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Abrams: Unjust Criticism of the Judicial System

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jeff abrams ibaAs many of you know, one of the state court judges has recently been under attack by members of the public relating to a sentence issued for an individual convicted of rape by a jury as well as a comment made to the woman who had suffered the attacks. The Indianapolis Star published several articles regarding the case and, in relatively no time, national media sources picked up on the story and provided additional commentary regarding the matter.

The Indianapolis Bar Association has had a long-time policy on addressing unjust criticism of the judicial system. While we have not needed to review very many cases, the recent case provided an unusual twist on the review of the judicial system. I want to emphasize that the IndyBar Committee did not extensively review the merits of the case and our statement is not in any way reflective of any comment on the substance of the judge’s sentencing decision. Nobody on the Committee was in the courtroom, so the underlying facts of the case and the trial were not personally observed.

On the merits, we note only that Indiana law does not require judges to sentence persons convicted of Class B felony rape to incarceration. This was pointed out by several legal commentators. We also recognize that the public, including some of our IndyBar members, have expressed concerns about the sentence issued in the case and about certain parts of the judge’s sentencing statement. Further, we respect the rights of those who disagree with the decision to express their opinions publicly. A strong legal system should be able to tolerate public scrutiny and should benefit from citizens actively engaged in discussions about judicial decisions.

The IndyBar’s adopted policy on unjust criticism of the judiciary requires IndyBar to:

1. Respond if the judicial system is subject to unjust attack;

2. Foster and maintain confidence in the orderly processes of our courts among the citizens of the state and the nation;

3. Explain the difference between valid, constructive criticism of the decisions of our courts and baseless charges;

4. Assist the public in understanding the difficult burden of the courts to strike a proper balance between individual constitutional rights and the rights of society;

5. Assist the public in understanding the operation of courts, judicial procedures and the administration of justice; and

6. Bring to the attention of proper authorities fair and well-founded criticism of the operation of the judicial system.

It would seem that one issue presented here is the magnitude of social media and how it can lead to social awareness. The Committee reviewed all of the foregoing in light of the recent case and made the following conclusions. There have been some articles that have provided a fair balance between strong criticism and understanding the constraints that the system creates through the sentencing statutes established by our Legislature. However, some commentators have made statements that can only be characterized as insulting, attacking the integrity of the judge and, in some instances, communicating physical threats. We do not believe that any of such conduct is appropriate no matter how strongly one’s opinion is of this matter.

We believe that the public should understand three key elements for the judicial system. First, judges should and do expect to be criticized in our system for their decisions. Secondly, judges who stand for election to their offices should and do expect their decisions to be made issues in their campaigns. Lastly, judges should not be subjected to baseless challenges to their integrity or violent threats about their decisions.

The public enjoys the freedom to express their disagreements, but it should be done in a much more constructive manner. Social media has made it easy to send mean-spirited and threatening comments regarding all aspects of life, including judicial decisions. We see it in our offices, with our children and in our everyday lives. The time when people would pick up the phone to talk to somebody about a problem has almost become archaic. This is a sad statement of how our community has evolved. The better approach to effect change would be by providing well thought out and constructive comments to all appropriate parties. Our membership, consisting of attorneys, paralegals and judges, should know that the IndyBar will respond appropriately to unjust criticism of the judicial system and continue to support the efforts of all of our colleagues in promoting justice for all involved.•

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  1. Falk said “At this point, at this minute, we’ll savor this particular victory.” “It certainly is a historic week on this front,” Cockrum said. “What a delight ... “Happy Independence Day to the women of the state of Indiana,” WOW. So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)

  2. congratulations on such balanced journalism; I also love how fetus disposal affects women's health protection, as covered by Roe...

  3. It truly sickens me every time a case is compared to mine. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld my convictions based on a finding of “hidden threats.” The term “hidden threat” never appeared until the opinion in Brewington so I had no way of knowing I was on trial for making hidden threats because Dearborn County Prosecutor F Aaron Negangard argued the First Amendment didn't protect lies. Negangard convened a grand jury to investigate me for making “over the top” and “unsubstantiated” statements about court officials, not hidden threats of violence. My indictments and convictions were so vague, the Indiana Court of Appeals made no mention of hidden threats when they upheld my convictions. Despite my public defender’s closing arguments stating he was unsure of exactly what conduct the prosecution deemed to be unlawful, Rush found that my lawyer’s trial strategy waived my right to the fundamental error of being tried for criminal defamation because my lawyer employed a strategy that attempted to take advantage of Negangard's unconstitutional criminal defamation prosecution against me. Rush’s opinion stated the prosecution argued two grounds for conviction one constitutional and one not, however the constitutional true threat “argument” consistently of only a blanket reading of subsection 1 of the intimidation statute during closing arguments, making it impossible to build any kind of defense. Of course intent was impossible for my attorney to argue because my attorney, Rush County Chief Public Defender Bryan Barrett refused to meet with me prior to trial. The record is littered with examples of where I made my concerns known to the trial judge that I didn’t know the charges against me, I did not have access to evidence, all while my public defender refused to meet with me. Special Judge Brian Hill, from Rush Superior Court, refused to address the issue with my public defender and marched me to trial without access to evidence or an understanding of the indictments against me. Just recently the Indiana Public Access Counselor found that four over four years Judge Hill has erroneously denied access to the grand jury audio from my case, the most likely reason being the transcription of the grand jury proceedings omitted portions of the official audio record. The bottom line is any intimidation case involves an action or statement that is debatably a threat of physical violence. There were no such statements in my case. The Indiana Supreme Court took partial statements I made over a period of 41 months and literally connected them with dots… to give the appearance that the statements were made within the same timeframe and then claimed a person similarly situated would find the statements intimidating while intentionally leaving out surrounding contextual factors. Even holding the similarly situated test was to be used in my case, the prosecution argued that the only intent of my public writings was to subject the “victims” to ridicule and hatred so a similarly situated jury instruction wouldn't even have applied in my case. Chief Justice Rush wrote the opinion while Rush continued to sit on a committee with one of the alleged victims in my trial and one of the judges in my divorce, just as she'd done for the previous 7+ years. All of this information, including the recent PAC opinion against the Dearborn Superior Court II can be found on my blog www.danbrewington.blogspot.com.

  4. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  5. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

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