What are the grounds for removing a judge from the bench? A sadistic penchant for harsh sentences? Ignorance of the law? Telling a defendant in front of the jury that if he wants to deny guilt he has to get up and testify?
In your dreams.
A Long Island village court judge/attorney (they’re allowed to do both), Justice Paul Senzer got kicked off the bench mostly for emails to his client using three dirty words about the opposing attorney. Four, if you count “eyelashes.”
Criminal defense attorneys in the placid world of murder, rape and unlicensed vending can scarcely imagine the dog-eat-dog jungle of intra-family litigation. When grandma wants to visit little grandson but daughter won’t let her, both sides had better prepare for nuclear war.
Which was Attorney Senzer’s point in response to his client Grandma Coleman’s wishful thinking that her daughter would either give in or represent herself. He wrote:
I don’t believe she will give in. And I don’t believe she will represent herself once we serve her. Her lawyer is a cunt on wheels (sorry for the profanity. . . and don’t quote me). So be prepared.
In another email, he cautioned Mrs. Coleman to cut out the self-help, saying:
I need to warn you about calling the school or the counselor. There are NY cases in which the grandparents were actually denied visitation because they were too heavy-handed in spying, stalking and contacting schools, strangers and other third parties. You are going to have to moderate this conduct because they will turn it around on you. You should know by now that people who work in schools are assholes. [Mrs. Coleman had earlier pursued an unsuccessful lawsuit against a school].
He also cautioned her against refusing to come to court, saying:
I agree with you. . . however, you may have noticed that the “judge” is an asshole. An “asshole” can issue a warrant for your arrest. Just want you to know “worst case scenario.”
And finally, after explaining that she had no legal grounds for forcing her daughter to allow visits, he advised her to drop the case; otherwise the daughter “and eyelashes get to click their tongues and you go on record as having ‘lost.’ Period. End of story. Over.”
Mrs. Coleman figured that withdrawing the case entitled her to a refund of legal fees, like returning a pair of pants. When she didn’t get it, she went to another lawyer who obligingly sent a tekkie to retrieve the judge’s emails from her computer and passed them along to the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Who were duly offended, particularly at the “cunt on wheels” phrase, with “eyelashes” a close second. Disparagement of female professionals who need to be protected from gender bias! Translation: no way to talk about a lady.
But taken in context of the brutal world of family court, “her lawyer is a cunt on wheels. . . so be prepared,” was the very opposite of disparagement. He was calling her a formidable adversary. A good lawyer. And not sparing her a blue monicker when he would have used the male equivalent if she’d been a man — what could be more egalitarian?
As for referring to judges as assholes in a private email — he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.
We had a look at the cases the Commission thought were comparable. Wild! One judge winning a fight in a bar by announcing, “I’m a judge!” Another judge hiding her drug-dealing chauffeur from the F.B.I. Another refusing to hear cases in revenge for the firing of a court clerk. And our favorite: a judge mollifying a cranky lower-court judge by promising never to reverse him.
How will the Court of Appeals decide the case? Either way, expect a lot of righteous chin music about how women professionals need to be protected.