Well, sorry, no can do. As one person told me last night, your actions and your behavior over the past 2-1/2 weeks have been such that people no longer are surprised at anything. So, I guess that is a dubious accomplishment: people in your courtroom are losing a sense of outrage because you openly have allied yourself with the prosecutors, Chris "Facebook" Arnt and Len Gregor (who has referred to himself as "The Man"), and your decisions make it absolutely clear that you are doing everything you can to rig a conviction of Ms. Craft. In other words, you have done nothing but give the impression that you want Ms. Craft to go to prison and no matter what transpires in testimony, you have made up your mind and you won't stop until you not only have destroyed justice itself, but also your own credibility.
The latest example was your declaration after the state "rested" that prosecutors had demonstrated "sufficient evidence" to retain all 22 charges against Ms. Craft when the jury deliberates. You didn't even take the defense motion under consideration, rejecting it immediately out-of-hand. As one person in the press pool room who was observing the proceedings wrote: "We are admittedly stunned by what just happened." (More on the local media later)
At one level, I wish to thank you for being such a help to me. For many years, I have been writing about prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, mostly at the Federal Level. For example, I recently had a long article in Regulation on the destruction of law in federal courts. There have been a number of articles elsewhere including a couple in Reason Magazine on federal prosecutorial misconduct and overreach.
However, it is hard to convince people that prosecutors and judges are as craven as what I have portrayed in my articles because no one wants to believe our courts are so openly crooked. People want to believe that the institutions which govern them are fundamentally honest, and that prosecutors and judges seek only the truth.
Well, I don't have to worry anymore. No, you have been a walking billboard advertising my articles and, frankly, this blog. (Since I don't have advertisements, I am not making any money from it and, no, contrary to what some of your supporters have been writing in the comments section, I am not "paid off" by the defense, nor do I have contact with any of them, as I intend to obey your "gag order," as awful and immoral as it is.)
You see, Mr. House, when a judge is openly taking his cues from a prosecutor who openly flouts Rules 3.6 and 3.8 of the codes of the state bar that governs him, then you are saying that at least in your courtroom, prosecutors are above the law, while ordinary citizens are beneath it. But, it is not just the fact that you have all-but-announced you are a part of the prosecutorial "team" that has made your behavior utterly outrageous, but also the things you have done which have violated your own oath of office and the duties that are expected from judges in the State of Georgia.
I will write about a number of things that demonstrate beyond any doubt that you not only are demonstrating partiality with prejudice, but also that you don't care if the whole world knows it. Let me begin with Monday's proceedings.
The testimony began with yet another unqualified prosecution "forensic" witness from (Where else?) the Children's Advocacy Center, Holly Nave Kittle. Her demeanor on the stand with the defense was questioning her (shrugging her shoulders, rolling her eyes, giving smart-mouthed answers) was disgraceful, but all of the CAC witnesses have been like that, but you approve, so why should the rest of us be upset, right? As for qualifications, if she is part of a team trying to railroad an innocent person into prison, then what more needs to be said? THAT ALONE makes her qualified, at least in your view. And since you openly consider yourself to be the Lord High Dictator of the Courtroom, you, Facebook, The Man, and their gaggle of perjuring witnesses are creating another reality. Call it "Third Life."
Kittle was especially troublesome, as you know. She had given a "thumbs up" on Facebook when Arnt made his infamous post smearing Ms. Craft's attorneys. Now, in many states, and in courtrooms of judges who take their duties seriously, that gesture alone would have been enough to disqualify Kittle, but since you have pretty much approved of what Arnt did (I mean, who needs Bar regulations when it is so much fun to play by your own rules?), you were happy to have this person sitting in the witness chair.
As I posted Monday, Kittle thought it was funny that she had not read any relevant literature on interviewing children. In other words, she openly was proud of her own ignorance about her job, even though the consequences of her testimony might mean innocent people go to prison. Yeah, who needs training when one can play God in your courtroom? Evidence? We don't need no stinkin' evidence!
To make matters worse, when the defense had its first witness on the stand, Arnt objected time and again, attempting to disrupt her testimony and create havoc. What was your reaction? You sustained his objections time after time, even though they had no basis in law.
But, there is so much more. On the Saturday before she was to testify for the prosecution, Sandra Lamb called you on the phone and the two of you talked for a long time. This is known in legal circles as an ex parte conversation, and it is highly improper. In fact, you were supposed to have reported it to the defense, as the circumstances of the call demonstrated that Lamb's testimony the following Monday was tainted, but you decided that you didn't have to do it because, after all, you are above the law and judicial ethics apparently don't apply to you.
Last week, while cameras were rolling in the courtroom before the proceedings began, you had a conversation with the bailiff in which you were trashing the counsel for the defense. Because of legal considerations, local TV is not running that tape, but everyone involved knows its contents, and they also know that what you did is considered to be highly improper -- at best -- for a judge to do.
Each day, two groups of people enter the Catoosa County Courthouse. Spectators, media personnel, and others enter through tight security. They are not permitted to bring in food, reading materials (you made one woman even take her Bible out of the courtroom), and cell phones.
However, another group, which consists of witnesses for the prosecution and their supporters, enter the courthouse through a separate, non-secured entrance. They are not checked for any materials, and they openly bring in food, reading materials, and -- yes -- cell phones. Of all of the statements and actions you have done this week that have screamed, "I don't care about evidence! I only care about guilt!", perhaps this is the most blatant of all.
Most Americans have an innate sense of fairness, and you have managed to violate that sense in ways that I could not imagine a judge who takes an oath of office to do. Later, I will give an example of a judge who acted like you have acted in the Craft trial, and today he is vilified as an example of how a judge should NOT act.
Before looking at that judge and case that made him famous, I want to write about the media. When the accusations and arrests began almost two years ago, the media was in the tank. As a former reporter myself, I know that when police and prosecutors make charges, the first inclination of the newsies is to believe the authorities, and like Pavlov's dogs, the press pronounced Tonya Craft to be a vicious child molester.
However, other than Channel 9, which openly supports your outrageous antics, the people of the press no longer believe the prosecution, its witnesses, and you. Yes, you have lost your credibility with reporters, and sooner or later they will make you pay. True, they cannot begin their evening broadcasts or write lead paragraphs in their stories with: "Today in Catoosa County Court, Judge Brian House outdid himself in perverting justice." No, they are supposed to "report the news."
You take safety in that fact, but I have been involved with the media long enough to know that they have their ways of paying back someone who has been able to get away with egregious conduct. It is important also for you to know that you have lost your credibility not only with the media, but also with a large group of local citizens and people elsewhere.
I receive emails and calls from many people who live in North Georgia or Chattanooga, including attorneys, and to a person they have nothing good to say about you. Friends of mine from around the country following this case express shock at what you are doing and what you have permitted to go on in your little fiefdom formerly known as a "court of law." True, they cannot vote against you, but they do talk, and many of them are influential, including some media figures who are waiting to see the outcome of this travesty called a "trial."
If Tonya Craft is found not guilty (the only just verdict in this case), then you will fade into a sort of obscurity, although I suspect you may receive fewer votes in the next election, as there are angry supporters of Ms. Craft who have long memories. However, if she is found guilty, then you are going to become famous, although famous like Mike Nifong or someone else who has violated public trust in order to engage in outrageous conduct.
Long before you and I were born, a set of trials in neighboring North Alabama defined justice -- and two judges -- in the Jim Crow South. The infamous Scottsboro Boys case involved nine young African-American men accused of raping two women while riding in a box car. While medical examinations (which were crude then, compared to now) demonstrated there had been no rapes, and especially no rapes in the way that the women described them (one later recanted), nonetheless all-white juries routinely handed down guilty verdicts and death sentences (although none of the defendants ever were put to death).
Two judges distinguished themselves in these trials, James E. Horton of Decatur, Alabama, and William Callahan, also of Decatur. Perhaps you know of them, although from what I have seen of your performance so far, you definitely would consider yourself to be Callahan's disciple.
Here is what an account from the law school project of the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC) says about your hero:
The stated goal of William Callahan, the Alabama trial judge for the later Scottsboro trials (those from November, 1933 to July, 1937) was to "debunk" the Scottsboro case-- to cut it down to size, to take it off the front pages of America's newspapers. To this end, Callahan imposed strict time limits on the trials, persuaded the Governor not to provide National Guard protection for the defense team, and made it as difficult as possible for reporters to cover the trial.Keep in mind that courtroom observers who just read those last two paragraphs are telling themselves, "That is what House has been doing!" That, so far, is your legacy in this case.
An equally obvious, though unstated, goal of the seventy-year-old judge was to help secure the prompt convictions of the Scottsboro defendants. Haywood Patterson said of Callahan, "He couldn't get us to the chair fast enough." Callahan denied almost every motion of the defense, including a motion to quash the indictments because Negroes were excluded from jury rolls and a motion for a change of venue. He sustained nearly every prosecution objection to a defense question of a witness, and often objected himself when the prosecution didn't. (emphasis mine)
But, there is the example set by Judge Horton, whose family motto was: "Fiat justicia ruat colelum" -- let justice be done though the heavens may fall. He lived that example, although it ultimately would cost him his job. The UMKC site has this to say about Judge Horton:
If the tale of the Scottsboro Boys can be said to have heroes, there is no person more deserving of the label than James E. Horton, the judge who presided over Haywood Patterson's second trial in Decatur. Judge Horton's decision to set aside the verdict and death sentence of Haywood Patterson, made despite warnings that ordering a new trial for Patterson would end his career as an elected circuit judge, was a remarkable act of courage and principle.Then there was this:
During the course of the contentious trial of Haywood Patterson, Horton rarely raised his soft, conversational voice. Although his rulings neither consistently favored the prosecution or the defense, Horton made it abundantly clear thate he stood on the side of fair process and fair treatment for all, regardless of color. That alone made Horton a liberal by Alabama standards. Horton raised many local eyebrows when he warmly shook the hands of two black reporters who he had helped secure seats in his courtroom. His full anger only showed once in the trial. On the third day of the trial, after hearing reports of plans for a lynching, the judge raised his voice to a near shout and denounced would-be lynchers as "cowardly murderers." Horton, saying that he had "absolutely no patience with the mob spirit," announced that he had ordered police guards to shoot to kill if necessary in defense of the black prisoners.And this:
On June 22, 1933, when Horton convened court in his hometown of Athens, Alabama, there was little optimism in the defense camp that their motion to set aside Patterson's guilty verdict would be granted. Horton, however, shocked those assembled by announcing that he would grant the motion on the ground that the jury's verdict was not supported by substantial evidence. In a careful, point-by-point review of the medical testimony and that offered by other prosecution witnesses, Horton found Price's testimony to be "not only uncorroborated, but it also bears on its face indications of improbabilty and is contradicted by other evidence."Unfortunately, justice in a highly-charged case like this was too much for the voters, and he lost the next election and was a farmer the rest of his life.
These are two legacies, and it is abundantly clear which one you have chosen. Oh, you may fancy yourself to be a "tough judge," but in truth you are a judge who hates justice. When people tell me that they have lost all sense of outrage because so many outrageous things have gone on under your watch and, frankly, your encouragement, then they also are telling me that yours is no more a court of law than was the court of Roland Friesler, the infamous Nazi judge who sentenced more than 5,000 to death by hanging with piano wire (including the great theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
Friesler reveled in his power, but he met a curious and fitting end. During an Allied bombing raid in 1945, he ordered the courtroom cleared, but then returned to grab the files of someone who was appearing before him. A well-aimed bomb hit the courtroom squarely and ended his life. The reaction to his death was commensurate with the way he ruled in his courtroom:
A foreign correspondent reported, "Apparently nobody regretted his death." Luise Jodl, the widow of General Alfred Jodl, recounted more than 25 years later that she had been working at the Luetzow Hospital when Freisler's body was brought in, and that a worker commented, "It is God's verdict." According to Mrs. Jodl, "Not one person said a word in reply." (emphasis mine)No, you don't have to worry about your courtroom being bombed, but for a man whom I understand goes to church each Sunday, you know that God's verdict is one of justice and righteousness, and while the justice of God might seem slow to us mortals, nonetheless it is powerful and final.
In the end, you don't have to worry about my opinion. I'm just an obscure person typing words into a computer. However, you do have to be concerned with God's verdict, and also with the views of the appellate courts should your efforts help convince the jury to convict Ms. Craft.
I have no doubt that not only will a guilty verdict be overturned, but the comments by the justices will be scathing. When the news media "reports the news," I can assure you that they gladly will repeat those things that many of them wish they now could write in their dispatches or say while facing a camera.
At that point, there will be nowhere to hide, and then you will have wished a B-17 had dropped something on your courtroom. However, you still have a choice to leave a good and just legacy of how you have handled this case. I would urge you to follow the example of James Horton, not of William Callahan and certainly not of Roland Friesler.