Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley (left) wants Judge Raymond G. Dougan Jr. (right) removed from criminal cases. Dougan is not being accused of being a drunk, pill-popper, or mentally incompetent. His offense is being too pro-defendant in criminal cases for the tastes of Conley. This appears to becoming a trend of prosecutors seeking to remove judges or boycott (or in one case, arrest a judge) who rule too often against the prosecutors or police.
There is no question that Dougan is known for giving light sentences and second-chances in criminal cases. In some of the cases discussed in the article below, I agree with the prosecutors and police on the need for jail time. However, as with many criminal defense attorneys, I have been in front of some judges who blindly rule with the prosecutors and barely want to listen to arguments from the defense. No one ever suggests that such pro-prosecution judges should be barred from hearing cases. Prosecutors are much more likely for political reasons to be made judges than are defense attorneys. This gives the bench in many states a heavy pro-prosecution bent. That never seems to be a problem and, if defense attorneys ever launched this type of campaign, it would be viewed as outrageous.
Conley is asking the Supreme Judicial Court to bar Dougan from hearing cases involving the Suffolk district attorney. He has also filed a complaint against Dougan with the Judicial Conduct Commission. However, Chief Justice Charles R. Johnson insists that Dougan is “one of the hardest-working and most conscientious judges in the judiciary.’’
Dougan has been criticized by the appellate court for some of his decisions and police and prosecutors refer to him as “Judge Let Me Go.” He may be far too lenient in some cases just as some judges are far too harsh. Ironically, many judges relish the title “hanging judge” and run on their harsh treatment of defendants.
However, it is alarming to see these cases in various states. If a trend, it would be a serious threat to the independence and integrity of our court system. Prosecutors are used to winning an overwhelming percentage of cases. Defense attorneys often complain that prosecutors need to just show up to win most cases and that harsh sentencing laws often force guilty pleas from defendants who would otherwise want to go to trial. The appearance of various district attorneys demanding the recusal of judges sends an obvious chilling message to judges that, if they want to seek higher courts, they better think hard before ruling against prosecutors. The message appears to be that you can never be too harsh in sentencing, but lenient sentencing can be a career ender.
I am surprised that the American Bar Association has not gotten involved in this matter, though criminal defense attorneys have never viewed the ABA as particularly assertive in the protection of defendant rights. The state bar, however, should be heard in these cases to bring some perspective and balance to the debate.