Judge refuses to continue trial so defendant can visit his dying son

Published On September 1, 2010 | By Georgia Sand | Articles

Defendant Garth Kloehn was on trial for tax evasion when he received the news from doctors that his son was dying and only had a few days to live.

Mr. Kloehn asked for a 2-day continuance of trial, and the judge denied it, stating that the trial had already been delayed for more than a month because of his ill son, and that he would not stop it again.  Mr. Kloehn finished his testimony and went immediately to see his son, who died an hour after he arrived (full story here).

The federal appeals court overturned the ruling and granted him a new trial, but Mr. Kloehn has obviously forever lost the last days he could have had with his son.

Most commenters on the San Francisco Chronicle article (linked above) were appalled by the trial court judge. Some less sensitive commenters said Mr. Kloehn deserved this because he was a criminal (ignoring the fact that forbidding him from seeing his dying son also unfairly punishes the innocent son) but the majority of commenters were reasonably infuriated or disturbed.

One commenter said, “That judge deserves to be sued or dis-barred. ”

Another even angrier commenter said, “The judge who refused to close shop so that a father could visit his dying son should be horse whipped. And not allowed to do more judging.”

These comments certainly demonstrate a sense of justice people feel about judges who abuse their power. Unfortunately, this sense of justice is not reflected by our justice system (ironically).

Judges have absolute civil immunity. They can’t be sued for anything they do in their capacity of a judge, in matters over which they have jurisdiction.

Meaning, if a judge ordered you to be secretly sterilized against your will and against your knowledge by colluding with your parents, you could not sue him years later when you found out you were sterile due to his overreaching decree over your reproductive system (real case, Stump v. Sparkman).

Meaning, a judge can explicitly order a cop to use excessive force to drag an attorney to the courtroom, and the judge will be immune from civil suit for battery (real case, Mireles v. Waco).

Martinez v. Winner held that a judge who plots strategy with a prosecutor during a trial is immune from civil suit.  Not only are judges immune, other ill-intentioned officials can “piggyback” off of their immunity as well.  Martin v. Hendren held that a cop who was ordered by a judge to use excessive force in removing a person from a court is effectively cloaked by the the judge’s absolute immunity.

Of course this all seems dreadfully unfair, but it’s really not surprising, given the way the justice system is set up. Is it really a shocker that the Supreme Court, composed of 9 judges, held that judges should get a lot of leeway in doing their job? Is it really a surprise that judges, who are the final word on these decisions, decide that they shouldn’t be sued?

No, of course not. The people who constitute the legal system are all terribly flawed human beings like the rest of us. It really is no shocker that they repeatedly uphold immunities for themselves.

The Court stated explicitly, in Stump v. Sparkman,

As early as 1872, the Court recognized that it was “a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, [should] be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.” Bradley v. Fisher, supra, at 347.

The language cannot be clearer, especially if you remove all the useless words and clauses in between employed to soften the blow of the words, and to confuse and muddle the truth. A judicial officer…should be free to act…without apprehension of personal consequence to himself. The system simply does not require that judges be held personally responsible, no matter how reprehensible the act.

The glaring implication is that the rest of us lowly peons are lesser human beings.  While we all certainly have to act with “apprehension of personal consequence,” these elites, who consistently interpret the law in their favor, are exempt from personal responsibility.

A Target employee will not only likely be fired, but will very likely be sued if he assaults a customer in the course of his employment. A bank employee who defrauds a customer will similarly be fired and sued for his fraud. A teacher who molests a student will go to jail and can be sued.

But judges who wrongly ordered police to assault and humiliate a defendant, and to covertly sterilize a young girl, face absolutely no personal recourse. This is the nature of government. It protects its own, while masquerading as a protector of the people. Judges shamelessly manipulate language of why immunities are important and are to the public’s benefit, declaring glibly that such immunities serve justice or are  “based on the policy of protecting the judicial process” (Justice White, explaining in Imbler v. Pachtman, why absolute immunity of prosecutors is necessary).

Judges have also held that their buddies, the prosecutors, are absolutely immune from civil suit from using fabricated evidence.  So if you go to jail for life because a prosecutor intentionally used false evidence against you, tough luck.

No matter how the system tries to paint immunity as a service to the public, at the end of the day, it is difficult to see how the victims of forced sterilization, battery by police, and wrongful imprisonment, who are all members of the public, were better served by judicial or prosecutorial immunity.  In fact, it is quite clear that the only people who benefited were members of the sacred government, who were allowed to act as they pleased without punishment.

Of course, it’s not just judges, police and prosecutors. Public school administrators who force a 13 year old girl to strip down, almost naked, based on an unsupported accusation of harboring ibuprofen, are also immune from suit.

When you strip away the label of government, “for the public good” and unsupported claims of “protecting the judicial process,” what remains is unmistakable: a group of unaccountable people the system has decided does not need to take personal responsibility for their actions like everybody else.

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About The Author

Georgia (George) Sand received her B.A. from UCLA and her J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach and music in her spare time.
  • Greg Beaman

    It seems the only recourse we have as citizens is to ignore our government at all costs. Aren’t we acknowledging, at least implicitly, the legitimacy of the system by participating in it, even with the intent of changing it? No matter how many ordinary individuals petition, protest, or vote against policies supporting judicial and prosecutorial immunity, the same ruling class will vote to sustain their unjust powers (that is, “a group of unaccountable people the system has decided does not need to take personal responsibility for their actions like everybody else” will continue to do so). Do we have options other than a complete withdrawal from the system?

    Has the system decided those people are unaccountable? Or have those people decided they are unaccountable? Can the non-ruling class ever exert its will over the ruling class in any meaningful way?

    Assume a large group of individuals decides to withdraw from the current system and live a live of voluntarism. Won’t the group inevitably run afoul of the system, which claims domain over all lands within its declared borders? Despite the relative peacefulness of any individual or group, won’t the predominant system’s ruling class ultimately decide that disregard or disrespect for the system is tantamount to treason? The use of force then becomes justified in the eyes of the ruling class & people are imprisoned or massacred.

    Assume now that an individual or group views the current state of injustice as a sorrowful byproduct of a corrupt system instead of as an inevitable result of any system. What are the chances of reforming the system through electoral politics? Slim to none – the barriers to entry are too great. What about changing the system from the outside?

    This could go on… my point is, I know the system is deeply flawed. Can we do anything about it or not?

  • Widow

    Now your talking Greg.

    My vote is you can do something about it…but at what cost to yourself and your life and how much of a difference will you actually make in your life time. And i dont mean a few thousand people reading your book or your post on a forum. Real Change.

    My vote is live your life, be as happy as you can be, and follow the Serenity prayer.

    You only live once.

  • Greg Beaman

    I was talking before, Widow. You just refused to listen because I was demolishing your weak arguments. :)

    How can people just live to be happy when the things that make many people happy are criminalized? How can we pursue happiness when we are faced with violent injustices done every day to our fellows? I’ll tell you what: I will make a commitment to being as happy as I can be if you can convince police to do the same.

    We all want to live our lives and be happy. It just ain’t meant to be.

  • http://www.rashynullplanet.com/blog/ Matt

    ““a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, [should] be free to act upon his own convictions”

    Does anyone know if jurors are considered “judicial officers”? If they are, that’s yet more justification for jury nullification.

  • John Q. Galt

    Spit. Hands. Black Flag. Slit Throats.

  • J

    Umm, judges can be impeached, can’t they? Why not start a campaign whenever we encounter these activist bullies? They’ll soon get the message. http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=104

  • Jenn

    Impeachment:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_in_the_United_States

    So…until the government decides to impeach their buddy, he goes unpunished? Doesn’t sound promising. Also, the standard is, “The President, Vice President, and all other civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

    I don’t think failure to continue trial is treason, bribery, other high crime or misdemeanor. If civil immunity covers his ass for almost anything he does in his official capacity, I very much doubt any federal committee would construe this heartless act to be treason, bribery, a high crime or misdemeanor.

  • J

    Actually, Jenn, the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard has been remarkably low, historically speaking. E.g. inebriated while hearing cases. Of course that was back in the 1800′s. Like jury nullification, impeachment is quite arcane. However, with a determined, activist citizenry–which is the direction I think we’re headed, thank goodness–I think we could put enough pressure on a few representatives that we could see a few of the worst offenders removed from the bench. What a great thing it would be to have a permanent Congressional sub-committee tasked with investigating judicial abuse, or even a petition-based recall mechanism, whereby the people actually share impeachment powers with Congress. The Constitution gives Congress extremely broad latitude to do these sorts of things. Hey, you aim for nothing, you’ll hit nothing. We can do this.

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