If I learned one thing from an old Law & Order SVU episode I watched last night, it’s that judges (especially those played by Tom Skerritt) do not like taking the stand. They prefer to be in control, not on the hot seat.
But after a mistrial was declared last year against a blogger Harold “Hal” Turner (pictured), who is charged with making death threats against 7th Circuit justices Richard Posner, William Bauer and Fank Easterbrook after they upheld a gun ban in Chicago, the prosecutors decided they wanted the justices to take the stand in round two.
(Coincidentally, the gun ban at issue, McDonald v. Chicago — and the appeal of the 7th Circuit ruling — was argued at the Supreme Court yesterday.)
A.G. Sulzberger of The New York Times set the scene: His words barely filling the room, the witness timidly held his hand aloft to be sworn in.
Perhaps it was because the man accused of threatening to kill him was sitting just a short distance away in the courtroom. Or perhaps, as the questioning soon suggested, this particular appearance in court was simply an uncomfortable role reversal.
“How are you employed?” a lawyer asked.
“I’m a United States circuit judge.”
Turner said on his blog in June that “these judges deserve to be killed” and that, “If they are allowed to get away with this by surviving, other judges will act the same way.”
Referring to those words, Posner testified that, “It’s obviously a threat.”
For his part, Easterbrook said he took the threat seriously because of other recent violence against federal judges and also took the time to provide a smack down to one of Turner’s attorneys, Micahel Orozco, who asked if the Supreme Court overturned the 7th Circuit’s McDonald, “doesn’t that make Hal Turner correct?”
“This blog post says any judge who decides a case incorrectly is supposed to be assassinated. That is not the way the system works,” Easterbrook responded.
Even from the stand, judges can give a lesson on inadvisable questioning.
Read Sulzerberger’s full report, which includes a description of how many people stopped by to celebrity judge-spot, here.
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