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very tough love
November 10, 2011 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Many listeners have written to us since our episode about Georgia Judge Amanda Williams, asking what ever happened to her. Did she face any consequences for the things we documented on our program? Yesterday, Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission filed formal charges [PDF] against her. The twelve counts include a number of things reported in our episode: sending away inmates for indefinite detention, jailing Charlie McCullough for 14 days for exercising his right to contest a drug screen, and using “rude, abusive, or insulting language” with individuals appearing before her. Local reporting from the Altanta Journal-Constitution. Previously.
posted by gerryblog (43 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is good news for justice; just sad that it took so long.
posted by awesomebrad at 8:11 AM on November 10, 2011


I'm personally amazed that the show had this kind of impact; I can only imagine what journalism prizes they'll win for this.
posted by gerryblog at 8:13 AM on November 10, 2011


I can think of fitting punishments assuming she is found guilty.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:13 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


...And sad that it takes the attention of a national radio program to expose this sort of thing.
posted by condour75 at 8:15 AM on November 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


She'll resign.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:15 AM on November 10, 2011


I'm glad something came of it. I listened to that episode twice because I just couldn't believe what I was hearing
posted by sio42 at 8:18 AM on November 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Glad to hear that, I listened to that episode and was pretty shocked.
posted by ghharr at 8:19 AM on November 10, 2011


Are these purely administrative charges (the worst that happens is she's fired) or is there the potential for criminal sanctions? I'm disappointed but unsurprised if the response to rampaging over defendant's rights with serious consequences was just losing a job. Where's all the talk of deterrence and sending a message when it comes to self-policing?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:20 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's wrong of me, as a citizen, to want Amanda Williams and William Adams to be permanently disbarred and never again be allowed to be anything other than defendants within the judicial system.

IANAL, but I'd like to see them both charged with something. Personally, I hope karma completely fucks up their lives.
posted by Leta at 8:21 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems people with "William" in either their first or last names just shouldn't be judges.
posted by kmz at 8:23 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


sending away inmates for indefinite detention

How does that happen? It's not like the judge him/herself is actually detaining the inmate. They have to give orders. And the person on the receiving end of that looks at the empty "end date" field and thinks "yup, that looks completely legal!" and does it?
posted by DU at 8:27 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the best and most depressing hours of radio I've heard...but one I think more people should listen to. Journalism at its finest.
posted by inturnaround at 8:29 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


How does that happen? It's not like the judge him/herself is actually detaining the inmate. They have to give orders. And the person on the receiving end of that looks at the empty "end date" field and thinks "yup, that looks completely legal!" and does it?

I would guess that's exactly how it happens.
posted by JimBennett at 8:45 AM on November 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm in her district. The only succor I can take from her existence is that I am the opposite of drugs, which works so far as no one pins a bad rap on me I guess. I'm glad she's heading towards the door.

BTW, if memory serves our atrocious local paper The Brunswick News, after This American Life aired that one, their chief angle was: look at this radio show attacking one of our own.
posted by JHarris at 8:50 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


She'll resign.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:15 AM on November 10 [+] [!]


I thought so too, but then I saw in the first link that typically the judge is given the opportunity to resign before the charges become public. If she was given the chance to resign but did not, maybe she's going to try to fight this. (Which, in my opinion, is a bizarre choice, but hey, what do I know.)
posted by slmorri at 8:51 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


While thinking about This American Life's expository nature, today might be a good day to re-listen to #1 Party School, and think about the elements of Penn State culture that seem to allow for riots at the drop of a hat.
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:53 AM on November 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Are these purely administrative charges (the worst that happens is she's fired) or is there the potential for criminal sanctions?

The former, though it's entirely possible that this won't be the end of it. This is a proceeding by the Judicial Qualifications Commission to recommend to the Georgia Supreme Court about whether sanctions should be imposed. Said sanctions can run up to dismissal from the bench, and if even half of these are proved, that's likely what will happen (if she doesn't just resign).

But that's not likely to be the end of it. Williams is presumably an attorney--the vast majority of judges are--and most judges go back into private practice once they leave the bench for whatever reason. If the charges are proved, it's entirely possible that the State Bar of Georgia will also initiate an investigation to see whether her license to practice should also be suspended or revoked. Most state bars are pretty reluctant to impose disciplinary sanctions on their colleagues, but when someone really steps out of line like this, they're usually pretty quick to kick the bums out. Do a hack job representing a client? Probably a slap on the wrist, as all attorneys live in fear that they'll screw something up one day. Filming sex with a client's wife as payment for legal services? That's a suspension.* As this goes directly towards her ability to practice law objectively and in good faith, not to mention the fact that she's making everybody look bad, I can see the Bar trying to get her license revoked.

Still, there are very unlikely to be any criminal sanctions for this. Public officials are largely immune from prosecution for discretionary actions they take in their official capacity unless there has been a specific violation of the law, e.g. accepting bribes or violating civil rights statutes. They may go after her for the nepotism bit, but they may not, if she had full discretion in appointments and hiring. And no one's suggesting that she was actually corrupt, just a terrible, terrible judge. But it's almost axiomatic that you can't sue a judge for making a bad ruling, even committing flagrantly reversible error.

This probably is the right result, as we don't want judges to be afraid to hand down harsh penalties for crimes or to award large judgments for significant torts.

*Not an expulsion, as that's normally limited to behavior that directly implicates one's practice, like stealing client funds.
posted by valkyryn at 8:54 AM on November 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thank god. My mouth was agape the whole episode. Unfortunately there are a lot of judges like this, but I'll take one going down over none going down.
posted by dig_duggler at 9:01 AM on November 10, 2011


Don't state bar associations have good character requirements? Why can't people like this (and Adams from Texas) be disbarred?
posted by spitbull at 9:01 AM on November 10, 2011


It seems people with "William" in either their first or last names just shouldn't be judges.

Oh, I don't know about that.
posted by Gelatin at 9:03 AM on November 10, 2011


Good going Georgia. Way to counteract a stereotype.

spitbull: My understanding, at least WRT California, is that the moral character stuff is only conducted when passing the bar. There's no annual renewal or anything (obvs ;).
posted by rhizome at 9:04 AM on November 10, 2011


Who judges the judges etc.
posted by lalochezia at 9:13 AM on November 10, 2011


This is excellent news. Hope it comes to something resembling justice.
posted by wowbobwow at 9:40 AM on November 10, 2011


Yeah, I was shocked by that episode too. Especially since Judge Williams SEEMED to believe she was just helping, which was kind of astonishing, because to the listener it sounded like she was acting out of spite she didn't even recognize she had.

I like the new investigative direction This American Life has taken recently! They did a great show about patent trolls recently, a segment about Egypt rebuilding... They've been putting out really interesting thought-provoking stuff.
posted by Cygnet at 10:05 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank goodness for This American Life. It does such good journalism, without seemingly like its doing journalism a lot of the time. One of the few media productions that is truly relevant.

This summer's episode about how messed up patent law is was beautiful for listening to reps from Intellectual Ventures, the patent troll of the episode, try to hand feed the reporter a story, thinking they were doing a standard media puff piece. Then TAL turned around and used the lead the company had given them to ferret out all the companies lies.

Sorry for the derail.
posted by dry white toast at 10:35 AM on November 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


One more thing: If you want to see more of this, think about donating to the show.

I promise I don't work for them.
posted by dry white toast at 10:39 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sure, but there are limits. We also have an interest in public officials not vastly overstepping their powers, like denying individuals access to their lawyer and medical care. "I didn't know I couldn't do that" only goes so far. That there is zero risk associated with abusing authority from within makes it attractive. The only thing saving it for me is that it's not obvious how she derived benefit other than just getting off on it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:40 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank goodness for This American Life. It does such good journalism, without seemingly like its doing journalism a lot of the time. One of the few media productions that is truly relevant.

que spittle-flecked, bitter rant:

Well, don't let anyone in the contemporary news media hear you call it journalism. TAL is known to state that some things are objective facts, be honest about their personal positions, contextualize stories, and reach conclusions. Proper modern journalism requires A said, B said equivalence and a slavish adherence to the view from nowhere.

Why, those heathens at TAL might even allow an employee to hold up a sign that says fraudulent behavior is wrong and still keep their job. Imagine, taking a position on economic misdeeds! Those people cannot be journalists.
posted by phearlez at 10:56 AM on November 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


How is indefinite detention legal under the Constitution?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:57 AM on November 10, 2011


On another occasion, when a drug court defendant used the term “baby momma,” Williams ordered that man “be summarily jailed,” the complaint said.

Uh, well, that's not so bad. I kind of like that idea. *cough*

I remember hearing that TAL episode. I wasn't shocked. Judges have unreasonable power in the system with the understanding that they are not going to abuse it. It's sensible to assume that there are going to be abusers. The question then is how to remove them. The problem is that the process of appointing and removing judges is heavily politicized (just look at the federal courts, I'm sure state courts are little different). She's "tough on crime" so she gets a lot of support from the ascendant right wing in Georgia. The political aspect has until now trumped the fact of her ludicrous behavior.
posted by zomg at 11:13 AM on November 10, 2011


How is indefinite detention legal under the Constitution?

Who said it was? But the mere fact that a judge hands down a sentence which winds up being illegal doesn't let you sue the judge.

Don't state bar associations have good character requirements?

Yes.

Why can't people like this (and Adams from Texas) be disbarred?

They can. Jack Thompson was disbarred in 2008 for basically just being a professional asshole. Williams seems a good candidate too, but she hasn't actually insulted the Georgia Supreme Court to its face, which is what Thompson did and probably what fast-tracked his disbarment.
posted by valkyryn at 11:51 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


So now this bad apple is out of the way we can go back to the regularly scheduled program we lovingly call the American Justice System. Bravo everyone.
posted by victors at 11:59 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Boyeeeee, I am so glad I have never tried any drugs whatsoever.
posted by y2karl at 12:20 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


She needs some "tough love": Disbarrment and 20 years in prison. Not even kidding. Abuse of power must be taken very seriously.
posted by LordSludge at 1:33 PM on November 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Next: Judge Judy.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:55 PM on November 10, 2011


I'm really happy to hear that there might be some consequences for her actions. But what does it say about me that I am honestly surprised that this story ever went anywhere?

Sure, it was disturbing to listen to, but when I first heard it, I couldnt help thinking, "Isnt this the kind of Judge conservatives would just love? She's headed for congress, maybe even Fox news."

I really dont expect any consequences for any public offical anymore, for anything they do, ever.

Hope she gets everything shes got coming to her, though.
posted by silkyd at 2:38 PM on November 10, 2011


She needs some "tough love": Disbarrment and 20 years in prison.

I read this as 'dismemberment', and was surprisingly OK with that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:44 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


sending away inmates for indefinite detention

How does that happen? It's not like the judge him/herself is actually detaining the inmate. They have to give orders. And the person on the receiving end of that looks at the empty "end date" field and thinks "yup, that looks completely legal!" and does it?
posted by DU at 8:27 AM on November 10 [+] [!]


IANAL, and I have no idea what the situation might be in the US, but I have taught media/comm law subjects in Australia, and one of the things my students were warned about is that judges here can summarily imprison someone, technically indefinitely, for contempt of court. Of course if someone was being held indefinitely on contempt of court charges I imagine that after a while there would be some kind of legal or PR challenge on their behalf.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 3:58 PM on November 10, 2011


Excellent news. I remember when this program first aired that TAL posted a link to a letter from the Judge's lawyer, which I assume will be some of the basis for her defense. It makes for some interesting reading [pdf].
posted by smithsmith at 6:18 PM on November 10, 2011


Thanks, smithsmith. That letter is kind of hilarious to read now with the charges being filed.

I hope she gets everything coming to her, but doubt she does.
posted by dig_duggler at 7:02 AM on November 11, 2011


Thanks for the update, unfortunately I expect she'll resign and quietly slope off.
posted by arcticseal at 7:52 AM on November 11, 2011


The only thing saving it for me is that it's not obvious how she derived benefit other than just getting off on it.

Uh huh, let's use that rubric for Jerry Sandusky. And yes, I'm making the comparison.
posted by rhizome at 10:18 AM on November 11, 2011


I remember when this program first aired that TAL posted a link to a letter from the Judge's lawyer, which I assume will be some of the basis for her defense. It makes for some interesting reading.

Would you look at that? It looks very much like Williams' lawyer was trying to intimidate Ira Glass. What obnoxious assholes, trying to spread our very peculiar Brunswick, GA idiocy out over some of the best journalism taking place in the U.S. today! I hope they throw the book at her.
posted by JHarris at 1:11 AM on November 12, 2011


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