It was October 14, 1967 and I was a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. My girlfriend (now wife of 40+years) Kathy and I were sitting int he first row in the corner of the end zone. Beyond the opposing goalposts loomed the mosaic dubbed, “Touchdown Jesus” that adorned ND’s library. From that vantage point we watched a Heisman hopeful amass 160 yards, scoring 3 touchdowns right in front of us as O.J. Simpson and the U.S.C. Trojans beat the favored Irish 24-7. S.C. came into the game ranked #1 but the Irish were favored in that contest. Simpson was the “Juice” that changed those betting odds.
O.J. continued to run for daylight through a storied football career and a stint as an actor in several B movies. His slippery running style was on display in 1994 as live video documented his slow speed chase from police in the white Jeep, as they sought to arrest him folowing the murders of his wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman. Once again Simpson dodged would-be tacklers, Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, in his first criminal trial.
Justice finally knocked Simpson out of bounds, short of the goal line, when his botched attempt to “reclaim” his property at gunpoint in Las Vegas resulted in convictions for kidnapping and robbery. Now a battered old man in his 60’s Simpson has hit the newstands once again. This week his attorney appeared before the Nevada Supreme Court to argue for a reversal of his 2008 convictions. One compelling issue being raised is the attitude and demeanor of Simpson’s trial judge, Jackie Glass. Attorney Yale Galanter wants the Supreme Court to throw the penalty flag at Judge Glass, as he argued that her treatment of him handcuffed the defense. Galanter argued that Glass repeatedly chastised him in front of the jury and was more interested in “doing it quickly rather than doing it right.” Not to beat the football analogy too far into the ground, the Justices even went to the videotape– a judicial instant replay. They watched taped portions of the trial that Galanter claimed highlighted the improper judicial demeanor of the judge.
The Supreme Court Justices remarked that her treatment appeared to be particularly “rough.” It remains to be seen whether that intrusion by the judge into the trial process will lead to a reversal. Judges hold particular unspoken power in criminal trials. In the absence of videotape the typed transcript of the court record does not reflect gestures or grimaces by the trial judge. Our newer generation of judges rarely display their attitudes or opinions when a jury is hearing evidence. But that was not always the case. I recall as a young lawyer appearing before several crusty old jurists who made no effort to hide their distaste for the defendant. In one particularly egregious display I recall a now long dead N.Y. federal judge who was sitting by designation in a federal case I tried with my dad. The old codger was in the habit of turning his back to a defense witness and rolling his chair to the opposite side of the lengthy bench. He didn’t have to say anything but his actions shouted, “Do you really believe this B.S.!”
Judges are human and are entitled to formulate their own opinions of lawyers and litigants. I am sure that it must be frustrating to preside over a trial and observe less than stellar lawyering. Recalcitrant and disruptive defendants rightfully try their patience. But the robe carries with it the requirement to strive for neutrality. The Code of Judicial Conduct in this state requires it. The Code requires that a judge is responsible to maintain order and decorum and discharge responsibilities in an even handed manner. Judges are even subject to censure by the Judicial Review Council if they offend the dictates of the Code.
Rich Meehan is a senior partner in the law firm of Meehan, Meehan & Gavin, LLP, Bridgeport, Conn. For more information on Rich or his firm go to www.meehanlaw.com or www.ctdentalmalpracticelawyer.com, or e-mail Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org