The Dignity of the Judicial Process

 Posted on April 23, 2008 in Uncategorized

The more I think about it, the more inclined I am to side with Adam Reposa.

From the April 17, 2008 Austin American-Statesman article about The Reposa Affair (H/T Bad Court Thingy for calling my attention to the highlighted bit that I missed):

Saying that Austin defense lawyer Adam Reposa tarnished the dignity of the judicial process by making a lewd gesture in court last month, visiting state District Judge Paul Davis on Wednesday sentenced Reposa to 90 days in jail for contempt of court.

Paul Davis, a retired civil district court judge, is clearly unfamiliar with "the judicial process" in a criminal case. Consider what happened before Adam made the jack-off gesture that supposedly "tarnished" it:

Adam's client was pulled over by the police, asked to do tricks for the cops, handcuffed, searched, transported to the police station, and asked to blow into a tube.

How much dignity is left?

Then Adam's client was booked into jail. He was fingerprinted, photographed, ordered to strip, and searched. His body cavities were searched as well. His clothes and shoes were taken away, and he was given oversized orange pajamas and rubber flipflops to wear.

How does that rate on the "dignity" scale?

For several months he lived in a cage with 20 other men, sharing a stainless steel toilet and sleeping on a bunk, eating and showering only when someone else told him he could.

Are you feeling the dignity?

On court days Adam's client was awakened at four in the morning, shackled and cuffed, chained together with a bunch of other guys, and transported from the jail to the courthouse to wait in a small cell for news on his case.

Dignity now?

On the day of Adam's alleged contempt, the client was taken before Judge Breland dressed in his orange pyjamas and flipflops. For what reason? Apparently (by Adam's account) the judge and the prosecutor were trying to get the client to plead guilty. Adam tried to counsel his client (there is no downside to a DWI jury trial when you already have six months' jail credit). The judge told Adam to be quiet, and told the prosecutor to read the offer to the client. Adam continued to counsel his client and the prosecutor complained to the judge that Adam was whispering to his client.

Where's the dignity in any of that?

The proceeding shouldn't even have happened. A judge has no business trying to convince a defendant to waive a jury trial and no business telling a lawyer not to talk to his client (if the lawyer needs to talk to the client, you stop the proceeding for as long as he needs). A prosecutor has no business conveying a plea offer to a represented defendant (it's a violation of the DRs), and a judge has no business telling him to do so. A prosecutor has no right to complain that a lawyer is whispering to his client.

Judge Breland acted without dignity in an undignified proceeding. If there was any dignity left in the room before Adam simulated masturbation, it was a mere pretense, a fraud, a sham.

We lawyers sometimes pretend, with our "your honors" and our "may it please the courts" and our suits and ties, that we are engaged in a dignified proceeding. But criminal practice is inelegant, messy, dangerous, and in all other ways undignified. The system tries at every turn to deprive our clients of their dignity. We try at every turn to return it to them.

I'm all in favor of instilling dignity into the process; that would, first, require treating the participants with dignity. I'm not holding my breath.

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