Monday, September 25, 2006New York. The name conjures up images of soaring towers, congested traffic, and broadminded, cosmopolitan attitudes, but today's New York Times' expose of the dreadful shortcomings of justice in small-town New York State bring to mind the smallest attitudes in the reddest of states. In some of these jurisdictions, there are literally no standards for who can sit on the town judicial bench - not even a high-school diploma, or even the most basic legal training.
"...A woman in Malone, N.Y., was not amused. A mother of four, she went to court in that North Country village seeking an order of protection against her husband, who the police said had choked her, kicked her in the stomach and threatened to kill her. The justice, Donald R. Roberts, a former state trooper with a high school diploma, not only refused, according to state officials, but later told the court clerk, "Every woman needs a good pounding every now and then."Full disclosure: I lived in the North Country region of New York (in one of the above towns) for nearly 20 years, and can vouch for the fact that if you're the slightest bit 'different' - in national origin, race, religion (i.e., non-Christian), sexual orientation, what have you - you will always, ALWAYS be an 'outsider.'
A black soldier charged in a bar fight near Fort Drum became alarmed when his accuser described him in court as "that colored man." But the village justice, Charles A. Pennington, a boat hauler and a high school graduate, denied his objections and later convicted him. "You know," the justice said, "I could understand if he would have called you a Negro, or he had called you a nigger."
And several people in the small town of Dannemora were intimidated by their longtime justice, Thomas R. Buckley, a phone-company repairman who cursed at defendants and jailed them without bail or a trial, state disciplinary officials found. Feuding with a neighbor over her dog’s running loose, he threatened to jail her and ordered the dog killed.
"I just follow my own common sense," Mr. Buckley, in an interview, said of his 13 years on the bench. "And to Hell with the law." [read full article]
In towns like these, that often translates to failure of justice should you find yourself on a local judge's 'bad side.' And - if you're a woman? Even if you're a 'town native,' you'll be exposed to attitudes like these, if your concerns run counter to the good-old-boy network. The temptation is to say these are isolated "rotten apple" examples, but I fear the decay goes far deeper.