“Broken Bench” Exposed in the N.Y. Times

A little more “Law” than “Info,” but because I’ve been teaching civil procedure, this New York Times expose of the state’s “justice courts” was especially gripping. It is also a four-alarm must-read for anyone who cares about fairness under the law. These are relatively informal local courts for small claims, landlord-tenant disputes, misdemeanors, etc. They are run by local elected justices who often lack even rudimentary legal training.

A tidbit about one such judge (many, many more in the article):

In 11 years as justice in Dannemora, in the North Country, Thomas R. Buckley had his own special treatment for defendants without much money: Even if they were found not guilty, he ordered them to perform community service work to pay for their court-appointed lawyers, although defense lawyers and the district attorney had reminded him for years that the law guaranteed a lawyer at no cost.

“The only unconstitutional part,” he told the [grossly understaffed statewide judicial] commission before it removed him in 2000, “is for these freeloaders to expect a free ride.”

[snip]

Like many small-town justices, he said many of his decisions were down-to-earth solutions. “You’ve got to use your own judgment,” he said. “That’s why they call us judges. The law is not always right.”

The article is long, but deeply compelling. Sometimes the “MSM” does us all a great service by investigating such abuses.

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