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Judge Amanda Williams's Very Bad Week
March 31, 2011 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Ira Glass does an atypical bit of investigative reporting about an especially punitive drug court in rural Georgia.

The drug courts of Georgia's Glynn and Camden counties (combined population ~125,097), overseen by Judge Amanda Williams, handle more cases than that of Fulton County (population ~1,033,756 and home to the city of Atlanta). Some first-time offenders guilty of minor infractions find themselves stuck in the system for years, jailed for "indeterminate" periods of time and even spend lengthy periods in solitary confinement.

At least a slice of Georgia's legal community seems to be rather upset.

In the few days since the story aired, Judge Williams's [cached] election website has been taken down.
posted by jon1270 (106 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
What we have here is... failure to communicate.
posted by cybrcamper at 12:56 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's just awful...
posted by SweetJesus at 12:58 PM on March 31, 2011


A friend sent me this story but refused to explain what it was, so I was like yeah I don't need to listen to Ira Glass. I would definitely not have listened without your post; thanks!
posted by grobstein at 1:00 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Given NPR's other reporting about private (or public, in some cases) prisons that can't fill their beds, is it surprising there are judges willing to keep putting folks in jail ?
posted by k5.user at 1:00 PM on March 31, 2011


The way that this show has managed to make the case for its relevance over and over again with its turn toward economic, legal, and current events documentary reporting is just astonishing to me, in the best way.
posted by liketitanic at 1:00 PM on March 31, 2011 [37 favorites]


...periods of time and even spend lengthy periods...

I do wish I had edited more carefully.
posted by jon1270 at 1:01 PM on March 31, 2011


Listened to this today... great reporting, pretty shocking. This American Life is incredible.
posted by ph00dz at 1:01 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of all the American particularities that people goggle at, none leave me quite so baffled as their attachment to electing judges. It's not like you don't get real stinkers in the judiciary when you don't elect them, but an entire level of politics and public contempt can safely be removed from the equation.
posted by bicyclefish at 1:02 PM on March 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


I've been trying to get the state motto changed to "Georgia: At Least You're not in Mississippi" for a while now. This just gives me more ammo.
posted by dortmunder at 1:03 PM on March 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


My family had this on the radio on Sunday -- it got me so aggravated that I had to turn it off. It was too serious a subject to be relegated to "Recreational Grarrr"; I wanted to do something about it, but felt (and still feel) powerless.
posted by jpolchlopek at 1:05 PM on March 31, 2011


If anything, Ira's report will just encourage the GOP to work harder to defund NPR to prevent these kinds of reports from being made.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 1:05 PM on March 31, 2011 [22 favorites]


Constitutional amendment preventing the direct election of judges or attorneys general, anyone? Seems like a pretty sure-fire way to kill "judicial activism" in its tracks.

Also. I know this is the wrong site for this, but Unicorn Chaser please? Too much depressing news on the blue this month....
posted by schmod at 1:06 PM on March 31, 2011


If anything, Ira's report will just encourage the GOP to work harder to defund NPR to prevent these kinds of reports from being made.

It's not an NPR show.
posted by Jahaza at 1:08 PM on March 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


By, I am so glad I have never tried any drugs whatsoever.
posted by y2karl at 1:08 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I listened to about half of the show last Sunday. I was actually too disgusted and terrified to finish. I too have ridden in a car with some of my mother's (freely given and needed) pain meds in my purse, and it never occurred to me that I could end up with lengthy jail time and felony convictions.

But can you keep someone in jail indefinitely? Tell a defendant that if they come up before you in trial, you're probably going to find them guilty, so they better take the drug court option? I guess you can.
posted by bibliowench at 1:08 PM on March 31, 2011


Er, Boyeeeee, that is....
posted by y2karl at 1:09 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know much about the law. But surely she can't just do whatever the hell she wants without some authority either encouraging or allowing this to happen, right? Who judges the judges. I'm assuming there is some sort of judicial review at the state or federal level to flag and potentially remove judges who are acting outside of a certain set of established boundaries, right?

Right?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:11 PM on March 31, 2011


Dear god, I live in Glynn County. (Fortunately for me I suppose, I don't take any kind of drug.)
posted by JHarris at 1:11 PM on March 31, 2011


The idea of an indefinite sentence is inhumane and completely bonkers. It would certainly be unconstitutional in a normal court; the idea that coercing someone into signing a drug court contract can mean that they're signing away their right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment is insane.
posted by awesomebrad at 1:12 PM on March 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


Listening to this a few days ago, I got so worked up in ways that very few things still make me. Like I wanted to call this judge up and say "Quit ruining peoples lives!" -- as if that was a sane reaction -- though it was the most sane, least violent thing I imagined.


But can you keep someone in jail indefinitely? Tell a defendant that if they come up before you in trial, you're probably going to find them guilty, so they better take the drug court option? I guess you can.


Unfortunately, this happens a lot more often than anybody wants to admit. Part of the reason why this made me so angry was because it's an extreme case full of lots of familiar details.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:15 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


And here's Google's cache of the "rather upset" link since it seems to be overloaded.
posted by nicwolff at 1:18 PM on March 31, 2011


Dear god, I live in Glynn County. (Fortunately for me I suppose, I don't take any kind of drug.)

Judging by this, it might not matter whether you use drugs or not. You can do something about it, however. I don't know when your next county elections are, but spread the word to your friends and family. Pass this story around.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:19 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not an NPR show.

Like that matters.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:21 PM on March 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


I kept thinking there must be a financial reason, for the judge to exercise her power in the manner described in the show, but if Ira found the money trail I missed it in the show. Like, I dunno, family investments in a firm that provides inpatient counseling to the people in the drug court or something.
posted by mwhybark at 1:23 PM on March 31, 2011


Dear god, I live in Glynn County. (Fortunately for me I suppose, I don't take any kind of drug.)

Unfortunately for you, your family or friends might accidentally leave some controlled medicine in your car.
posted by jaduncan at 1:23 PM on March 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


If anything, Ira's report will just encourage the GOP to work harder to defund NPR to prevent these kinds of reports from being made.

No. If anything, Judge Amanda Williams won't be allowed to treat people like this anymore. Why frame an important piece of journalism in terms of how a political party might twist it for their own gain? I hate how everything is couched in terms of how politicians might spin it. Look at the journalism for what it's trying to accomplish.
posted by pwally at 1:28 PM on March 31, 2011 [23 favorites]


Things like this scare the crap out of me. I take, by prescription, a number of commonly abused painkillers. That simply having some in a bottle without a label - like the emergency pill case I keep in my backpack or the pill container on my keys - could wind me up in a situation like this is yet another fear and anxiety I do not need in my life. I am demonized enough because I have to take regular pain meds without this. Ever been to an employment drug test and had to bring every pill bottle youve taken a pill from for the last month? Yeah, mine takes a 2 galon ziplock for just the prescription ones.

.... this scares me. But not living in those counties, there is nothing I can do. Please, if you live anywhere in those two counties, write to everyone you can think of, and vote with a keen eye towards this.
posted by strixus at 1:28 PM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Frick frick frick this makes me so angry
posted by gnidan at 1:30 PM on March 31, 2011


Maybe the metalaw crowd could add some context for a foreigner: does American jurisprudence have the concept of "cruel and unusual punishment"? Is it something that could be used in a constitutional appeal or would it fall to the level of regulation or common law?
posted by bonehead at 1:35 PM on March 31, 2011


It's not an NPR show.

Yes, it's a PRI show, but the GOP can't seem to make that distinction.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 1:36 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Something that surprised me when reading the Oxford History of Prisons is that punitive imprisonment was a rather late development in the history of prisons — prisons were for coercive rehabilitation and segregation up through the middle ages. Roman law prohibited prisons as punishment qua punishment, and the idea of confinement itself as a punishment comes from monasteries where infractions of abbey code were met with opportunities for solitary penitence. Of course, the corollary is that the other options weren't necessarily all that much better — if the Romans judged you guilty of a horrendous crime, they'd just execute you rather than confining you.

But in light of cases like this, where indefinite incarceration is used as a punishment, it does seem to require asking what we're hoping to accomplish with such means (and also shows the weird ways that canon law still affects American lives, long after anyone's paying attention).
posted by klangklangston at 1:39 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Maybe the metalaw crowd could add some context for a foreigner: does American jurisprudence have the concept of "cruel and unusual punishment"? Is it something that could be used in a constitutional appeal or would it fall to the level of regulation or common law?"

*cough*
posted by klangklangston at 1:40 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is my hometown. There is nothing to do but get hooked and throw your life away, unless you like prostrating yourself in front of the walking dead retirees who come to St Simons to make everyone miserable with their pension money.

There are uniformed officers, County and City of Brunswick, who sell drugs. A few of them were caught, but not all were punished. There's one guy in particular who would shake kids down if they were local. Literally take half of your stash if when he pulled you over, or everything if he was in a bad mood, which was better than the alternative of getting thrown in jail for eternity.

When I was in high school, my father was smoking weed in his house and the neighbors complained about the noise. (And he is an ass about playing loud music, admittedly.) Their solution, since the police basically hate him, was to send in about ten guys through the front and back doors and one window with their guns drawn. There wasn't even enough to charge him with anything. Years later, after a standoff about signs in his yard, another man was shot to death by police in the same house.

(I never could confirm it, but there was also apparently an assassination on Sea Island sometime in the late 90s, right in the middle of dinner at the Cloister, a former four star resort that is now bankrupt. It never hit the papers, because the Jones family, who used to own it, made a call.)

Oh, and the rich kids from Sea Island, one of the wealthiest zip codes in the contry. They rented out the American Legion for some party and left it in ruins, complete with a tower of empty beer cans and used condoms around the flagpole. Never made the news; their parents were too important. I've never met a more hateful group of useless twits, and most of them went to Ivy League schools. I hope they are buried in middle management and not in charge of anything too serious.

Brunswick is also the home of four superfund sites, including one where 150 short tons of pure mercury were dumped into a river by LCP in the 80s. It's the same city that destroyed the Oglethorpe Hotel, a jumping off point for the millionaires of Jekyll Island and a beautiful piece of architecture, so they could put a Macy's on the river front. The same city that claims it has a graduation rate of 70%, when it's more like 40%, with some graduates barely able to read their diploma.

There's also a slew of Evangelical Churches that are beyond corrupt and have zero redeeming qualities. They are the guys voting Bush and attending the Tea Party rallies, with one local idiot at Christian Renewal claiming that there's a terrorist training camp in a nearby county that is being protected by Obama. Here's a little sample of the crazy from some lowlife salesmen that came through:
And one of the last things that the Lord showed me, as strange as it may seem, and, of course, this is the way it is sometime—on the way to the airport, Brother Kevin was taking me, I saw by the Spirit of God a gigantic explosion that would take your breath, over there between that Jacksonville and Brunswick area. I couldn’t tell exactly where it was; it came so quick. And I told Brother Kevin, I said, if you’ve ever prayed you need to pray because you know how I see things walking in the office of a seer. And he said he would. Well, the years have gone by and I have just prayed for everybody over there and of course we prayed mightily during that giant unheard of hurricane that came through there that I saw by the Spirit and had to prophesy and they evacuated your city. Of course, you remember me having to tell you that. But anyway, I received a call from my daughter in England and she and her husband are missionaries. They are building a church in a Muslim community. It’s been quite an ordeal. But they’ve been faithful to do what God told them to do regardless if it meant their life for the last six years. She called us with tears in her voice. She said, Dad, we’ve been up all night praying and have gotten many churches on their face because we know it’s a serious hour. And she said, Dad, a member of the MI5--which is England’s CIA--a top ranking officer, came to one of the pastors in London. He came with tears in his eyes and he was almost emotionally uncontrollable. He said we have no hope if God doesn’t intervene in England. And then he began to tell me that they had the unequivocal truth. They had the truth, the knowledge, the information, all the intel(ligence)…that those fellows were about to blow a nuclear device that would kill hundreds of thousands of people. Not only did they have the Intel, the Geiger counters, and the other highly sophisticated equipment that tracks uranium and all those things--had them on the trail. And she said, Dad, please pray for us.
And this is just the tip of the shit sandwich, let me assure you.

The place is fucked up. Real fucked up. As Dave Attel says: You know what's a great thing to do in that town? Pack up and get the hell out of there.
posted by notion at 1:43 PM on March 31, 2011 [113 favorites]


I'm in the same boat as strixus. Not enough that we have to jump through hoops to get the medicine prescribed us, and get treated like scamming junkies if we try to get our refills a day early for whatever reason. Now it's the courts if I get found with my damn 4-times-a-day pill organizer rather than a bagful of bottles. The demonization of drug users in this country is bad enough; extending that demonization to people using drugs* on the orders of their doctors is fucked up in a way I don't have words for (as is the private prison system, but that's another rant).

On phone so can't conveniently check, but didn't Portugal decriminalize EVERYTHING a while back? I can only assume that such a terrible decision has ruined their country as much as the Netherlands' decade of gay marriage has ruined theirs**.

* because in many cases they can be the exact same things as the scary, demonized "drugs." Gotta wonder what the perception would be of someone taking my daily prescribed drug intake if they were self-prescribing, so to speak. No wait, I don't need to wonder.

** not at all, is my guess
posted by jtron at 1:43 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll be watching this story for a followup, really hoping this judge is out of a job soon. She's ruined too many lives.
posted by mattbucher at 1:44 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Damnit. I picked a bad month to quit drinking.
posted by schmod at 1:47 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


She's been running this sideshow since '98? How many years lost? How many lives ruined?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:52 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe the metalaw crowd could add some context for a foreigner: does American jurisprudence have the concept of "cruel and unusual punishment"? Is it something that could be used in a constitutional appeal or would it fall to the level of regulation

The 8th amendment bars cruel and unusual punishment. In this case, I think the principle problems are 1) practical --- nobody has enough money to cause a big enough stink to cross the judge and get away with it, and 2) technical --- the offender voluntarily agrees to enter drug court and abide by its rules in exchange for a lesser sentence and having their record cleared, giving up their right to a trial in the process. I don't know exactly how it's worded, what they agree to, but conceptually I can see it presenting difficulties. As mentioned in the piece, other offenders at other drug courts are sometimes jailed as part of the program; you'd wind up making an argument not on absolutes but on degrees (I.e., putting the drug court offenders in jail wasn't the cruel part; jailing for X amount of days was the cruel part. Well, okay, but how does one decide the appropriate X?)

I say these things not because I disagree with any of the outrage people have expressed -- I couldn't finish it either, I was too mad and disgusted --- but because I think that without a powerful advocate taking up the case it would be difficult to get this woman removed.
posted by Diablevert at 2:01 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, it's a PRI show, but the GOP can't seem to make that distinction.

We're talking about the party under whose watch the FDA tried to classify ketchup as a vegetable. When clearly it is tomato based, and therefore, a fruit.
posted by condour75 at 2:05 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll be watching this story for a followup, really hoping this judge is out of a job soon. She's ruined too many lives.

I want abuses of power to lead to jail time.
posted by notion at 2:09 PM on March 31, 2011 [20 favorites]


Old'n'Busted: "Yes, it's a PRI show, but the GOP can't seem to make that distinction."

Many don't. I can't find a citation, but Joan Kroc's favorite program was one of the popular PRI or APM shows, which spurred her to donate millions to ... NPR.
posted by mkb at 2:09 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


condour75, to be fair, it was pretty moronic to call a sugary condiment a vegetable (worse yet, it was in school lunches, IIRC), but the tomato as vegetable thing (in the eyes of the government) goes back to a Supreme Court case in the late 1800s. The case was that imported fruits aren't taxed, but imported vegetables are. The port tariff collector felt that tomatoes are vegetables, as per the common definition of vegetables (savory food from plants eaten durring main courses, as opposed to sweet food from plants eaten at dessert), while the importers of the tomatoes wanted to collect back the money they paid the collector, as tomatoes are botanically a fruit.

Anyway, it's an interesting precedent, as it shows that the common definitions of terms, instead of the technically correct ones, can be the definition used legally.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:17 PM on March 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


After listening to this yesterday, I started wondering if there was a website or some forum that kept up with the stories on TAL and updated them, because this episode was just so crazy to me. Here it is, I suppose. Did she get reelected?
posted by pised at 2:21 PM on March 31, 2011


Did she get reelected?

The most recent election was Nov. 2010, well before this story aired. She was reelected.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:24 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I.e., putting the drug court offenders in jail wasn't the cruel part; jailing for X amount of days was the cruel part. Well, okay, but how does one decide the appropriate X?)

As Glass says over and over in the piece (enough so that he turns it into a joke at one point), there are guidelines for many drug court practices, provided by this organization. We may not know right now precisely how wrong this judge is, but it sounds like the standards of the NADCP make it clear that she ain't very right. Also, the United States (and the individual states, and the counties, etc.) is not exactly inexperienced with actual legal courts, and their practices have been examined on an ongoing basis in publications, legal opinions and rulings, etc. since they began. Issues have been debated, standards have been set, laws have been (and continue to be) rewritten and rescinded and reinstated. It's not that our legal system has no way to know what's fair and what's not, what's cruel and what's not. It's that our legal system has spawned a widespread alternative that puts the accused outside of that legal system, with no recourse when things seem to be going wrong, and no check on how people are treated.

Seems the problem is not simply that this rogue judge is running her drug court inappropriately (I'd guess that the NDCP guidelines agree with us that she is), but that there is no official legal mechanism for oversight of drug courts and their judges, whether that's a local lack or universal. And until there is, there is no way to change how things are done at any drug court.

If it takes such horrible things to happen before this lack can be addressed, so be it, but I hope it's going to be addressed. At the very least this is something the NADCP should be investigating (maintaining quality standards for a profession is one of the things a professional organization's FOR), and more journalists should be exposing. And with any luck, maybe someone at the ACLU is listening to Glass' piece right now.
posted by gillyflower at 2:28 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


This judge has some megalomania mixed in with a bit of sociopathic tendencies, I don't see what's so wrong here. She fits right in WITH 13TH CENTURY AUTOCRATIC RULERS!
posted by P.o.B. at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Holy goodness Jesus Tony Orlando and Dawn. Many apologies for the misinterpretation. My earlier comment was deleted so I must have really ticked everyone off.

Just to explain myself right quick: someone was questioning why Judge Williams would act in this manner. In perhaps a too obtuse way, I responded by describing what I believed to be the internal motivation of the Judge, per my interpretation of the This American Life episode. If you flagged my comment because you didn't understand what I was talking about, just listen to the story. Her lingering shame over her drunk husband did not seem like too shallow an impetus to exert her power over those who may remind her of him.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


both rich and poor have access to adequate and timely legal representation... just saying.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:41 PM on March 31, 2011


no they don't.
posted by Uncle at 2:44 PM on March 31, 2011 [39 favorites]


I listened to this on the walk to work the other day and it just floored me, and I even considered posting it myself. Glad it showed up.

My take away is that the long arc of American jurisprudence always - *always* - bends towards the punitive.
posted by absalom at 2:45 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


@ennui.bz: Not if they're locked in solitary confinement and can't get the few people they see to listen to them. I think that was one of the points of this piece--that there are bad things that happen that no one wants to, or has the authority to, address.
posted by gillyflower at 2:46 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


\HAMBURGER
posted by ennui.bz at 2:51 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


That judge needs to do life in prison for all the damage she's done to society. No exaggeration.
posted by LordSludge at 2:52 PM on March 31, 2011


mkb: That bit of trivia about Mrs. Kroc is patently false. She was a news junkie, and spread her bequests around liberally - including 5 million to her local San Diego public stations. She was particularly inspired because of NPR's relatively unbiased and non-cheerleader reporting of the buildup to Iraq in 2003. See Also.

I mean, I don't have a dog in this fight, but I think the woman was much smarter and much more aware than just, "heh heh, silly old lady."
posted by absalom at 2:58 PM on March 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


\HAMBURGER HELPER

if the public defender system was as well-funded as the DEA the "drug war" would look very different. as it stands, the legal system is expected to effectively act in a paternalistic fashion towards defendants without the resources to hire their own attorney. there is little real check on bad behavior in that set-up: there will always be "bad" judges but without the counter-weight of effective counsel, abuse is almost guaranteed.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:58 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


What a disgrace.

Judge Amanda Williams and all her lackeys working in that drug court have covered themselves in shame.
posted by BigSky at 3:01 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is such a thing as too much direct democracy. Stop electing judges. Stop electing prosecutors. Stop making the justice system into the political system. Stop making questions of guilt and innocence into questions of polls and soundbites.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:02 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The most recent election was Nov. 2010, well before this story aired. She was reelected.

I voted in that election but, like nearly everyone else who voted in it, had no idea this kind of thing was going on, or had even heard of the woman beforehand. I don't even remember who I voted for in that race. I mostly went straight-ticket Democrat.

What, don't look at me like that. I don't have an investigative department to go look all these candidates up, and the local newspaper, the imaginatively-named "Brunswick News" is, shall we say, lacklustre.

There is such a thing as too much direct democracy. Stop electing judges. Stop electing prosecutors.

Well, it is a check on their behavior.
posted by JHarris at 3:07 PM on March 31, 2011


(sort of)
posted by JHarris at 3:07 PM on March 31, 2011


Stop electing judges. Stop electing prosecutors. Stop making the justice system into the political system.

If judges are not elected, they presumably must be appointed. You think this will isolate the judicial system from the political system? I am not so sure.
posted by lex mercatoria at 3:08 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


both rich and poor have access to adequate and timely legal representation...

BWAH HA HA HA HA HA

Yew ain't from 'round heah, are yuh, boy?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:16 PM on March 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


absalom: "mkb: That bit of trivia about Mrs. Kroc is patently false. She was a news junkie, and spread her bequests around liberally - including 5 million to her local San Diego public stations. She was particularly inspired because of NPR's relatively unbiased and non-cheerleader reporting of the buildup to Iraq in 2003. See Also.

I mean, I don't have a dog in this fight, but I think the woman was much smarter and much more aware than just, "heh heh, silly old lady."
"

Sweet, glad to be wrong on that one, and that explains why I couldn't find a reference.
posted by mkb at 3:18 PM on March 31, 2011


They are the guys voting Bush and attending the Tea Party rallies, with one local idiot at Christian Renewal claiming that there's a terrorist training camp in a nearby county that is being protected by Obama.

Dear god, I went to the school Christian Renewal ran. I've talked about it here before I seem to remember, an event that made me something of a pariah among some locally I hear.

I guess my opinion since then has mellowed a little all the same. There are some crazy people there, but there are good people too. Sometimes there are people who are good but have some strange beliefs, and unfortunately they are in a place where those beliefs fester and get reinforced, and even if one doesn't see it happening to ones' self, it eventually kills the soul. Anyway, people are not often reducible to easy adjectives like "good," and some people who'd offer you the shirt off your back in one instance will vote to torture people in secret camps every fucking time in another.
posted by JHarris at 3:29 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


y2karl: "By, I am so glad I have never tried any drugs whatsoever"

Not even prescriptions? Because the second woman was caught with two prescription painkillers and threatened with felony charges unless she signed up for drug court. Terrifying, huh? It seems there's no way to win here.
posted by lesli212 at 3:32 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure there is; don't live in the South. #winning
posted by entropicamericana at 3:33 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seems the problem is not simply that this rogue judge is running her drug court inappropriately (I'd guess that the NDCP guidelines agree with us that she is), but that there is no official legal mechanism for oversight of drug courts and their judges, whether that's a local lack or universal. And until there is, there is no way to change how things are done at any drug court.

Bingo, man. My point was more: What would be the grounds for contesting this as a case of cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of constitutional rights? How would you win that argument?

There clearly are standards, as Glass alludes to. But they are standards of practice --- as Glass also elucidates, different drug courts do things differently, and there are other counties in Georgia where they take a more punitive bent that do the broad range of drug courts nationally. So I think, if you were the ACLU or somebody, to win a case that says "You can't do what Judge Williams has done because it's cruel and unusual punishment," you'd have to base your arguments not on absolutes, categories of behavior (doing X is cruel) but on degrees (doing X for Y amount of time is cruel). I think that those are inherently tough arguments to win.
posted by Diablevert at 3:40 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


By, I am so glad I have never tried any drugs whatsoever.

I only caught a part of the story and haven't found the time yet to listen to the rest, but the part I did catch told the story of a young girl "caught" with two pills of prescription pain killers that her mother had given her after dental surgery, I think it was. The daughter herself already had a prescription but hadn't had it filled yet, and she had forgotten that her mom gave her the two pills. She was in a friend's car during a traffic stop, was asked to be searched, agreed, and ended up in the drug court after being threatened with two felonies and a few years in prison.
posted by odinsdream at 3:41 PM on March 31, 2011


If judges are not elected, they presumably must be appointed. You think this will isolate the judicial system from the political system? I am not so sure.

It will isolate them to a much greater extent. It will mean that the judge is no longer a political brand, attempting to win votes by pandering. The need to be nominated and approved by an elected legislature encourages an entirely different behavior of legal authority figures, compared with those attempting to wow a disengaged electorate with stunts. It's not a cure-all, just a major improvement.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:42 PM on March 31, 2011


JHarris: I can remember one member telling me that a "miracle" happened when they prayed for someone's cut on their leg to heal, and it didn't, but it healed faster than they thought it would, and they were so joyous about His Word.

I mean, fuck. They have lost all connections with reality. They are carbon copies of Sean Hannity, extolling American values of violence and death and harsh punishment and pretending that it's Christian. And they despised me, of course, for bringing up scriptures when it was counter to their argument. The lies from their Pastor and their Reality Guides at Fox News are much more palatable.
posted by notion at 3:43 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


both rich and poor have access to adequate and timely legal representation... just saying.

Is this your entire comment, or did we miss the part that began "One thing for sure is absolutely untrue..."

How can you possibly believe that ability to pay has no bearing on the legal representation one receives in the U.S.?
posted by odinsdream at 3:51 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ignore my comment - thanks for the sarcasm warning.
posted by odinsdream at 3:53 PM on March 31, 2011


Sure there is; don't live in the South. #winning

Perhaps you should read up on New York State's corrupt courts. Idiocy like this is not limited to a geographic region. The "lolsuthners" thing is inaccurate and insulting.
posted by odinsdream at 3:57 PM on March 31, 2011 [21 favorites]


What a criminal.
posted by grobstein at 4:26 PM on March 31, 2011


Not even prescriptions?

Now, to clarify, as it were, since everything written online is written in stone, at least until the big EMP Burst in the Sky kicks us into tne New Stone Age, the remark to which that quote was written, was written in utter earnest and certainly, certainly not speaking in jest whatsoever, of course, of course, and was totally not written while high, except naturally, naturally, but, just for the record, I, too, heard the show and was properly horrified.
posted by y2karl at 4:38 PM on March 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Judges don't threaten to prosecute. Prosecutors do. So this goes beyond one horrible judge.
posted by orthogonality at 4:48 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


It will isolate them to a much greater extent. It will mean that the judge is no longer a political brand, attempting to win votes by pandering. The need to be nominated and approved by an elected legislature encourages an entirely different behavior of legal authority figures, compared with those attempting to wow a disengaged electorate with stunts. It's not a cure-all, just a major improvement.

Why wouldn't they just pander to the legislators then?

You might want to check out this paper on a study of appointed vs. elected judges. Here's part of the abstract:

Although federal judges are appointed with life tenure, most state judges are elected for short terms. Conventional wisdom holds that appointed judges are superior to elected judges because appointed judges are less vulnerable to political pressure. However, there is little empirical evidence for this view. Using a dataset of state high court opinions, we construct objective measures for three aspects of judicial performance: effort, skill and independence. The measures permit a test of the relationship between performance and the four primary methods of state high court judge selection: partisan election, non-partisan election, merit plan, and appointment. The empirical results do not show appointed judges performing at a higher level than their elected counterparts.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:50 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


A friend sent me this story but refused to explain what it was, so I was like yeah I don't need to listen to Ira Glass. I would definitely not have listened without your post; thanks!
posted by grobstein

***

I have this exact problem. I usually am really into TAL's stories and themes, but I just cringe at Ira Glass's voice. It sucks.
posted by Leta at 5:03 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a public defender. Anyone who calls himself that who is afraid to challenge judges, afraid to bring things up on appeal, and afraid to fight for their clients doesn't deserve the name. Quit and raise potatoes instead.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:29 PM on March 31, 2011 [23 favorites]


Oh, and if this is all true then this woman shouldn't merely be unseated and disbarred. Sounds like she's committed grievous human rights violations, and if so she must be made to pay for it. This is a walking example of why unqualified immunity for the judiciary is a terrible idea.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:38 PM on March 31, 2011 [16 favorites]


both rich and poor have access to adequate and timely legal representation

Then why would anyone with the means to do so bother hiring a high-powered attorney for $750/hr? If what you say is true, wouldn't it make more sense economically to just go with the public defender every time? You don't really believe this, do you?
posted by krinklyfig at 5:50 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have this exact problem. I usually am really into TAL's stories and themes, but I just cringe at Ira Glass's voice. It sucks.

A transcript is available.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:52 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


If she were prosecuted and I was her attorney I would recommend the judge plead insanity.
posted by Carbolic at 5:53 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can remember one member telling me that a "miracle" happened when they prayed for someone's cut on their leg to heal, and it didn't, but it healed faster than they thought it would, and they were so joyous about His Word.

Yeah, I can remember things like that. But it's really not specific to them. There's something heartbreaking, in that regard, with how desperate they are for any sign that there is a god up there that cares for them. I cannot bring myself to dislike them for that.

They are carbon copies of Sean Hannity, extolling American values of violence and death and harsh punishment and pretending that it's Christian.

Now that is something rather more disgusting.
posted by JHarris at 5:53 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, right, obviously public defenders aren't assigned to people who can afford an attorney, and of course plenty of public defenders do a fantastic job, but there is a reason people who can afford one will get the best attorney they can afford if it's that important.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:54 PM on March 31, 2011


Dear god, I live in Glynn County. (Fortunately for me I suppose, I don't take any kind of drug.)

Sadly, neither did one of the women in the show. She had two percocet in her purse once given to her by her mother for some ailment and she never took them. She was threatened with felony jail time if she didn't plead guilty and opt for this horrible drug court.
posted by inturnaround at 6:35 PM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


sadface @ "at least you're not in Mississippi"...
posted by nile_red at 7:04 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


y2karl: "Not even prescriptions?

Now, to clarify, as it were, since everything written online is written in stone, at least until the big EMP Burst in the Sky kicks us into tne New Stone Age, the remark to which that quote was written, was written in utter earnest and certainly, certainly not speaking in jest whatsoever, of course, of course, and was totally not written while high, except naturally, naturally, but, just for the record, I, too, heard the show and was properly horrified.
"



...like... yeah. I can dig it.


There's a, you know, EMP museum.
posted by mwhybark at 7:25 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if their public defenders would have been able to speak to a sane judge had they gone in front of a proper court instead of the drug courts.

I am currently high as hell on legitimately prescribed pain killers and am so uncomfortably horrified that it is leaving me ill.

Having relatives who are real addicts makes this all so much closer to home. Putting the label of 'addict' on anyone who takes any drug without doctors orders seems irresponsible. Not everyones addictive behaviors manifest themselves through substance abuse.
posted by tmt at 7:33 PM on March 31, 2011


By, I am so glad I have never tried any drugs whatsoever.

Sorry, "That's not mine" won't get you far in Judge Amanda Williams's courtroom, y2karl.
posted by rokusan at 7:39 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I wrong in presuming that they aren't provided representation before they appear in her court?
posted by tmt at 7:43 PM on March 31, 2011


First mention of Williams in the local paper since TAL episode aired: Judge Gets Death Threats

via Impeach Judge Williams
posted by hippybear at 7:45 PM on March 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sadly, neither did one of the women in the show.

I just want to say, I wasn't trying to come across as an insensitive prick, I fully recognize that the situation here is beyond fucked up and you don't even have to have thought about the possibility of using drugs, regardless of legality, to be affected. No need to remind me of this. Carry on.
posted by JHarris at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2011


It could be worse.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:51 PM on March 31, 2011


Hey, is everybody here on those drug guys side?
posted by telstar at 8:30 PM on March 31, 2011


No, on the side of justice. There's a difference.
posted by yesster at 8:55 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


First mention of Williams in the local paper since TAL episode aired: Judge Gets Death Threats

Our paper, ladies and gentlemen. Their comics section contains "Alley Oop" (yes, in the year 2011) and Mallard Fillmore.
posted by JHarris at 9:05 PM on March 31, 2011


I'm as outraged as anyone else and think this judge needs to be in prison, but the young women portrayed made a slew of mistakes. For example, the second girl (Brandy?) made the following errors at the onset: (1) illegally accepted and held controlled substances, (2) rode in a car being driven by a drunk person, and (3) consented to a search.
posted by neuron at 9:15 PM on March 31, 2011


I'm as outraged as anyone else and think this judge needs to be in prison, but the young women portrayed made a slew of mistakes. For example, the second girl (Brandy?) made the following errors at the onset: (1) illegally accepted and held controlled substances, (2) rode in a car being driven by a drunk person, and (3) consented to a search.

What the heck? Point 1 is based on a somewhat technical fact that the vast majority of Americans aren't aware of: simple possession of a prescription drug is generally illegal if the drug is a controlled substance and you aren't in possession of a valid prescription. Most people wouldn't possibly think they were committing a felony by carrying two pain pills that their mom gave them. How many people even know which of their drugs, if any, are controlled substances? Her mom had a prescription. For that matter, apparently the woman in question had a prescription too, but she hadn't filled it yet as she didn't have health insurance. We're not talking about someone who scored meth on the street and was selling it to her friends; we're talking about a girl who had surgery to remove pre-cancerous cells from her body and was even prescribed pain medicine by her doctor. Most Americans would be incredibly surprised to learn this offense can lead to a couple year sentence in most (all?) states. See pages 12-14 in the transcript (PDF).

Point 2 is irrelevant. Riding in a car being driven by a drunk person is a stupid thing to do certainly, and the moral thing to do would be to stop them from driving, but it's not illegal to endanger your life in this way. We also don't know that the driver was drunk; we just know that the driver was pulled over because the officer said he suspected a DUI. Maybe he was under the legal limit? Maybe the officer didn't have grounds to stop the car in the first place? The exact same situation could have happened if he was pulled over for a burnt out taillight instead.

Point 3 is also irrelevant. Again, consenting to the search was a stupid thing to do, and it's likely the officer didn't have cause to search her, a passenger in the car, without her consent, but why should she be condemned for agreeing? Did anyone ever tell her that consenting is purely voluntary? What did she think would happen if she said no? Consenting to the search was essentially a legal or tactical error on her part, but it in no way changes the facts:

* The judge certainly deserves to be thrown off the bench and quite possibly should be in prison
* Brandi's "crime" shouldn't possibly be a felony and really shouldn't be illegal at all
* It is unconscionable to leave someone sitting in jail for 6 days with no bond permitted before she can see a judge
* A $15,000 minimum bond is absolute insanity, especially given the incredibly minor nature of the alleged crime, her lack of a prior record, and zero evidence of danger to the public
* Coercing someone into drug court by telling them they can be released immediately on their own recognizance if she agrees, but will rot in jail until their trial if she refuses defeats the entire point of the drug court system and is tantamount to forcing her to sign away her rights
* In virtually every other county in Georgia, the charges would have been dismissed, or, in the worst case, she'd get probation and have her record wiped clean if she complied
* Besides this insane judge, there had to be a number of people in the DA's office, drug court staff, drug counselors, police department, and related agencies who knew what was happening here but either stayed silent or were an active part of it.
posted by zachlipton at 10:06 PM on March 31, 2011 [28 favorites]


This whole piece made me so angry. My brother recently completed drug court in a relatively rural county in AL, and I'm pretty sure it's the one thing that kept him clean for long enough to get his life together. I have my own reservations about the drug court he was in (for only 1 year), but it was pretty clear on exactly what would happen. He was required to attend AA and NA meetings that he seriously disliked initially, but I think he eventually saw the value of a support group. He was "randomly" drug screened several times a week after having to call in every morning to see if his number was called (and had to pay a surprisingly large amount per screen). He only once tested with a diluted sample. That sent him to county jail for the weekend. Beforehand, he would have told you he was more than equal to the task of doing time if he was ever caught (definitely if not when in his mind). He came out of that weekend scared to death of going back into jail. As far as I know, he's still clean almost two years after his initial arrest after being a heavy drug user for the prior 10+ years. He has the first full time job of his life, at 32.

Now that drug court definitely had some problems. The charges were still on his record during the year he was in court, so finding employment in a down economy was next to impossible. They did charge, IIRC, $50 per court-ordered random screening due at the time of the "service", which seems like a pretty hefty revenue stream if several hundred people are tested several times every week. He was expecting his record to be clean after completing the program, but instead it still shows dismissed charges. That court is relatively well-known in the area for being tougher than most, but it's nothing at all compared to the human rights abuses going on in GA.

Even with all of those problems, I think that drug court program saved my brother's life. Counseling, support groups, and drug screening back with strictly defined punishments for failure can definitely work. What that judge in GA is doing is such a perversion of a system that can definitely work, and is certainly better than solely punitive programs.
posted by This Guy at 6:09 AM on April 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think I prefer the way the system operates in the UK.

That an individual should have such power, and what we are seeing is a complete power-trip, to alter people's lives in ways that go far beyond the practices in any other area of the same country is bizarre beyond belief to me. American drama and fiction is full of examples of this, and the bottom line is the underdog wins out and injustice and tyrrany are defeated. So these are the fairy tales you tell yourselves to get over the fear that reality causes.

this is terrifying to contemplate.
posted by Wilder at 9:27 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


What that judge in GA is doing is such a perversion of a system that can definitely work, and is certainly better than solely punitive programs.

Absolutely agree, and I hope the baby doesn't get thrown out with the uh, bongwater in this case. Add some oversight and these programs could really do some good, much better than warehousing drug offenders in prisons.
posted by dust of the stars at 10:12 AM on April 1, 2011


Sometimes, Wilder, it would seem more than a little cool if you guys would take us back.
posted by MichB1 at 11:21 AM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ira Glass responds on the TAL blog to accusations from Judge Williams' attorney that his reporting was riddled with errors and libelous.

Glass's lawyers respond with a letter of their own (links directly to PDF).
posted by gladly at 6:01 PM on April 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


5-term Sheriff Wayne Bennett, whose refusal to disclose information even after Glass had obtained a notarized release was mentioned in the story, has indicated that he won't run again, and may leave office early.
posted by jon1270 at 3:10 AM on April 16, 2011


I really hope the judge's response Streisand Effects this whole situation. Her lawyer's (I think?) response is so oddly winding and convoluted, especially compared to Glass'.

Was there any type of lawsuit actually filed, or was it just a letter and press release? I guess the letter states that the judge is "contemplating how to proceed" so it sounds like she's not completely sure she has an actual case?
posted by This Guy at 5:44 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Glass's lawyers respond with a letter of their own (links directly to PDF).

Wow. That is an awesome letter. Expensive, for sure, but awesome.
posted by odinsdream at 6:00 AM on April 19, 2011


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