich suit, despite the publicity and the movie, ONLY put a few dollars in the pockets of those harmed up to that point, that got involved. The company is still conducting BUSINESS AS USUAL, still polluting, only difference, none of these people can ever sue them again, Or their affilliates. Others hampered if they should make an attempt.

Gloria Grening Wolk

Jan. 19, 2011, 1:55 p.m.

The comments here are variations on how to hold judges accountable. And that leads to related problems:

1. Citizens United, which allows wealthy corporations to have ever greater control over the political process, including the courts;

2.  The controversy about elected judges on the state level. Elected judges usually are beholden to local attorneys who finance their campaigns. That means pro se litigants don’t stand a chance and, almost as disasterous—if they have an out-of-area lawyer.

3.  But appointed state judges are not the answer; they may be as political as the federal judges, who are political appointees.

4.  Then there is the problem of federal prosecutors. There is no accountability for prosecutors. Federal judges can be impeached or, if embarrassed sufficiently by the (dwindling) media, will resign. Federal prosecutors choose who to indict; what charges to bring; who should get leniency or how the sentence should be determined; etc. Judges rarely challenge prosecutors. Too often they treat them as if they were anointed.

And when prosecutors withhold vital exculpatory evidence, what happens? A few judges have railed about this and complained to the DOJ, but there is no accountability. The prosecutors who became notorious for their actions against Ted Stevens were reassigned and still have their taxpayer-paid salaries, benefits, etc.

Bravo Gloria Grening Wolk

Steve Swimmer

Jan. 20, 2011, 5:34 a.m.

To the great misfortune for our Great Nation: “Black Robe Disease” permeates our entire court system from our SCOTUS (Roberts, Scalia, his darker clone Clarence and Alito are prime examples) on down.

100 % of our lawyers and hardly any percent of regular people know this. Yet, Judicial Power is so concentrated police can put a gun to your head shoot you until dead and the Roberts/Scalia types will say “that’s fine.”

Our court system is destroying our country from within and cannot continue this way if we are to maintain our Great Nation’s place in the civilized world.

Guessing we have around 10,000 people in the “Judge” class (i.e. around 700 federal plus 9,000 or so state and local) who control over 300 million of us, I’d say: We The People are controlled efficiently and, relatively speaking, on the cheap. It will be tough to reform a system seemingly operating so well.

Yet, the awful down side of such concentrated power, infecting a huge percentage of the Judge class, is the horrific socially induced affliction euphemistically known as “Black Robe Disease,” AKA Judgeitis and Black Robe-itis. Here, and, directly attributable to Black Robe Disease, Judges with no compunction and complete impunity foist upon the American Public a prisoner class of people like never has anywhere in this world seen before.

Sans Black Robe Disease, no thinking feeling humans could treat so many other humans with such utter disregard for humanity.

Every lawyer, in fact, every person involved in the courtroom arena (save the Defendant, the Jurist and maybe the Judge) knows full well a vast majority of our Judge class citizenry is infected with the dreaded; yet, never mentioned, Black Robe Disease.

Until we can openly address and solve this problem, I doubt any reform of significance can be achieved. As long as the Judge class is constantly patronized by the entire judicial sub-culture the poor Judges can never escape the social bubble built around them. And, why should they want to escape? Life as a Judge is good and the socially bestowed Power creates real human chemistry that makes the Judge feel even better. With so much ego enhancing Power in the mix; it is fair to say Judges, most probably, cannot see the forest when such big tress are in the way; and, do not even recognize their own affliction.

This is where We The People can chime in loud and in no uncertain terms, dangerous as it may be: point out the horror of this “Black Robe Disease” blight on our judiciary; then, you will be headed in the right direction for meaningful reform.

I am personally aware of how UNTOUCHABLE most of our judges will be for their entire career.  I had a reason to file a complaint for judicial misconduct between a judge and an attorney.

It wasn’t too long before I got the message that allegations of the sort I was making would leave me in an extremely unwelcome situation, a social pariah, you could almost hear the doors (whether real or cyber) slamming whenever I came around with more information.

I realize that though Congress took a great deal of time and expense to formalize the means by which we are to hope to keep judges accountable, that its built on nothing.  Your chances of getting even a serious consideration of the facts you would like to present is somewhere around .0000000000001 percent if you’re lucky.

No attorney will help you because they don’t want to be next on the list.  Some attorneys have spent a significant amount of time, sometimes years, behind bars because they didn’t honor the code of silence.

NO MEDIA source is interested, you’d think they’d be very interested but you soon find that basically YOU ARE INVISIBLE and it seems no one can hear you.  The implication would seem to be: “save everyone a lot of trouble and unnecessary grief.  In other words STFU”.

The public, the rest of us that are vitally important to address these problems is actually a big part of the problem.

Because they believe anyone who says such things must be seriously mentally disturbed or an unhappy dissident subversive.

Until WE STOP BELIEVING everything we here because its from a “reputable source” nothing will change.  Judges know that.  Unless he steps on some really big toes (bigger than yours or mine) he’s home free.

see “With the Bench Cozied Up to the Bar, the Lawyers Can’t Lose,” by Adam Liptak - August 27, 2007 = and attached: The Secret Life of Judges by Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and the paper by Benjamin H. Barton, Esq., professor Tennessee, who coached Jacobs - H/Users/sblewis/Library/Caches/TemporaryItems/pdfdownload/pdfdownload-20110020/jacobs.pdf

The fix is in - across the land. Lawyers and judges are in cahoots - and there’s nothing we common folk can do about this - short of Thomas Jefferson’s 25-year revolution - and a new court system - staffed by the common man, rotation for judges, and total exposure of the billing techniques of all counsel - and the income of all judges. It’s that bad.

Anne is correct. ... but Anne does not extend her logic to the psychology of all groups.

Judges and lawyers - as noted by Dennis Jacobs, are simply corrupt, political, and taking care of themselves. The citizen is screwed.

But what about medicine? If we want to believe that the pile of money in the center of the large table, planet wide, is not corrupting medicine, Bravo Santa! The Honest Doctor, that vanishing species, will tell you. Money has destroyed medicine, too. That group is physicians, orderlies, nurses, insurance company lawyers and actuaries, insurance executives, government - from the president to the congress - to the courts again. The SET of all warm bodies wrapped around that pile of money - is a larger set, for it includes the patient that measures success by the amount of money devoted to his care. THIS IS THE BIG ONE.

Anne is correct. ... but Anne does not extend her logic to the psychology of all groups.

Judges and lawyers - as noted by Dennis Jacobs, are simply corrupt, political, and taking care of themselves. The citizen is screwed.

But what about medicine? If we want to believe that the pile of money in the center of the large table, planet wide, is not corrupting medicine, Bravo Santa! The Honest Doctor, that vanishing species, will tell you. Money has destroyed medicine, too. That group is physicians, orderlies, nurses, insurance company lawyers and actuaries, insurance executives, government - from the president to the congress - to the courts again. The SET of all warm bodies wrapped around that pile of money - is a larger set, for it includes the patient that measures success by the amount of money devoted to his care. THIS IS THE BIG ONE.

Groups and corporations do not have a conscience.

Without conscience, mankind does not have a chance.

Hence -  our most successful form, the limited liability corporation, is both the source of our great wealth - and the source of our undoing.

There’s a simple solution to all this… call me… and I will spell it out…

Statement of the problem, statement of solution. That simple - and it’s right under our noses.

We have the means to fix what ails us - in the corporation - with an adjustment of the corporate form.

We do not have the means to fix what ails us in the court - lawyer - bar syndrome. That one is more complex in our democracy.

Gloria Grening Wolk

Jan. 20, 2011, 10:41 a.m.

RE: Anne’s comment about the repercussions of filing a complaint about misconduct involving a judge and a lawyer. Do you have those documents available?

I know what you mean about the media ignoring this, but now is the time to make that information available to those who do care. Most in the media know nothing about the law and have little interest in learning.

I will provide my complaint against Judge Forester and the related documents to anyone who emails me directly .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) . (The docs are pdf files.)

I kept very good notes about what was going on.  Originally (and now I realize foolishly) I thought it wouldn’t be hard to get the attention of someone, hopefully the Committee for Retirement and Disability entrusted with judicial oversight,

COMMISSION ON RETIREMENT, REMOVAL AND DISCIPLINE
2190 S. Mason Road, Suite 201
St. Louis, Missouri 63131

I took great care in setting forth what happened and I offered the court recordings as proof that I was telling the truth.

It didn’t take long to realize that the person entrusted there, the initial contact person seemed to view me as troublesome.  He told me it would be looked into but the feeling, the uncooperativess, the unwillingness to help (for example to get the transcripts - he said if I thought it proved my case then I SHOULD GET THEM as they did not have the budget for that kind of thing, I think it seems logical to believe that they have access to records free of charge and quite easily).

If the sole reason for your “committee” to exist is to investigate possible misconduct or other matters concerning a judges courtroom capacity to govern fairly, why would you do the least amount possible without saying “go away”?

I filed a complaint also against the attorney involved which was a joke the response I got.

While I was talking to some key people at a publication and a tv news station, contrary to what you think of - nothing better than a scandal kind of thing - it never went anywhere.  They asked me for a bit of info and I emailed it to them.

Eventually they either quite responding or else in the case of the newspaper, blocked my email, lol.

I’m not an idiot and what I had to say was very valid and credible.

I felt it was comparable, in my mind it was very frustrating, as if I been walking down the street and observed a public restaurant on fire and lots of people inside.  I rush in to tell them they must get out now, the building is on fire, and (sort of like a bad dream) they all turn back to what they were doing, having dinner, and I become invisible.  I try again to say what’s happening and no one even turns my way, they just keep on as though I didn’t exist.  Partly it felt like it was because you have an unwelcome message.  No one wants to believe badly about our system of justice.  You upset everyone with bad news.  Better to stick your head back under the covers and go on being happy with the way things are.

I talked for a while with someone who got a huge settlement eventually, due to the fact that he lost his job because of the whistle blower effect.  But it took him years and when he was through every cent he got went to pay back loans he had to take out to survive.

It’s not easy, he said, and I agree.  You would think people would appreciate your efforts but instead YOU become the enemy.

The review committee openly says that they are not there to consult because you aren’t happy with the way the case went, the other side won.  The point is that they are there to review evidence of corruption, favoritism, misconduct.  NOT making the “wrong” decision but misconduct.

I took care in my complaint to focus on that.  Didn’t matter at all.

I got a letter of dismissal out of hand from the corresponding review board for attorneys in Jefferson City.  He said that (this makes no sense to me) that what happened was available for redress in the courts and that is where I should go to get things set straight.

That makes no sense because a whole lot of what/where you interact with attorneys is naturally in the courtroom.  So basically they are telling you that if the alleged misconduct happens in the courtroom you should file suit against them.

What happened to the part where they are there to step in when it becomes clear there might have been misconduct?  It advertises itself as being there to be sure that attorneys do not engage in unethical behavior.  But then when you complain they more or less say “so sue them”.

Why have the committee then?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s because its a panacea, a sleeping/anti-anxiety medication to give to the public.  Tell them “don’t worry, your courts are safe, we are the guardians”.  But they aren’t guardians, they present a facade of what you want to see and believe in.

@Sandy, I agree, about the medical community corruption for example:

This is risky, a controversial and volatile subject and may end up shooting me in the foot and distracting from what I have to say, but its the best example I can come up with presently, and it also involves corruption in high places.

Pretty much everyone is aware of the shooting/homicide of George Tiller the abortionist.  What they fail to know or take into account, even if you believe abortion is a woman’s decision and/or right, the abortionist has to conform to the laws just like anyone else, or he should.  Well George Tiller performed illegal abortions on viable babies wherein the mothers health was not in jeopardy, the sole reason in actuality was (much of the time it was young teens for example) along the lines of inconvenience or “How can I go to the prom if I’m pregnant, my dress won’t fit”.  Contrary to popular belief, he was not particularly fond of women or their hero, it was a very lucrative business.  And the great majority of the abortions he performed were the controversial late terms abortions that couldn’t be done elsewhere.  He made them happen.  He falsified records, filled out records to say that the fetus was not as far along in weeks so that he could do the abortion with the least amount of interference from the law.  The other doctor whose opinion was to be a kind of checks and balances for him and was to be completely independent from his practice was in essence his employee.  She worked for no one else and she filled out the necessary paperwork at the only office she had in his facility.  George Tiller was reported on several occasions for various violations but they were smoothed over by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius who was, btw, a benefactor of Tiller’s generous campaign contributions.  She vetoed laws, made sure that a grand jury was thwarted in its efforts to get the records it needed to make decisions about whether Tiller should be tried, she vetoed laws about safety/cleanliness requirements, she had Tiller and his staff as guests at the governor’s mansion for an elaborate evening of dinner and so forth.  She was clearly not impartial toward him, she covered for him.  The fact is he most certainly would have lost his medical license and even been sent to serve time in prison for in essence killing viable healthy infants in violation of the law.  But because of Sebelius high station and power she kept him out of trouble and he contributed to her campaigns, the amount of which contributions he concealed by virtue of making them through alternative sources.

I do not condone violence, Scott Roeder who killed Tiller thought he was doing the right thing because he could see that the law couldn’t touch Tiller and so he decided to.  I could never do what he did, but then if you think about it, he felt he was saving innocent lives.  If he had been rescuing victims of Hitler in the extermination camps he would have been hailed as a hero.  I’m torn about it, we can’t have people going around exacting their own vigilante justice.  But what if justice is broken?

There are many ways that justice is thwarted/perverted and in this case it carries over into the medical profession as you pointed out.

It’s such a volatile issue (abortion) I’m not sure its a good example as people get hung up on the women’s right to choose issue and forget that whether you agree with abortion or not, there are laws about how and when it can be done and Tiller broke them.

Katheleen Sebelius was very vocal in her condemnation of Scott Roeder and blamed him for Tiller’s death but in my mind she also contributed.  She kept “ethical justice” impossible to be had by covering for him.  She made it impossible to “get him” legally and so someone came up with an alternative way which would not have been necessary had she done the ethical thing and let justice run its course instead of protecting one of her campaign supporters.

I hope we don’t get sidelined into a debate about whether or not abortion is right/legal, etc. because (while I’m very impassioned about it) this is about corruption and how power and money and position are influencing lives and our government every day.

kay sieverding

Jan. 21, 2011, 10:13 a.m.

One way around this problem is use of judicial teams.My father who is in his 80s seems to have a lot of perspective about life.  Since these old judges are on the pay roll anyway maybe they could be advisors.

Apparently the early dementia problem can affect middle aged people too so it is impossible to get totally away from it.

My life was totally screwed up by former judge Naughty Nottingham.  I have spent 8 years trying to fix the damage he did to my life.  It also screwed up my family’s life and probably caused the death of a David Engle in Steamboat Springs CO. 

Nottingham said that he was so drunk in a strip club that he didn’t know how he spent $3,000.  He was under 60 at the time. Reduction of risk avoidance is supposed to be an early sign of dementia.  Nottingham was calling prostitutes from his court issued cell phone and hanging out at a lap dance club. That behavior cannot be considered cautious and might indicate early dementia.  Also, in my case he didn’t write a memorandum opinion.  He adopted a disputed magistrate’s report, dismissed my case w prejudice, approved 100K in attorney fee shifting with no rule 11 c 6 orders, and issued a NO PRO SE order all in a short minute order with no findings of fact and no references to laws.

kay sieverding

Jan. 21, 2011, 10:20 a.m.

The 9th Circuit has information about the history of the judicial misconduct complaint process.  Apparently when they first started the idea was that the process was supposed to address what judges did in capacity and their drinking and whoring off premises was considered private.  Now, some circuits are trying to claim that ONLY what is off premises is covered by complaints. The 9th has a big essay on how and when in capacity performance is covered by the judicial complaint process.

@Ken….I read the same thing in an extensive report prepared by someone at Tulane University who has also been touched by an unfair judicial system.  I have lost her name unfortunately.  Anyway, it said the same thing, that the only thing that will work to “get them” is something outside the courtroom.

They have a convenient way of changing the rules, more shell game antics.  Anyway, what they are saying then is that you can know all the crap you want about a judge’s courtroom behavior and expose same and nothing can or will come of it BUT if you really want to see the judge held accountable there is still hope.  All you have to do is quit your day job and/or hire private investigators to follow the judge around until you get some dirt on him that way.

That is in essence what they are saying and the very respected attorney from Tulane university said as much.

So anytime (and I read it ALL THE TIME) you read or someone tells you that our courts are safe from abuse and mistreatment or unfairness because of the judicial review team, well it obviously doesn’t hold water by those standards because courtroom conduct doesn’t count.

Like I said, they have their ways of changing things and for the most part they look out for each other. 

The Bar Association web sites make a point of saying that its an attorneys duty to do everything possible to uphold the reputation of the court, ergo the judges, and to avoid or be involved in any or say anything that will disgrace the court.  And if you have complaints about a judge then that is going to disgrace the court and that as a result you may find your practice not so profitable anymore or YOU may end up losing YOUR law license.  Of course they also say certainly if you KNOW of any illicit behavior its your duty to make it known.  More attorney doubletalk.

So basically, blah blah, I have found, save yourself the trouble writing complaints about judges, mind hour own business.

Which explains why (when attorneys have been known to be “ambulance chasers”) when you mention misconduct of a judge to an attorney you will find your conversation cut short and he can’t wait to end the phone call or get you out of his office.  The most I got out of one was the identity and address of the Committee for Judicial Retirement, Disability and Misconduct.  And that seemed to me like it was a bone he was throwing me in order to hasten my exit.  “Here, take this and leave please - I’m a very busy man and I have a life”.

Gloria Grening Wolk

Jan. 21, 2011, 12:13 p.m.

RE Judge Nottingham. I’ve been researching good as well as bad judges. The best-of-the-best are important because they are a light in the darkness.

Nottingham finally was brought down but not because of his behavior in court. Sean Harrington, who had serious problems in Nottingham’s court, used his divorce documents to show that Nottingham brought disgrace on the court through outside activities with prosecutors. Nottingham stepped down before he had to face impeachment.

But now the bar association is investigating whether to allow Nottingham to continue to be licensed as a lawyer.

The good side of this is that an ordinary person was able to get a rotten judge off the bench. The flip side is that nothing he did to the lives of people who came before him carried any weight.

kay sieverding

Jan. 21, 2011, 12:20 p.m.

One explanation for the problem outlined by Anne has to do with the differing interests of advocates and plaintiffs. Advocates are like any business, they don’t need to get all of the jobs only some of the jobs. They are a lot better off getting a big profit on a smaller number of jobs than trying to deliver legal services in a cost effective manner.

Pro se litigants such as myself, Kay Sieverding, have basically everything invested in litigation related to one series of related events.

Thus, an advocate has a financial incentive to turn away from cases that might cause some sort of conflict in the industry.  He has an industry interest. That helps to keep margins up.

The pro se litigants interest in further pursuing their matter is consistent with the economic realities that they can totally change their situation from big loss to big win and the fact that unlike a professional advocate who gets other cases for going along by ignoring misconduct, the pro se litigant gets zero benefit for ignoring misconduct.

The background events of expansion of the Internet and higher unemployment really affect what happens in the court systems.  It really is amazing how fast that all changed. When I first became involved with Nottingham etc. I don’t believe that any of the parties involved were anticipating that in 2011 this blog would be here.

My wise father commented on how difficult it is just to take in this much information.

I definitely have credentials as a victim of judicial abuse, but I don’t think that judge hunting per se is going to accomplish much. US Courts should staff up its systems analysts and increase its use of magistrates.

Courts should bring in staff with a fresh outlook on the problems AND POSSIBILITIES—systems analysts! 

The courts are not using the available technology and data to expedite decisions on the merits.

It would be easy for there to be a national magistrate ranks that would be classified according to special expertise. The special expertise could be language, medical knowledge, engineering knowledge, accounting knowledge etc.  They could come in thru ECF and video conferencing.

The old judges could come in thru ECF and video conferencing too. Many of them have a deeper awareness of human rights issues than younger people. 

Is the glass half empty or half full?  Right now there are a huge number of informed and interested people who would be glad to work for U.S. Courts.

U.S. Courts recently issued its annual report. One point was that there are almost 10,000 annual Supreme Court petitions. One easy project would be to send a multiple choice survey as to why they felt a need to go to the S.C.  Statistical Package for the Social Sciences would be perfect for this project.

Lest anyone think I am in the judge hunting business or my sole interest, that surely is not my purpose.

But I admit to being an outspoken advocate for citizen awareness.  And the facts of the matter is that most people who have had few reasons to be in a courtroom or witness what passes for judicial process, those people are largely in denial if they think about justice/fairness at all.

Some of us end up in court because we acted unwisely.  Some are in court because we are criminals and victimizers.  Some through divorce or accident or financial problems, etc.  By good fortune and good conduct some have little experience with what to expect or what happens in a courtroom.  And they, overall, tend to be rather a self-righteous group who would say that those of us caught up in the system are there because of some failure or some illegal act on our part.  They dont believe (as I once did not) that you can get sucked up into something bigger than you are without really trying. 

Knowledge is power.  The more of us who are aware of the FACTS about our justice system the better off we are.  For one thing, I have learned that, imo, its best to keep a bit of skepticism when reading news reports and allegations of criminal conduct etc.  I do believe “justice” can be contrived and end up punishing someone who does not need or deserve punishing.  i just have seen how very ineffective the system is and i know for a fact that I have been caught up into a seemingly never-ending courtroom battle which is totally without merit.  “you would think” a quick explanation on my part and a little investigation would clear it up but you would be wrong.

The facts are that what happens in a courtroom has far too little to do with finding out who is right or who should prevail or who is guilty.  You can be right as rain but if you are trying to defend yourself pro se without an aware and proactive judge, you can get run over by attorneys AT LAW. 

Unless you say something in the right way, be sure not to miss something that you need to deny, dont miss some technical rules that attorneys are all too familiar with but the average person does not, you can be done in before you start.

I’ve witnessed a judge who daily comes into contact with a very abusive law firm representing a very abusive business and they use very abusive and deceptive means to get what they want out of you.  And I have seen that judge, at best, look the other way, and at worst become an advocate for this abusive business.

There are all kinds of degrees of misconduct.  I’ve seen judges make rulings in divorce cases with far-reaching effects based, near as I can tell, on personalities, likes and dislikes.

power corrupts.  I think unless people in power are mindful that the power they have was given to them by virtue of the people they serve and to remember not to let their heads get too swollen with self-importance and not to forget what it is to be one of the “little people”.

I think it would be easy to see, day in and day out, an endless parade of people in one form or another of difficulty and possibly much of it due to their own neglect but not criminality.  And it would be very easy to become cynical about these people, coming one after the other into your courtroom.  It would take awareness and conscientiousness to maintain an objective eye seeing each person as an individual and not lumping them into some kind of category of social class or worthiness.

It takes a special person to be a good judge and, IMO, there are far too few of them.  I’ve seen or read of judges who were “on the ball” and not into courtroom tricks or antics and who go out of their way to be sure what happens in their courtroom is the best justice you can provide.  I admire and respect them.

For the others, they are a detriment to society and to the practices of law and justice.  Just like Newton’s First Law “an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest” its also true that ” a judge on the bench tends to stay on the bench (despite reason” is too true as well.

kay sieverding

Jan. 21, 2011, 1:47 p.m.

If you google on “Kay Sieverding” you will say that I have paid my dues in the advocating for judicial reform education.

Anne’s comments are supported by the experience of
Brandon Moon.  I entered it into “Pro se legal representation in the United Sates” in Wikipedia myself, with a link to the NYTimes.

Compared to a few years ago there is a much greater public awareness of procedural due process issues.

If you look at medicine, there are all sorts of duplicative processes designed as a back up if the first doctor misses something. 

As far as prosecutorial abuse, did you read about the new USDOJ office investigating prosecutors?  Why don’t you send them a letter with your suggestions…....  volunteer to be on a committee…..

Hey out there, I want to be a pro se experience reference on a USCourts committee…....  Really, I am interested and a potential resource.

The Third Branch had an article recently about Central District of California’s attempts to help w pro se prisoner petitions. The report was that they were not all frivolous.

Since I am 56, I remember volumes of soft cover printing by the U.S. Printing Department. That would be a very cost and security effective way to deliver legal authorities to prisoners.  I bet the feds still have some of those big web printers sitting around and probably an inventory of roll paper too if someone looks quickly before they throw them out or sell them for pennies on the dollar.

The court of PUBLIC OPINION seems to be the last resort, however, if you wait for media to broadcast the truth, you may as well spit in the wind. Even the independent news programs limit their stories to mainstream spinoffs, published authors, and those fortunate enough to garner famous advocates. Those of us that don’t fit that criteria get ignored. Much critical information gets shelved due to preferential personal focus, and what sells. If you wish to feed and fund THEIR current interest, the welcome mat is out. Just try to get even a 2 second news flash for something as inconsequential as 13 attys from 7 law firms across 5 states suing a disabled senior citizen without benefit of counsel, to force compliance to an unauthorized contract in which NO RULES OF CONTRACT LAW WERE MET. No matter the reason for said suit was to silence incriminating evidence in 2 toxic releases and involved a BHP BILLITON subsidiary,with ties to the Bush White House, EPA, DEQ, RCRA,Media, Medicare and Medicaid. No matter all records of costs were classified and shifted to the taxpayer. No matter the courts were complicit in, and supported unethical and illegal actions committed by attys. No matter the Federal court Judge and at least 2 of the Appellate judges had faced charges of failing to recuse themselves in other cases where they had a vested interest in the outcome. (of course the wagons circled to protect the guilty then too)
When attys quote laws and case law it is readily taken as gospel,same reference by the people is frivolous gibberish, of no consequence.
  I personally, am just a compiler of information, lacking the skill to write a book, and virtually computer illiterate, with no famous contacts, I guess what happened to me is of no importance…...until the Precedent that was set here gets applied to someone who is important, or in a vastly greater arena with many more casualties.
  It’s a shame that many people get pushed to their limits by injustice and no one listens or cares, they have NO VOICE, legal or otherwise, it shouldn’t come as such a shock when they go off the deep end and do unspeakable things. Coulda, shoulda, woulda, hindsight is always 2020.

kay sieverding

Jan. 21, 2011, 7:51 p.m.

Well I can certainly relate to being stressed out by unethical and illegal actions committed by attorneys. I do see your last comment of “many people get pushed to their limits by injustice… they go off the deep end and do unspeakable things”. 

I hope that you find a way to get justice.

Have you ever thought of trying to reopen your case based on new evidence?

I think that society and the world as a whole is very sterile and impersonal today.  And I do believe there are people out there who perhaps have had a series of problems that are large and important to them.  Sometimes (remember the movie “Falling Down”? its that one last thing that pushes you over the bump.

Since we are all subject to possibly becoming the unwitting victim of someone who went over the bump I think we should all keep in mind that we don’t know the state of mind someone is in so if we give them a rude gesture or whatever, like I said, who knows where the tipping point is for any particular individual.

I have joked (in my sardonic way) when I was very fed-up with the way things are going that I couldn’t go to court today if I had to because the metal detector would catch me.  It’s probably dumb/dangerous of me to say stuff like that as Big Brother watcheth I think.  And I have seen too many examples of something really harmless or innocuous turn into a major headache.

So I guess what I’m saying (and we have to remember so fresh in our minds - the loss of life in Tucson recently) is maybe we ought to think before we say whatever? 

All it takes is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and you too/me too can become a victim of the violence that can be escalated from people feeling as though they are being pushed too hard.  Whether or not we feel its reason enough to “go ever” is irrelevant.  I don’t want to make excuses and imply that if you are feeling “bent” its okay to strap on your 6-shooter.  I guess with that I will ZIP my lip, lol.

kay sieverding

Jan. 21, 2011, 8:41 p.m.

The pen is mightier than the sword.  I feel that we are all contributing with our public recording of our unsatisfactory experiences with our judicial system.

I find that my stress level is relieved by feeling that I am acting to make a difference and I believe that the wheels of justice actually do turn, only very slowly.

Re: senile and common indecency and criminality and all the rest in judges. Again, read Dennis Jacobs, at APPEAL at http://sblewis.com  - - that will send the careful, patient reader to 4 cases joined in a unique execution of a NY State agency protected by the courts and allowed to take property and rights from an indigenous population of white - largely misfits - poorly educated - and poorly represented by 3rd rate counsel often cooperating with government at the expense of the client. It’s obvious and it’s nasty.

APA rules over 6.5 million acres. Never been beat. Till NOW.

We beat APA badly - have worked to expose the sordid stuff that supports Albany’s support of the land grab in The North Country.

APA / Andrew Cuomo’s AG office - will pay a portion of our legal cost - and it will not end there.

We needed a sane judge. Ours is not senile. Nor is he Learned Hand.

But Judge Meyer is able to see the issue - and knows where the voters here care. And the voters here are on to APA games - and to the 501(c)(3) coterie that supports and targets in this process.

Again - read. This is about one judge who is a jerk, and another who is stead and careful.

Most of our judges are simply awful.

NOPE, been there done that and I’m over it. Wyoming is well known for it’s flagrant abuse of the law, YOU CAN’T WIN. All I can say is, when it happens to one of those IMPORTANT FOLK, I’ll just say Coulda, woulda, shoulda listened….. HUH?  The 47 other clients that willingly went along and signed on to sue me got their piddling settlements on the back of my documentation, but they screwed themselves as well. They can never bring another suit against this company or anyone affilliated with them. Because I refused, even under court order, I am the ONLY one with HALF a chance in case of another negligent accident. Think they can’t pre exempt liability for an accident that hasn’t happened yet????  According to the contract , all toxins produced,stored, transported or used, PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE, and all owners and anyone affilliated with the REFINERY, PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE are exempt from litigation.  Despite atty insistance that I was reading more into it than was there, The judge, when pressed said, “As the contract states, you can never sue them again. FOR ANY REASON”
My documentation forced them to the table, so they could not ALLOW me to opt out. (which I did, BEFORE mediation)The greedy people who did nothing except sign on and go to the depositions took the money and ran. I am held to that same contract by force, but without compensation.The compensation I was asking for,was installation of scrubbers, to protect the town. Guess money got the better of THEM. And it will be a cold day in Hell before I again step up to help another.If I were young and healthy I might still be out there tilting at windmills, but. I’m too old,tired, and disillusioned to make anymore futile attempts.  As the lead atty for Wyoming Refining Company/Hermes Consol. Inc.admitted, I was not asking for money,and in his last filing said, ” She has NO LEGAL STANDING, she is only looking for JUSTICE”. What an antiquated thought that must be.

I agree Kay, just having the venue to openly say what we feel is the truth (after all none of us has proved anything, we could all be consummate liars) is a blessed relief.

After saying the truth about what happened in my case and either having the door shut in my face or being made to be “invisible” with no voice, or being called crazy, just being able to openly say what my experiences were like for me is a god-send.  Thank you ProPublica and everyone sharing ideas.

I agree with you girls, even through the bitterness and disillusionment, I can still find the humor in it.  Bet all those attys don’t brag in the backrooms about how long it took, or the methods they had to resort to. Doesn’t say much for their expertise when a little old lady can cause them so much trouble. When you go after the big dogs in their yard,you have to expect to get eaten. But I did get the pleasure of running out from under the porch and gnawing on a few legs.  AND….What I think of them is on the record. Best of all, I did learn a valuable lesson, Hope for the best in people, expect the worst, and develope instant Alzheimers when they want your help.

Judges should be required to take a test every year.

That would open-up lots of vacancies.

Steve Swimmer

Jan. 22, 2011, 7:15 a.m.

Ms. Sieverding, Ms. Wolk, Anne and Me, Thank you ever so kindly for letting me read your works.  Although compelled to chime in now and then, I realized I’m way too slow to keep up with such energetic comments.

Still, while you lament your barely squeaky wheel status when it comes to U.S. justice, two things must be said.  Your fighting spirit is remarkable, since most American “justice” victims accept their beating with quite whimpers.  Yet, you might appreciate your lack of attention once you know how many people, very much like you, who are imprisoned.  As an experienced participatory observer, you can believe me when I tell you our government can at will and often does trump up charges against those who outrun squeaky wheel status.

Next to lend credence to the above: below is a reprint of an earlier (completely verifiable) post that will give you an understanding of how alone you are not.


As an American Drug War casualty, I know first hand all about American government authoritarians and their ability to break down doors arrest and even kill without compunction.

Here are the facts of my personal encounter with the Drug War. Judge for yourself: is this what you want for America?

Fact one: My Son, Michael, is among the all too numerous “extra judicial” homicide deaths, here in the United States, directly attributed to the war on drugs. He was gunned down by, quite literally now, hooded jack booted Drug Warrior thugs with police badges. While Michael stood naked by his own bed, Drug Warriors burst through his front door and riddled his bedroom with machine gun fire. Michael was shot 10 times and died a few hours later. The Authorities all agreed killing my Son (who had no police record) was just, because an unidentified informant said Michael had 368 tablets of ecstasy and, of course, the Drug Warriors claimed there was the always just too convenient gun which was never fired nor even produced.

By now every American should know: In the name of the “War on Drugs,” our Drug Warriors, with little or no compunction, shoot people to death often based on nothing more than suspicion. Is this what you want America? More “extra judicial” death?

Fact two: I was arrested, in New Orleans (for marijuana); Drug Warriors manipulated the entire matter and delivered the marijuana. I was to pay what I could, when I could and if I could. I had no where-with-all to accomplish the crime so the government provided all of that. What I had was the “propensity” to do the crime; therefore, according to our law, all the U.S. Government did was considered completely legal. I was forced to agree to a set prison sentence while, quite oddly, forced to tell the Judge I wasn’t being coerced. In my case, there was no marijuana (other than the Government’s), no guns, and no money.
 
Yet, at 50 years old, with no police record, I became a manufactured criminal in the drug war while the taxpayers spent around a million dollars on my arrest, conviction and incarceration. I mean, if you want America to be a police state you ought to be prepared to pay for it.

The U.S. imprisons 25% of the world’s prisoners while our population comprises 5% of the world’s people. Per capita, we imprison six times the number of British prisoners and we imprison young Black males six times the number of White males. Do you really think our people are that bad? With 2,500,000 Americans behind bars and 12 million more under post prison restrictions, it is small wonder there are so many jobs available for undocumented immigrants (who have a set of clean fingerprints with $40 worth of false identification) and no money left for health care.

Trust me on this one: A huge number of U.S. prisoners should not be in prison. True, some people need to be incarcerated; unfortunately, U.S. prisons are full of non-violent prisoners serving outrageously long sentences. Is this what you want America? More manufactured criminals filling more prisons?

Fact three: Drug Warriors will not tell you the truth about the drug war. They are in it to deep and have become an important part in the prison/industrial complex. True, the Drug Warriors have forced me to bow by implementing procedures like sanctioned murder of my Son, Federal imprisonment, character assassination and confiscation of property. Also true, today, I am completely cowed, afraid and powerless to resist.

I know, for an experienced unequivocal fact: my government can, at will, set me up for an arrest and conviction, adjust my sentence to however long they want or shoot me, my family and even my dog, until dead. And, not one person will be able to do anything about it.

So, I ask the last question: In order to appease the Drug Warriors’ blood lust approach to the drug war, will the rest of the American people be forced to cower before our government as I must cower?

Kay Sieverding

Jan. 22, 2011, 9:12 a.m.

Obviously if the government were to screw up on even 1 or 2 % of its criminal prosecutions that would be a lot of people.  A lot of people have been released from murder convictions with DNA evidence.  Murder cases are supposed to be the most thoroughly investigated. So if so many murder cases were wrongly conducted, it certainly makes sense that a lot of drug cases were wrongly conducted.

I’d like to emphasize that I was imprisoned by DOJ without a criminal charge. That included being booked and in the Federal Register DOJ states that only the criminally charged are “booked”.

My father always says that the way to get the opposing party to agree is to give them a position they can live with.

I think as reformers we should make a list of what USCourts and USDOJ can do that would help the situation of people who were abused by the proceedings involving the government, and help avoid further abuse, and go thru the list and figure out how our list can be phrased and constructed to reduce the governments resistance.

One big fact is that the House of Representatives unanimously impeached a federal judge (Porteous) just recently and one of the articles of impeachment referred to what he did in capacity. Plus, I don’t think that Jonathan Turley represented him for free; he must have run up a big legal bill.

So what do U.S. judges want:
1.)  Keep their pay and retirements
2.)  Avoid embarrassing questions and legal expenses
3.)  Not have to worry about themselves or their families safety
4.) Be treated with respect

The key to # 4 is to get the judges into the process.

My best thought about attorney regulation is that it should be an elected position made an elected position by ballot initiative.

Gloria Grening Wolk

Jan. 22, 2011, 10:06 a.m.

Re comments from Steve Swimmer about his son Michael, and Kay Sieverding. In my complaint about Judge Forester I informed the 6th cir. that I will never go to Kentucky. I did not tell them explicitly the reason, but it is exactly what Steve and Kay describe. The prosecutors at the ED KY are so dirty (and I learned from a source that the FBI attached to that office do their bidding without question); and they know I can prove how they misrepresented case law to the Court, and violated the Constitutional rights of the defendants (not only Keller). If they knew I was traveling to Lexington to testify, I expect they would set me up for a drug bust. Even though everyone knows I do not even take an aspirin; it would not matter. And you folks are part of the proof.

In the past I had cause to fear some of the bottom feeders of the viatical and life settlements industry, because I exposed their fraud. Now I have cause to fear some who abuse the power of the government.

I do intend to give up the fight but it will have to be in a safer locale.

kay sieverding

Jan. 22, 2011, 10:13 a.m.

Dear Gloria

You could actually get a physical test that would prove you don’t have THC in your hair or other drugs in your system. 

If one of the mainstream publications that ranks places to live ranked procedural due process, or that was brought into government bond rating criteria, that would motivate local efforts.

Court clerks can help the reform process.  Here is a link to US Court clerks information:

https://oscar.uscourts.gov/drupal/content/Info-Center?subtab=general_resources

That links to
https://oscar.uscourts.gov/drupal/content/code-conduct-judicial-employees

Computer technology is what court clerks have always needed to be effective. Now the technology is available.  Court clerks also are getting a lot more respect. In fact, federal clerk of courts positions pay more than $150K.

The way that I look at it, the court clerks and computer technology are the 4th leg of justice. 
Without empowering court clerks with technology we only had a three legged stool. The first leg was the judge. The second leg was the plaintiff in a civil matter or the defendant in a criminal matter. The third leg was the defendant in a civil matter or the prosecutor in a criminal matter.

If any of these “legs” was weak the stool of justice would collapse—a crooked or senile judge, an in adequately represented criminal defendant, a plaintiff deprived of procedural due process, a prosecutor who withheld evidence or prosecuted without probable cause, insurance lawyers who violate the rules of professional conduct or engage in extortion etc.

If clerks are empowered with technology then there are four legs like a chair a much more stable structure.

@Steve, I agree with what you’ve written.  People should know that if someone decides you need to be taken down/silenced “the evidence” needed to convict you will miraculously be uncovered. 

We are all disposable and if we get tangled up in the wheels of justice and present a problem we can be “dealt with”.

One thing I learned from all this is the fact that just the act of trying to get someone to listen to you would be a major accomplishment just short of a miracle, getting someone to believe you?  Not likely.

Those people being released due to the wonderful work of the Innocence Project are, i fear, just the tip of the iceberg.  how many innocent people have been executed? 

I can think of no more isolating or sad experience than to be put to death, executed, legally in front of witnesses, to leave this life knowing you are innocent but the STATE says you are not.

One good thing that came out of all this for me is that I have learned to filter what I hear from “my” government AND the news media.  I no longer accept point blank that this is the story and it must be so.

We need to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism.  We need to commit to doing that as a society if we have any hope of survival.  We need to stop believing what “the word is” that gets released in sound-bytes on tv.

I tasted the inflexibility of “authority” very early in life.  i gave up a few months of my freedom as a result.  Compared to what has happened to some, I got off easily, but now those experiences combined with what I’ve learned lately have done away with my belief that what happened to me in youth was a thing of the past and wouldn’t happen anymore and certainly not to adults.

Vigilance, openness to listen and ask questions, refuse to believe just because.

I saw a recent article in a reputable source wherein someone had spent years in prison convicted of homicide and the evidence did not support that.  Here is where the vagaries of law enter the picture.  Because of what it takes to be entitled to a retrial or an appeal, unless you fit within narrow constraints, you should know that just because you say you are innocent that has nothing to do with it.  You have to have a claim that can be appealed.

I will try to find the link, but in this case I’m talking about the appeals court/judges eventually turned down his right to a retrial.  And incredibly they told him that they believed he was innocent, that he should never have been imprisoned but because of his failure to meet the guidelines necessary for retrial/release, that as sympathetic as they were they must state their hands are tied.

Thats mindblowing and scary.  A lot of people go to prison on trumped up/planted evidence, an overeager prosecutor in need of a win, or one of the most unreliable forms of evidence there is: Eyewitness.  Eyewitness testimony is one of the most unreliable forms of evidence there is.  I never knew that, its only recently that I’ve seen that relying on someone’s eyewitness report is an invitation to trouble.  One of those released after about 20 years in prison explained that he had been convicted on eyewitness testimony.  And all these years later it came clear how the cards were stacked.  The witness was shown photographs of a list of suspects.  All of the other suspects were represented by their mug shots.  In this poor man’s case, the photograph they used was one from his ID badge where he worked, the photos were all lined up and his selected because it stood out, the mug shots were black and white and his was a color photograph.

Incredible to think that he spent 20 years in prison based ultimately on the fact that his picture was in color.  His story is available on the Innocence Project’s website, one of many.

kay sieverding

Jan. 22, 2011, 12:39 p.m.

It would be possible for a task force to scan old transcripts and maybe to use software that would read old typeface and convert to digital.  Maybe not. Anyway, one way or another it would be possible to get convictions in which eye witness testimony was important and go thru them to see if there should be reconsideration. 

You would make case files with key information:

were photographs presented in an inconsistent manner?  Yes No Maybe

were the other people in the lineup comparably dressed and of similar appearance?  Yes No Maybe

were there inconsistent identifications? etc etc.

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