Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Judges behaving badly are too common

Under the “laugh lest you cry” doctrine, a healthy sense of humor is practically a prerequisite for anyone undertaking the quixotic task of policing Pennsylvania’s motley judiciary. And, sure enough, the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline has shown it’s as well equipped in that regard as an infamous ex-judge seems to believe he is in another.

Judges behaving badly are too common

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Willie Singletary
Willie Singletary

Under the “laugh lest you cry” doctrine, a healthy sense of humor is practically a prerequisite for anyone undertaking the quixotic task of policing Pennsylvania’s motley judiciary. And, sure enough, the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline has shown it’s as well equipped in that regard as an infamous ex-judge seems to believe he is in another.

Ruling last week on the case of former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary, who showed photographs of his eponymous extremity to a young woman working for the court, the disciplinary panel struck just the right note of jurisprudential solemnity leavened with absurdist understatement: “We think that the public — even those members of the public who register the lowest scores on the sensitivity index — do not expect their judges to be conducting photo sessions featuring the judicial penis.”

After considering Singletary’s response, the court could bar him from ever holding judicial office again. But his behavior was so outré that one shudders at the thought of his mixing with the general population, let alone wielding the authority of the commonwealth. He even insists that his multimedia presentation of what he described as a “private matter” wasn’t intentional. After all, the offending photos were part of a (no doubt disorienting) slide show that also featured pictures of his mother and church.

The intrepid disciplinary panel countered that a judge who “grooms” and photographs what an Inquirer reporter delicately described as the “lower court” had better consider it a “memorable event.” Indeed, the alternative — that, for Singletary, such autoerotic photo shoots were so routine or reflexive as to be forgettable — would be even more disturbing.

Does the Traffic Court judge who showed off a photo of his privates make the case for appointing rather than electing these judges?
Yes, higher standards might assure judges who can keep their robes closed
No, it’s voters’ right if they want to pick knucklehead judges
Yes, or at least require them to be lawyers
No, traffic violations can be handled by nonlawyers

It’s fitting that Singletary’s first run-in with judicial standards concerned his promise to “hook up” future lawbreakers who had contributed to his campaign. The most proper public display of this former jurist’s image would be on a poster advocating the dismantling of Pennsylvania’s hopeless elective judiciary. And, just to be clear, we mean an image of his face.

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