I feel the same way about judges that I do about cops: They’re not all bad, but those positions tend to attract power-hungry assholes.
Last week, Baltimore County Judge Darrell Russell married a domestic violence suspect and his alleged victim, at the suspect’s request. On the same day he was supposed to hear a criminal complaint against Frederick Wood, Russell granted the man’s wish to be married to his alleged victim. When Wood appeared in district court for trial on charges of assault, his lawyer asked for a postponement so the defendant could get married and come back to resolve the case. The lawyer said his client’s new wife would invoke marital privilege, which prevents a person from being required to testify against his or her spouse.
Russell excused the couple to drive to another town to get a marriage license. When they returned, Russell officiated their wedding that very afternoon. The criminal case resumed, and Wood’s new wife invoked her marital privilege. Russell acquitted Wood.
The judge’s parting comment to the defendant was, “Mr. Wood, I found you not guilty, so I can’t sentence you as a defendant in any crimes, but earlier today, I sentenced you to life married to her.” I’m glad the two could get some male bonding in before their busy day was over. Russell has since been reassigned to chambers work.
Mrs. Wood was held hostage in Judge Russell’s court. Russell knew Frederick Wood’s motive for getting married, and played right along. The woman told the officer who responded to her call that she thought Mr. Wood might try to kill her and that he had threatened to kill her and her children in the past. Still, Judge Russell explicitly sided with the alleged perpetrator and made it clear that he had no regard for the victim’s safety. The woman had no choice but to marry Wood. She obviously believed he posed a threat to her and her children. Judge Russell deserves much more than a reassignment.
Then there is the case of the Australian judge who has ruled that two young sisters must spend weekends with their sex offender father. Family Court Judge Robert Benjamin demonstrated a shocking ignorance of sex abuse by ruling that the girls “need some protection from (their father), particularly at night,” but that the chance of sexual abuse was “diminished when they are awake and alert.”
The father was convicted of three child pornography offenses in 2007, including filming images of child pornography on his computer and creating links and shortcuts to child porn sites. Additionally, the Family Court found the father had invited one his daughters into his bed and had “demonstrated affection toward her in a way that was, in all the circumstances, inappropriate for a child of that age.”
Benjamin said there must be a lock on the girls’ bedroom door for protection. The girls must share a room until the youngest (now eight) turns 14, “…so they can have the mutual support of one another.” He is knowingly placing these children in danger whilst putting the onus on them to protect one another. Benjamin also ruled that the father must have an “adult friend” stay with him when the girls sleep over. AN ADULT FRIEND. I’m sure he’ll keep the girls’ best interests at heart when he chooses his own chaperon.
The eldest girl has told counselors that she was afraid to stay overnight with her father. But what does a child’s comfort and safety matter when a man’s “rights” are at stake? In each of these cases, a man’s word, his desires, his freedom, have been privileged above the safety and autonomy of the women and/or girls in his path. This is your courtroom on patriarchy.
Finally, a judge in Ohio has ordered rape victims to submit to polygraphs. I will not even call the polygraph a “lie detector test,” because it does not accurately detect dishonesty. Cuyahoga Juvenile Court Judge Alison Floyd ordered polygraphs on four separate occasions after she found the defendants delinquent (guilty, in juvenile court). The legal grounds for doing this are anyone’s guess. The results would have no relevance to the cases, on which she had already ruled. The only reason to do such a thing is to send victims a message: We don’t really believe you.
All four teens refused the judge’s orders, and the mother of one girl said:
I believe even more damage was done by the judge letting the perpetrator know she was ordering the victim to take the polygraph. He apparently took this to mean the judge did not believe her and he used this to tell their peers that the judge did not believe her and was ordering her take a lie detector test.
Prosecutor Bill Mason’s office has filed briefs in two of the cases so far, asking Floyd to stop ordering rape victims to take polygraphs. At least someone in the system is standing up for those girls.