Many Judges Are Terrifyingly Unqualified
In any crime drama, there may be corrupt cops and sleazy lawyers and disinterested jurors, but at the top of the system you find the judges who rule over their courtroom like gods. These people, above all, know their shit.
Well, Actually ...
If you're talking about the Supreme Court or a federal appeals court, no doubt you're standing before some of the finest legal minds in the country. But those guys are but a tiny fraction of the judges that make the system run. The country is full of little district courts, and the bar is, uh, not quite so high there. In fact, often all it takes to don the black robe is passing a simple test of 50 true/false questions, including this thinker: "Town and village justices must maintain dignity, order, and decorum in their courtrooms -- true or false?"
"Wait, does beheading live chickens count as dignified? Because if so, true."
That question is from a district judge exam in New York state, and perhaps unsurprisingly, no one has failed it since 1999. In fact, it's more surprising that someone actually did fail it, because you only need 70 percent correct to pass, and you can retake it as many times as you like. And these small town courts aren't just relegated to the rural areas of New York -- they are everywhere. The scariest part is that three-quarters of the judges appointed to these courts have no legal training whatsoever, and some of them never even finished high school.
But surely these judges only deal with cases involving crop tampering and cattle disputes -- there's no way the government would let them hand down prison sentences, right? Wrong! They handle around 300,000 criminal cases a year, plus millions of minor offenses like misdemeanors and traffic violations, and dole out a heap of jail time. Who's watching over them to make sure they're following procedure? Probably nobody! There is almost no oversight -- in New York state, for instance, the branch responsible for keeping tabs on 1,250 district judges is staffed by only 29 people. See, suddenly all of those "crazy judge hands out wacky sentence" news stories make sense.
"I have no idea, man. I just littered."
Only sometimes it's not so funny. Take the case of Stanley Yusko, a judge in the Catskills who frequently and illegally imprisoned people for months before trial. Or Elaine Rider, who got so confused when a lawyer argued that evidence had been seized illegally that she asked the prosecutor to decide the case for her. Or John Cox, the quarry worker turned judge who had a habit of jailing anyone unable to pay a fine (he only got away with this for 22 years before someone told him to stop, at which point he claimed that it was the first time anyone had told him not to). Want us to keep going? OK, how about Donald Roberts, the former state trooper turned judge who denied a woman a protection order against her husband on the basis that "every woman needs a good pounding now and then."
This is the closest thing to a photo of him that we could find. The piece of shit was finally ejected from office.
Again, we don't want to overstate the problem. We're just saying that when the Scarecrow wantonly sentenced people to death by way of the frozen rivers of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises, even he was better suited to be a judge than most of these folks.
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