5 Judges Who Will Erode Your Faith in the System
Most jurists warrant our respect. Then there are those who shake public trust.
Judge E. Curtissa R. Cofield
District Superior Court, New Britain, Connecticut
In November 2011, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) came to Judge E. Curtissa R. Cofield with a fairly standard petition asking her to hear and decide the case of a mistreated boy named Brandon. DCF wanted to terminate parental rights, get him out of foster care, and find him a permanent home. To avoid subjecting children to the stress of drawn-out legal proceedings, state law decrees that such placements must be made within 120 days. However, it took five months for Cofield to hear Brandon’s case, and afterward, she failed to issue a decision. Nine more months elapsed with no word from the judge, as the boy languished in foster care.
By this point, DCF had found that Cofield had delayed action on nine other child-welfare cases, so it asked the state attorney general to intervene. Only after the Connecticut Supreme Court put additional pressure on Cofield did she make a decision on Brandon’s case—16 months after DCF’s initial petition. Following an investigation, the Connecticut Judicial Review Council suspended Cofield in July 2013 for 30 days without pay for “neglectfully and incompetently performing her duties as a judge.”
This suspension also gave her the dubious distinction of being Connecticut’s most disciplined judge: In 2009, she was suspended for eight months without pay after being arrested for DUI. During the incident, Cofield threatened the officers and referred to one of them with a racial epithet.
The judge has yet to provide an adequate public explanation for her inaction. She could not be reached for comment; her term expires at the end of 2015.
The Wrist Slapper
Judge Kurt Eisgruber
Superior Court, Marion County, Indianapolis, Indiana
In fall 2008, Mandy Boardman made a horrifying discovery on the cell phone of her husband, David Wise: She found videos showing that he had repeatedly drugged her and raped her while she was unconscious. Boardman filed for divorce, and the couple officially split in 2009. Two years later, she went to the police with a copy of the cell phone videos. (She said she hadn’t done so earlier because she didn’t want their two children to grow up without a father.)
Wise was arrested, and after a two-day trial in April 2014, he was found guilty on one count of rape and six counts of criminal deviate conduct—all felonies and each punishable by six to 20 years in prison. But before Judge Kurt Eisgruber announced his sentencing decision, he wanted to make some remarks.
As Boardman recalls, he turned to her and said, “Was Mr. Wise a bad husband? Yes. Does he deserve to go to jail for being a bad husband? I don’t think so.” Eisgruber proceeded to lecture her about the importance of forgiving her ex and moving on, and then he delivered his sentence: eight years of home detention, which Wise would serve while wearing a GPS tracking device round the clock. Wise, a convicted rapist, would not serve a single day behind bars.
“It was a slap in my face,” Boardman says. “[He] committed the same crime over and over again. If he did that to somebody who lived and slept with him, he could do it to anybody. Does it make it better that he was my husband? Something tells me if he had done it to a stranger, he wouldn’t have been put on ‘staycation.’ ”
Ultimately, though, Boardman did receive some justice. In July, after Wise violated the terms of his detention—by letting the battery expire on his GPS device and by not returning his correction officer’s calls—Eisgruber decided to send him to prison for five years. The judge, who ran for election unopposed this fall, will be on the bench through 2020.
Judge Aubrey Rimes
Pike County Justice Court, Magnolia, Mississippi
It all started with a flat tire. That’s why highway patrolmen in Pike County, Mississippi, stopped to talk to California truck driver Jagjeet Singh after he had pulled over to the side of the road in January 2013. Singh is a devout Sikh, and like other male followers of his religion, he always wears a dastaar (a turban-like head wrap) and a kirpan (a sheathed ceremonial dagger).
The troopers ordered Singh to remove the kirpan, but he explained that it was a legal religious object (which is correct). The officers were insistent: Remove it or face arrest. Singh opted for arrest and was booked for “failure to obey lawful command.” He bailed himself out after promising to return to Mississippi for his arraignment.
Singh hired attorney LeeAnn Slipher and decided to plead guilty. On the morning of Singh’s hearing in March, Slipher approached Judge Aubrey Rimes in his chambers to ask if Singh’s case could be heard earlier in the day due to her schedule. In response, Slipher says Rimes peered at her over his glasses and said, “He’s not going to be heard in my court until he takes that rag off his head.” Stunned at his comment, the lawyer left and went to the courtroom to speak to Singh. When she arrived, she found troopers ejecting her client. Singh and Slipher waited until all the other cases had been handled before reentering the courtroom. Rimes heard Singh’s case, and the trucker was fined $750 for disobeying the troopers’ orders in January 2013.
After the incident became public, the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into the Pike County court, which subsequently amended its nondiscrimination policies. Rimes has not been disciplined, and he declined to comment for this story. His term will expire at the end of 2015.
The Victim Blamer
Judge Jeanine Howard
Criminal District Court No. 6, Dallas, Texas
Contrary to his name, Dallas high school student Sir Young was anything but a gentleman. In 2011, the 18-year-old raped a teenage girl at the school they both attended. The girl’s family notified police, Young was arrested, and in 2013, he came before Judge Jeanine Howard in his criminal trial. He pleaded guilty, admitting that the girl had repeatedly told him “No” and “Stop,” and the prosecutor pushed for a five-year prison sentence. Young, who had another rape case pending (brought by another classmate), was sentenced by Howard to only 45 days in jail, followed by five years of probation and 250 hours of community service—at the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.
When Bobbie Villareal, the center’s executive director, heard that the judge had ordered a convicted rapist to volunteer there, she was livid. “We’re a safe place for victims,” she says. “It’s like telling a pedophile to go work in a day care.”
Howard changed Young’s community service order, but in a newspaper interview, she defended her original sentence. The victim, she said, “is not the victim she claims to be,” nor is Young “your typical sex offender.” She based her reasoning in part on her understanding that the girl had had three prior sexual partners and had already given birth. (The girl’s family adamantly denies both of the claims.)
Not only were Howard’s remarks distasteful, but they also may have been illegal. In Texas, as in many other states, “rape shield laws” prohibit a rape victim’s sexual history from being considered as evidence. If Howard gave Young a short jail sentence and probation because she thought the girl was promiscuous, she might have done so in violation of the law.
The victim’s mother has reportedly filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct; the trial for Young’s next rape case is scheduled to start this month. Meanwhile, Howard is running for reelection this fall—unopposed.
Judge Jean Hudson Boyd
323rd District Court, Tarrant County, Texas
Ethan Couch, the son of a wealthy businessman, bookended the night of June 15, 2013, by participating in two crimes. For the first, his friends lifted three cases of beer from a Walmart, while the 16-year-old Couch waited, and then the boys drove to the Couch family mansion in Burleson, Texas, to drink the beer. His second crime occurred a few hours later, after he and seven friends decided to go for a ride. Couch got behind the wheel of his father’s pickup truck, while some of his buddies squeezed into the cab and the rest piled into the truck bed.
Traveling on the same road as Couch was Breanna Mitchell, 24. Her car had broken down on the shoulder, and three people—a youth pastor and a mother and her grown daughter—had come to offer help. The Good Samaritans were standing with Mitchell near her vehicle when Couch, hurtling along at approximately 70 mph in a 40 mph zone, plowed into them. All four were killed, and two of Couch’s friends who’d been in the truck bed—Sergio Molina and Soliman Mohmand—were seriously injured. Amid the carnage, according to notes later shared at trial, the teenager said to one of his friends, “I’m Ethan Couch. I’ll get you out of this.”
Six months later, Couch came before Judge Jean Hudson Boyd in juvenile court. During the trial, Boyd heard the victims’ distraught loved ones describe finding their body parts scattered on the road. She listened to testimony from the bereft family of 15-year-old Molina, who was paralyzed and communicated only by blinking. Although Couch pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter, he did not express remorse. Prosecutors recommended 20 years of prison. And after all of this? Boyd sentenced Couch to ten years’ probation (during which he can’t drive or consume alcohol) and to treatment in a rehabilitation facility.
Her decision aroused ire, much of it focused on the testimony of an expert witness, psychologist Gary Miller. Arguing for the defense in sentencing hearings, Miller contended that Couch’s parents had spoiled him and had not taught him the difference between right and wrong, so the teen suffered from “affluenza,” a wealth-induced inability to attach consequences to one’s actions.
Did this influence Boyd? She is legally barred from commenting on the case, and the hearings were closed to the public, so we may never know. But if Couch is afflicted with affluenza, the judge’s sentence seems unlikely to cure it. Boyd, who is not seeking reelection, remains on the bench through the end of the year.