Judge Belvin Perry appears to believe that, as Oscar Wilde advised, “the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Perry decided to get his 15 minutes of fame by granting an interview on the Casey Anthony murder trial during which he attacked Anthony as “very manipulative.” I will remind you that Anthony was acquitted of the first-degree murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. There are also judicial ethical rules meant to bar such commentary by judges. The question is whether the state bar will take action after this grossly inappropriate interview. Perry is the chief judge on Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit.
Perry assumed the mantle of both legal commentator and armchair psychologist in dishing on Anthony. He explained on the Today show that “[t]here were two sides to Casey Anthony. There was the side that was before the jury, where she portrayed the role of a mother who had lost a child, someone who was wrongfully accused, and then you could notice the change and transformation in her when the jury went out. She was very commanding, she took charge of different things, and you could see her sometimes scolding her attorneys.”
He then proceeds to describe meeting with her counsel and non-public conversations with her and counsel. He relayed how Anthony reacted to an offer for a plea of aggravated manslaughter: “I will never forget that day,” he said. “All of a sudden, you heard shouting coming from the holding cell, some four-letter words coming from the holding cell, and she was quite upset. So upset that one counselor suggested that she was incompetent to proceed.”
Perry further tells the public of his “surprise,” “shock” and “disbelief” at reading Anthony’s acquittal and that “[t]here was sufficient evidence to sustain a verdict of murder in the first degree in this case.” In other words, despite her acquittal, Perry wants the public to know that he thinks she murdered her daughter.
He also described the prosecutors as “better lawyers” and, in a backhanded compliment, described the lead defense counsel as a used car salesman.
I view this interview as nothing short of a disgrace. His conduct in my view clearly violates Canon 2 of the state judicial rules that state: “A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” The comments to the rule note:
Irresponsible or improper conduct by judges erodes public confidence in the judiciary. A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. A judge must therefore accept restrictions on the judge’s conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.
There was no evidence of any concern about the erosion of public confidence in the judiciary as Perry decided to proclaim the guilt of an acquitted individual and dish on the lawyers.
Canon 5 states:
A Judge Shall Regulate Extrajudicial Activities to Minimize the Risk of Conflict With Judicial Duties
A. Extrajudicial Activities in General. A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they do not:
(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge;
(2) undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality;
(3) demean the judicial office;
(4) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties;
(5) lead to frequent disqualification of the judge; or
(6) appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.
The rules only expressly address public comments during a trial or appeal that can undermine a case. However, these other rules clearly state that a judge, let alone the Chief Judge, must conduct themselves in a way that does not undermine the court as an institution. It is hard to imagine a more harmful act than joining the mob in proclaiming the guilt of an acquitted person and mocking her and her lawyer. Perry should be required to answer for this abuse before the bar. Otherwise, his example is likely to be followed by other judges eager to throw off the yoke of impartiality and professionalism.
Kudos: Bert Geiseman