by John Settle
I have always taken the position that public officials are just that — persons paid with public dollars who owe a responsibility to those that pay them, i.e. John Q. Public. As a part of the decision to run for a public office, those individuals must accept the reality that their actions and inactions are subject to public review — be that praise or criticism.
Unfortunately, some judges believe that they are exempt from public examinations and that the right of free speech does not apply to them. Thus, any public comments about their credentials or their actions are totally off limits, not tolerated and summarily discounted if not punished.
Apparently, this belief is the attitude of Caddo District Court Mike Pitman, the husband of Caddo District Judge Francis Pitman. After Judge Francis began her campaign for the Second Circuit, I wrote a column about the candidates that was not received well by the Pitman campaign.
The court house crowd, in large part, agreed with the content of the column; many warned me that I was playing with fire because I regularly appeared before Judge Mike representing criminal clients. On Thursday (November 15, 2012) Judge Mike lowered the boom, big time, on yours truly. Called back into his courtroom after consulting with a bailiff, Judge Mike commenced a long winded diatribe that included his conclusion that “I think something is wrong with you.”
This blistering admonishment was made in open court — in the presence of approximately 20 citizens in the audience, attorneys and court personnel. The tongue lashing ended with Judge Mike declaring that he would recuse himself from all pending criminal cases with clients I represented.
Judge Mike recited an incident from Judge Francis’ campaign some four years in the past as one of his reasons for his actions. Evidently, Judge Mike believed justice had been done in 100 or more criminal cases he had handled involving this writer since that event and before his judicial explosion.
Lawyers are always concerned about maintaining “good” relationships with the judges before whom they practice. With both Judge Michael and Judge Francis on the bench, this “better keep em happy” anxiety began when Francis Pitman first ran for the Caddo bench. Judge Mike was already a judge; many attorneys who practiced criminal law were reluctant to run against Francis or solicit other attorneys to oppose her. Judge Francis was elected in 2008 unopposed, which was a statement in and of itself.
When Judge Francis began her campaign in September, the pervasive feeling in the courthouse was one of doom and gloom among the attorneys who practiced criminal law before Judge Mike and/or family law before Judge Frances. Judge Francis ultimately drew in an opponent – a judge from the juvenile bench. Many who practiced in both Pitman courts were happy Judge Frances won the election because it was awkward to practice before them during the campaign.
Lady Justice may be blind, but some of the judges who dispense justice are obviously thin-skinned and intolerant of any negative comments. Some attorneys may be intimidated by a black robe but not me; more fallout is expected from this column; and, if it occurs, it will be reported.