Legally Speaking: Still more disorder in the court

By John G. Browning | Mar 26, 2013

There seems to be a never-ending flow of weirdness permeating the justice system, as regular readers of “Legally Speaking” know.

Strange litigants, odd lawsuits, bizarre crimes and even judges who are anything but conventional—all of these (and more) regularly inhabit the legal system, as the following examples illustrate.

For Goodness’ Sake, Hide the Red Bull!

A 56-year-old slaughterhouse worker in Bruges, Belgium, recently went on a rampage.  Armed with two knives, a pistol and a lead pipe, he attacked a motorist, tried to beat down the door of a former boss and injured two policemen who tried to subdue him.

After spending a couple of months in jail, the defendant had a pre-trial hearing at which his lawyer, Mathieu Langerock, asked for his client to be released on bail.

The judge agreed, but with one surprising condition: that the defendant refrain from drinking Red Bull!

Allegedly, the rampage began after the defendant downed multiple cans of the energy drink while neglecting to take some prescriptive tranquilizers.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

They say there’s no such thing as “bad” publicity, but Thomas Lewis Edwards might want to disagree.  The Gainesville, Fla., lawyer defends people accused of drunk driving and other crimes, and his law firm advertises these services in various media outlets, including internet-based ones.

But it must have come as quite a surprise to see Mr. Edwards’ smiling face in his law firm ad online, right next to Edwards’ mugshot from a recent alleged drunk driving incident that ended in a hit-and-run crash!

There, right next to Edwards the dapper attorney in a suit and tie is a different, less happy Edwards in a jail-issue shirt from the Alachua County Sheriffs Department’s mugshots.  Edwards has six charges pending against him, but maintains his innocence.

Talk about marketing efforts gone horribly wrong!

Look Out, He’s Got Toy Soldiers!

I’ve written before about the “political correctness police” who run amok in our society, particularly in our nation’s schools, where “zero tolerance” policies have been taken to absurd extremes.

The latest example of this comes from a small town in Michigan, where the parents of third-grader Hunter Fountain brought homemade cupcakes to school to celebrate Hunter’s birthday with his class.  The cupcakes were topped with green plastic army men (representing WWII soldiers).

The school initially refused to serve the cupcakes at all because of the school’s “zero tolerance” for guns—not just the kind that actually kill, but apparently the tiny green molded plastic ones carried by toy soldiers as well.

Schall Elementary School principal Susan Wright tried to downplay her school’s absurdity, saying “the school offered to replace the soldiers with another item and the soldiers were returned home with the student.”

This is just the latest example of idiocy running wild among school teachers and administrators, who think that keeping kids from having toy soldiers or pointing a finger at another child and going “bang” will somehow prevent another Newtown or Columbine.

Want to Be a Better Judge?  Just Go to the Movies

Huang Quifan, mayor of one of China’s largest cities, Chongquing, has some career advice for judges: watch more movies.

Speaking at the National People’s Congress in Beijing recently, Huang urged Chinese jurists to not only watch Western courtroom dramas complete with cunning plaintiffs and defendants trying to persuade juries, but also hero-driven action films.

Such action movies, Huang says, will serve as reminders that “justice always prevails over evil.”

But, Stay Away from Comedy . . .

Enjoying pop culture on the big screen is one thing for judges, but becoming part of it is another—at least according to a judicial ethics proceeding pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Forty-three-year-old Vince Sicari, who serves as a part-time municipal court judge, is appealing a 2008 state ethics committee ruling (and a 2010 decision by New Jersey’s Advisory Committee on Extra-Judicial Activities affirming the lower ruling) forbidding him from indulging in his side job as a standup comic.

Sicari says the $13,000 income from hearing traffic ticket and misdemeanor cases in South Hackensack is okay, but it’s hardly enough to live on.  So, for years, he’s made most of his money working standup gigs at comedy clubs, warming up the crowd before tapings of “The Colbert Report,” or appearing on ABC’s “Primetime: What Would You Do?"

Sicari says he’s never had a problem balancing either his work as a comedian or his part-time law practice with his judicial duties.  Nevertheless, N.J. ethics authorities say Sicari’s entertainment career could “negatively affect the dignity of the Judiciary,” and could make defendants appearing before him question his impartiality.

Noted ethics scholar Geoffrey Hazard believes the judicial authorities should lighten up, pointing out that plenty of judges do things on the side like writing books or teaching.

Unfortunately, New Jersey’s powers that be are notoriously strict.  They ordered Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson, author of the book that inspired the hit HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, to quit promoting the show.

Hey, New Jersey—lighten up.  Anyone who comes into contact with our judicial system knows that we could use a little humor.

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