I took a stroll today through OC’s main courthouse in downtown Santa Ana in hopes of taking the real temperature of the firestorm that erupted after Judge Marc Kelly violated California law and refused to sentence a convicted sex offender to the mandatory minimum sentence set by the California legislature for such heinous crimes. The best place for this extemporaneous polling seemed to be in the court’s cafeteria, where lawyers, prosecutors, litigants, and others congregate throughout the day.
Stacking the facts of a 20-year-old sodomizing a 3-year-old with enough violence to tear her anus and require hospitalization against Kelly’s bizarre justifications for leniency has stirred folks from Orange County to Chicago to call for his ouster. But what do the locals who work in the criminal justice system think?
Not surprisingly the reaction to his decision broke along party lines. Prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates were outraged, stunned, and demanded appeals. Criminal defense lawyers praised his courage to do what he thought was the right thing to do. Natch.
When I asked them all “how is Judge Kelly on the bench,” things changed. Defense attorneys and prosecutors alike frowned or winced and shook their heads. One told me Judge Kelly is the second or third most reviled judge on the OC bench for his demeanor. (The Most Reviled was named several times, but that’s another blog for another day.) According to several lawyers, Kelly is an equal-opportunity abuser for defense lawyers and prosecutors alike. Their descriptions were littered with words like snide, condescending, sarcastic and dismissive. When I challenged them with what was a glowing puff piece on Judge Kelly in California’s premiere legal newspaper “The Daily Journal,” many of them said simply and in essence: “Don’t be naïve. He’s an asshole but no one will say that and include their name.”
And I learned more about Judge Kelly – including his idiosyncratic fawning over jurors in his courtroom. As Kelly himself described it in that same Daily Journal article, he likes to play trivia games with the jurors, asking them silly questions that lighten the mood and reduce the solemn formality of the proceedings. Several attorneys took a different view, pointing out that jurors who answer the questions correctly are typically rewarded with cheap prizes, which are usually flung into the jury box by Judge Kelly himself from the bench. Making jurors more comfortable is one thing, but playing a game of Jeopardy at the outset of a murder case or child rape case seems frivolous, and likely to trivialize the proceedings. What’s more, if jurors don’t choose to play or get wrong answers… to what extent does this demean or humiliate their juror experience?
And sometimes the game gets mean spirited. More than one lawyer recounted the story that in one case, Judge Kelly addressed an obviously genetically and abnormally small person and asked: “Can you name the seven dwarves?”
But keep it on the QT!
Editor’s Note – Judge Kelly sentenced a retired CHP Lieutenant to probation after the bad cop was nabbed in a child molestor sting, according to the OC Weekly.
An online petition has been launched calling for an apology from Kelly and asking officials to appeal the case.