Defending Judge Durham’s Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
June 24, 2016 (Fault Lines) — We mustn’t forget, even in our outraged moments, that judges are people too. Though they wear black robes, our three resident jurists at Fault Lines have lives, feelings and, on extremely rare occasions, tempers, just like those of us absent the privilege of uttering those magical words, “motion denied.” That’s why I have total empathy for Judge Bryant Durham Jr. losing his cool with Defendant Denver Fenton Allen during a hearing last week.
A transcript of the hearing made its way around the internet this week and read like something out of a bad legal comedy. There’s always a terrible defendant in a judge’s courtroom, and there’s always the temptation to put that one bad apple in his place. Judge Durham Jr, starting the hearing with complete decorum, eventually losing it when Denver Allen failed to grasp “the right to an attorney” didn’t mean “the right to the attorney you want to pick.” Allen is on trial for allegedly murdering another inmate at the Floyd County Jail, so when Judge Durham advised Allen going pro se could be the biggest mistake of his life, it was sound advice.
Allen’s response was to “find himself in contempt.” That’s usually a power exclusively granted to judges for contumacious acts, violating orders in or outside court. But Durham bestowed a sentence of twenty days on Allen for pissing him off, promising to add more time for anything else he might have to say. The following exchange is best read with the role of Judge Durham Jr. played by R. Lee Ermey and Denver Allen voiced by Jim Varney.
The hearing escalated into murder threats against Judge Durham and his family, and unfortunately for the jurist, he made some comments that could land him in hot water with Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission. I truly hope nothing bad comes from this exchange. We’re all human, and when provoked by stupid, humans are prone to say stupid things and take stupid actions.
As Judge Durham Jr. muses in the hearing, “You have a constitutional right to be a dumbass.” Both men were at somewhat less than their civil best last week while exercising this right. Let’s hope this moment of incivility doesn’t tarnish an otherwise fine judge’s career or cost him his job.
If we need empathy for Judge Aaron Persky, we certainly need empathy for Judge Bryant Durham Jr. A momentary lapse of stoicism, when faced with an unreasonable idiot, is completely understandable, even if injudicious.