Reasonably Ascertainable Reality

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Location: South Jersey, United States

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Dangerous Precedent

Is this what it has come down to in today's USA?

The judge in Rep. Tom DeLay's conspiracy case was removed at the congressman's request Tuesday because of his donations to Democratic candidates and causes.
A new judge will be appointed to preside over the case, a judge who came out of retirement to hear the dispute ruled.
The ruling came after a hearing in which attorneys for the former House Republican leader argued that state District Judge Bob Perkins' political donations called his impartiality into question. Perkins, a Democrat, has contributed to candidates such as
John Kerry and the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org.
"The public perception of Judge Perkins' activities shows him to be on opposite sides of the political fence than Tom DeLay," defense attorney Dick DeGuerin told Judge C.W. Duncan, who was called out of retirement to decide the matter.
Perkins had declined to withdraw from the case, and prosecutor Rick Reed argued at the hearing that DeLay must prove that a member of the public would have a "reasonable doubt that the judge is impartial" before Perkins could be removed.
"Judges are presumed to be impartial," Reed said.
Judges are elected in Texas and are free to contribute to candidates and political parties. DeGuerin said no one contends Perkins did anything wrong, but "to protect the integrity" of the judicial system, he should not preside over a trial for someone to whom he is opposed politically.


Is this where we are in the partisanship wars? Does this mean that any politician should never have to face a judge who isn't in ideological agreement with them?

To go even further, should any citizen?

Lets go further. Judges shouldn't preside over cases in which they don't agree with things defendants agree with. For instance, judges presiding over murder cases should recuse themselves if they find murder abhorrent.

This is complete ridiculousness. I would think so if it was done within the opposite ideological realm as well. What are we saying as a country. Now even partisanship trumps the right to a fair trial?

Someone help me out and explain the reasoning behind this.

4 Comments:

Blogger Dave Justus said...

I would agree with you if it was just a contribution to John Kerry. The contribution to MoveOn.org raises some eyebrows for me though.

MoveOn is fairly extreme. We have always had the idea that judges should at times recuse themselves. I suppose you could argue that this particular case doesn't rise to that level, but it is hard to imagine that it is a dangerous new precedent that signals the end of the everything.

For example, I would expect a judge who contributed to Pat Buchanan to recuse himself from a case dealing with immigration, given Pat Buchanan's extreme anti-immigration stance. A judge is certainly allowed to be anti-immigration, and contribute to Pat Buchanan, but would appear biased in that case.

4:53 PM  
Blogger scott said...

Carrying the metaphor to murder is extreme there, K.

Because of the partisanship involved in this case, the fairness of the trial was in jeopardy.

It doesn't matter who the defendant is, he or she is innocent until proven guilty and they are entitled to a fair trail.

The law is highly weighted to the defendant' side so that the government has the greatest burden. That's what makes our judicial system the best in the world.

DeLay has not been convicted by a jury of his peers, but he has been convicted by partisan Democrats. Thank god they don't all count.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Jay Denari said...

Hi, K,

Part of the problem is that judges are ELECTED in Texas. As such, they are at some level partisan and while some are genuinely good judges, some are just political hacks, much like most county sheriffs nationwide. (I'm not referring specifically to any of the judges involved with the DeLay case, just in general.)

That said, I've seen no evidence that the judge in question was actually incapable of being fair; contributing to a national organization isn't the same as contributing to DeLay's opponent directly or running against him. Nobody has pointed to any cases in which he was unfairly biased against republicans; in most cases, he probably did not know and did not care what the defendant's political party was. This was simply a move by DeLay to throw a monkeywrench into the judicial process, a way to say he can manipulate the system to his liking in ways Everyday Joe cannot.

Dave, some of us feel contributing to the Republican Party would meet our definition of a "fairly extreme" organization, given their behavior in recent years, so where do you draw the line? Applying your definition to what I just said would mean that any GOP-donating judge would have to recuse himself fom cases involving anyone who has ever campaigned against, run against, or even written letters against republicans & their policies. That would paralyze the justice system.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

jay denari,

Calling the Republican Party, which currently controls the Presidency, the House and the Senate equally extreme as MoveOn.org which is considerably left of mainstream democratic thought is frankly a pretty wacked viewpoint.

I don't know that you draw a hard and fast line. If a defendant can give decent reasons for why he thinks a judge should be recused, I would err on the side of granting that defendant their wish. Obviously we have to evaluate if a reason is decent or not. The other judge that was asked to decide this obviously agreed that DeLay's reasons had enough merit for a recussal. Are we now going to argue that that judge was biased the other way? I haven't seen any evidence that would lead to that conclusion.

I am sure that Perkins is a fine judge. I wouldn't have any problem with him judging a Republican in most instances. The DeLay matter is highly political though. That is obvious and as such it is worthwhile to make sure that the judge is impartial.

I would expect the same thing for a Democrat defendant with a judge who had contributed to any sort of far right wing groups.

10:43 AM  

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