Judges often have to deal with hard cases, including some who literally have nothing to lose in disrupting a courtroom. Most judges will have such defendants removed, but Floyd County Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham in Rome, Georgia appeared to be intent on trying to out crazy the craziest guy in the room. In this case, the guy was Denver Allen and he unleashed a tirade at Durham who proceeded to join him in trashing talking. This led ultimately to Judge Durham daring Allen to masturbate in his courtroom. It should also lead to Durham’s discipline and likely removal for conduct that violates the basic tenets of judicial ethics.
The hearing began with Allen insisting that he wanted out of the courtroom and did not care about what was going to happen to him. Durham proceeds to escalate sentencing for contempt until he reaches a year in contempt. Since Allen is facing a murder charge for allegedly beating another man to death in a county jail last August, he clearly is unimpressed:
What is incredible is that Durham follows this profane, unhinged defendant into a vulgar daring contest that would make more high school bullies blush:
The result is a core violation of judicial ethics. The preamble of the ethics code states:
 Every judge should strive to maintain the dignity appropriate to the judicial office. The judge is an arbiter of facts and law for the resolution of disputes and a highly visible symbol of government under the rule of law. Judges should avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives. They should at all times exhibit behavior that ensures the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality, integrity, and competence. As a result, judges should be held to a higher standard, and should conduct themselves with the dignity accorded their esteemed position.
Indeed, this conduct violates almost every basic judicial ethical rule of conduct including:
Rule 2.3 Bias, Prejudice, and Harassment
(A) Judges shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice.
(B) A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment, including but not limited to bias, prejudice, or harassment based upon age, disability, ethnicity, gender or sex, marital status, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Judges shall not permit court staff, court officials, or others subject to the judge’s direction and control to do so.
(C) Judges shall require lawyers in proceedings before the court to refrain from manifesting bias or prejudice, or engaging in harassment, based upon attributes including, but not limited to, age, disability, ethnicity, gender or sex, marital status, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, against parties, witnesses, lawyers, or others.
What is incredible is that, in the end, Allen may have succeeded in destroying the career of this judge. Where Durham succeeds in shocking Allen into virtual silence, he does so by adopting his own behavior. The problem is that Durham is not a crazy murder suspect but a judge representing the Georgia judiciary and legal system.
Durham received his undergraduate from the Mercer University and his J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law. He previously served as a municipal judge for the city of Rome, Georgia, and a Floyd County administrator. He was appointed by Governor Sonny Perdue in 2003 and then ran unopposed for re-election to the Rome Superior Court.
Kudos: Professor Roger Schechter