Sometimes, I get the feeling that judges are placed in the position of being like a game show host dealing with a particularly dense contestant giving an incorrect answer – "No, so sorry, but thanks for playing and we have some lovely parting gifts for you."
When litigants come up with some of the most bizarre theories and defenses imaginable, some judges have to wonder, "Did you really think I was going to buy that?"
Take William Bowersock, for example. The Lima, Ohio, man was facing violations of the city's nuisance laws for two run-down houses he owns, and which the Lima property authorities had ordered him to clean up and repair.
Bowersock's defense was to contend that he had seceded from the city and, by virtue of his Native American ancestry, had formed his own Indian reservation – making him exempt from the city's property code.
But Judge Richard Warren said not so fast, Cochise; he rejected the whole "I am my own reservation" argument and ordered Bowersock to fix up the two homes.
It just goes to show you – no man is an island, and no man is an Indian reservation either.
Then there's the "I wasn't writing to her, I was writing to her cat" excuse. Thirty-two-year-old Ronald Charles Dallas of South Salt Lake, Utah, was embroiled in a pending domestic violence case with his wife. Pursuant to a protective order, he was ordered not to contact her.
According to prosecutors, Dallas mailed 11 letters from jail addressed to his wife's cat, "Molly Judge;" the letters were apparently intended for his wife, since they asked her not to testify against him.
The judge (the real one in the black robe, not the cat) was not amused by the old "letters to the cat" trick. Mr. Dallas now faces 11 counts of violation of a protective order and two counts of tampering with a witness.
Being both a journalist and a lawyer, I love the old "I was doing research for a story" excuse. In June, Desiree Fontaine, a traffic and style reporter for Connecticut TV station WTNH, was accused of shoplifting from Sears in the Westfield Connecticut Post mall.
The 33-year –old news personality was seen in Sears with a number of items (from which she had removed the tags, according to police): a bottle of perfume, a Hawaiian shirt, a $15 necklace, and two pairs of $3.99 earrings.
According to the police report, Fontaine was seen on the store's video taking the items into a dressing room and emerging later with them concealed inside her bag. She then allegedly left Sears and entered the mall without paying for the merchandise, at which point she was apprehended and the items (worth $104.98) removed from her bag.
Fontaine told police that she was a "freelance" reporter, working on a story "on the side." Yeah, right . . . Fontaine was placed on leave by her station and she faces charges of 6th degree larceny,
It's rarely a good thing when your legal defense, as articulated by your own lawyer, is that you're "socially inept and challenged with women." Yet this was the defense offered to disciplinary charges brought against Judge Gerald Alonge of Pennsylvania.
The 51-year-old lifelong bachelor was apparently so clueless with women that he didn't realize that his repeated calls and unannounced visits to the homes of female attorneys might be viewed as unwelcome.
Pennsylvania's Court of Judicial Discipline suspended the jurist without pay for conduct it called "bizarre and weird" and "akin to stalking."
Maybe he should hang out with Minnesota Judge Stephen Aldrich. Judge Aldrich is facing reprimands from Minnesota's Board on Judicial Standards for his sense of humor.
Apparently, during a hearing on a protective order in a domestic case, Judge Aldrich allegedly "joked" about considering murder during his 45-year marriage. In another incident, Aldrich is accused of referring to potential witnesses in a murder case as "a bunch of drunkards."
The "but I was wearing something" defense in an indecent exposure case was made by naked bicyclist Matthew Vilhauer recently in Vancouver, Wash. The 43 year old was arrested last summer for riding his bike in the nude. Technically, he says, he wasn't nude – he was wearing a helmet and shoes.
But after the jury deadlocked on whether to find him guilty of indecent exposure, Vilhauer agreed to a plea bargain and to pay a $50 fine for a lesser charge – biking without a helmet (even though the prosecutor conceded that was one of the only things he was wearing).
Hey, let's just be thankful that he showed up dressed for trial; as they used to say on "Seinfeld," there's "good naked," and then there's "bad naked."
I'm not sure how receptive a judge would be to the "I was seduced by the power of the Dark Side" defense, but that may be the only excuse if a certain alleged bank robber in New York is apprehended. On July 22, a stickup artist dressed as "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader robbed a Chase bank branch on Long Island.
The thief used a handgun (no lightsaber) and made off with an undisclosed sum of cash. There's no word from the bank teller on whether or not the robber sounded like James Earl Jones on a respirator.
Finally, my personal favorite among the least successful attempts to persuade a judge has got to be convicted felon Daryl Simon. Simon pleaded guilty to credit card fraud in 2007, but he then jumped bail.
About a year later, he was apprehended, and prosecutors say that photo-manipulation software was found on the computers in his apartment, along with stored images of a number of fake ID cards with Simon's picture on them.
However, this is a case of "once a scam artist, always a scam artist." When the court was about to sentence him, Simon offered the court "evidence" to support his request for leniency – such as photos of him doing charity work. Unfortunately, he had simply Photoshopped himself into pictures of other people comforting hospital patients, mentoring teens, etc.
Prosecutors spotted the doctored images due to certain details that remained the same in multiple photographs. Simon also submitted bogus letters from charitable organizations, which didn't withstand scrutiny either.
Judge Stephen Robinson was not amused with Simon's attempt to con the court; he sentenced Simon to 285 months, 50 months more than the maximum provided for under sentencing guidelines.
Nice try, but this was one game of "Simon Says" that fooled no one.