As many of you likely heard, in Ohio last week a Franklin County judge came under fire for his treatment of rape victims.
A quick summation from the ‘Spatch:
Common Pleas Judge Tim Horton(DJ ed note: and Democrat) recently ordered two victims to appear in court, in front of their attackers, because he said he wanted to make sure that everyone understood the plea deals that had been worked out by attorneys.
One of the victims, a 13-year-old boy, eventually was allowed to give a written statement through his mother.
But in the other case, a young woman began to break down on the witness stand, and Horton, who has been a judge for three years, scolded her.
Burgherbuck, a first-time contributor to 3BP and a dedicated trial lawyer, gives us his perspective on the scandal:
The Honorable Tim Horton, after reading your recent fiascos while on the bench, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a couple of books that you need to read before you ever sit on another rape case. The first one is “The Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure” and the other one is “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
See, in Ohio, and I presume in most states, when the State and the defendant work out a plea deal, the victim doesn’t need to make a statement. They can if they want to, but it is not required. Why you ask? Well, the state has these things called “prosecutors”. Among the many duties a prosecutor has is to discuss the ramifications of plea deals in any particular case with the victim. When a victim is informed by the prosecutor what will happen in a rape trial a common thing occurs: victims don’t feel like getting hammered by defense attorneys and having to retell their horrible ordeal before twelve strangers in excruciating detail in the same room as the person who committed the violent act. So, many times the victim/witness tells the prosecutor to offer a plea to the defendant. That’s the normal and very common course of events. The victim agrees, the defendant agrees, the sentence is imposed. Everyone is informed of what is going on. The lawyers hammer out the details and the judge is free to accept or reject the plea. What doesn’t happen is a judge forcing a victim to make a statement before the court and the defendant so that the court can hear that the VICTIM understands the plea deal that was reached. That’s bad enough, but you took it one step further didn’t you? You actually told an obviously distraught 19 year old rape victim that you forced onto the witness stand that you were going to rip up the plea deal and let her attacker go free unless she “gathered herself” and inform the court that she understood the above mentioned plea.
That’s pretty bad. Maybe that could be overlooked by someone, I don’t know. However, you also made a 13 year old boy do the same thing. Fortunately, you allowed the boy to have his statement written down and recited to you by his mother, again, in front of the attacker.
Your excuses for these actions were twofold. First was that you were not sure that the victim was content with the procedure [plea deal]. I figured that a judge would know this, but ultimately, the defendant is the person who has to understand the procedure and the plea deal, not the victim. Even if you have doubts that the victim didn’t fully understand the plea deal, you ask the prosecutor if the victim understands, you don’t threaten the victim with setting the attacker free. Your second excuse was that you were “evolving as a judge.” There are two problems with that. One is that you excuse your performance on a lack of familiarity as though one needs judicial experience to obtain the basic elements of human compassion. Two, maybe you shouldn’t have put your name on the ballot until you understood the basic elements of criminal procedure rather than treat the bench as an on-the-job-training opportunity. I don’t think that either one of those is too much to ask from a judge.
I think it’s safe to say Judge Horton may want to take a pass when it comes time to run for re-election.