Law and Society
Will the New Jersey Governor Get a Ticket for Not "Clicking It"?
I guess by now, I should just accept the fact that politicians don't have to trouble themselves with obeying the law like the rest of us. New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine is in the hospital, in critical condition, after his vehicle slammed into a highway guardrail. The reason: his vehicle, driven by a state trooper, was driving 91 mph and the Governor was not wearing a seat belt. And what urgent matter of state government was Governor Corzine rushing to address? The great controversy of our time, of course - he was on his way to meet with Don Imus and the Rutgers' women's basketball team.

Last year, over 271,000 people in New Jersey received tickets for not wearing seat belts, generating close to $11 million in revenue for the state. But the Governor, like most politicians, could not be troubled with the law. Frankly, I have zero sympathy for him as he remains in critical but stable condition. We should just be thankful he did not kill someone else on the road. A politician's SUV hurtling down the highway at over 90 miles an hour poses just as much of a public safety threat as a drunk driver. I just wonder whether any New Jersey law enforcement officer will have the courage to issue a citation to the Governor.
The Disgusting Behavior of Florida Judge Larry Seidlin
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Over forty years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the conviction of a Texas man convicted of swindling where portions of the pretrial proceedings had been televised. Estes v. Texas, 381 U.S. 532 (1965). The Supreme Court ruled that the televising and broadcasting of his trial deprived him of his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The disgusting conduct of Florida Judge Larry Seidlin indicates that the Supreme Court got it right, although the Court would probably never have foreseen such conduct on the part of a judicial officer.

In reaching its decision in
Estes, the Supreme Court summarized several ways in which the use of television can cause actual unfairness. One was that it can distract judges and exercise an adverse psychological effect on them, particularly those who are elected: "Judges are human beings also and are subject to the same psychological reactions as laymen. Telecasting is particularly bad where the judge is elected, as is the case in all save a half dozen of our States. The telecasting of a trial becomes a political weapon, which, along with other distractions inherent in broadcasting, diverts his attention from the task at hand - the fair trial of the accused." In other words, because the judge knows that every gesture is being televised, the judge will become more concerned about how it could be used politically rather than with making the correct decisions in that case.

The battle over where Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith should be buried has provided a contemporary -- and extreme -- example of the concern expressed by the Supreme Court, although one which the Court likely would not have anticipated. Not satisfied with being a real judge, Larry Seidlin has been trying to become a television judge. He wants to be like Judge Wopner and Judge Judy, among many others, who pretend to administer justice in cases where "the litigants" have agreed to give up their rights in court for the sake of money and entertainment. Being this kind of judge is a lot easier than being the real thing. The fake TV judge knows that his or her decision doesn't really matter because "the litigants" have agreed that the result of the decision will only determine how a pool of money provided by the show's producers will be divided. The TV judge cannot be reversed on appeal, and more importantly for analyzing the conduct of Larry Seidlin, the TV judge is a character who has to be entertaining rather than judicious and wise.

Florida Judge Larry Seidlin had already been circulating an audition tape, a collection of his past "performances" on the bench from other cases over which he presided. But now was his big break! The world -- or at least bored members of the American public -- would be watching him. So, rather than move quickly to decide where the final remains of the deceased should be buried, he spent a week so that he would have maximum television exposure. During this time, he opined about tuna sandwiches, outfits he wore while playing tennis, and his former career as a cab driver in New York City. At the same time, he could not be troubled with addressing the attorneys by their real names, and questioned every witness from the bench, again, to insure more television exposure for himself. After all, a TV judge is the star of the show, so he had to demonstrate that he could be the center of attention, even while addressing the issue of where a famous person should be buried. Then, to top it all off, Judge Larry blubbered like a baby when announcing his decision. His crying, of course, was again all a show. He had presided over probate matters in the past - why but for the cameras would he cry about this one?

Perhaps worst of all was Judge Larry's decision. It was a non-decision: he delegated the decision to a lawyer he had appointed to represent the interests of the five-month-old daughter of the deceased. However, he expressly told the lawyer what decision he wanted the lawyer to make, which was that Ms. Smith be buried in the Bahamas with her son. The local lawyer, who of course would like to receive future appointments (and fees) from this judge, dutifully reached the decision Judge Larry told him to reach. This technically was not Judge Larry's decision, so Judge Larry could disclaim responsibility for it if others disagreed.

How do you deal with Judge Larry? Hopefully some member of the Florida bar will file a grievance against him and he will be removed from the bench, although the latter is highly unlikely. The reality is we are all responsible. Everyone who watches the fake TV judges, and everyone who encourages the 24-hour news networks to provide continuous coverage of trials that have absolutely no impact on our lives. So, if Judge Larry gets his big TV deal, and his show is going to be broadcast in your market, write a letter to the station or network, and complain. It worked with O.J. and Fox.