This talented courtroom artist has drawn the trials of John Gotti, Martha Stewart, and Donald Trump

Starting in 1974, illustrator Marilyn Church has spent her workdays in court. Church is a courtroom artist who masterfully captures the intensity, drama, and strangeness of high profile proceedings involving John Gotti, Martha Stewart, OJ Simpson, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, and even Donald Trump. From an interview with Church in Topic:

How and when did you begin working as a courtroom artist?

It was 1974. I had been doing fashion illustration, which is really based on drawing gestures and being very quick to get everything down.

I had a lawyer friend who was covering a big case, and he told me that there were these artists, hired by television channels, sitting there drawing in court. I was not really a television watcher, so this was a revelation to me. So I turned on a news program and it was the first time I saw a courtroom drawing on television. I was so thrilled to see it, because I can remember seeing drawings in Life magazine when I was young, courtroom drawings, and thinking, God, how exciting. An artist can sit in court, draw some life, and watch these amazing cases happen.

So, right away I just thought, I can do that. I know I can do that. I showed up in court the next day.

You were in the courtroom with Donald Trump a couple of times—for the 1986 USFL v. NFL case, and also his 1992 divorce from Ivana. Can you tell me a little bit about the experience of drawing Trump?

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Judge tells jury to acquit accused sex trafficker because God said she's innocent

In Comal County, Texas, judge Jack Robison, presiding over the trial of accused sex trafficker Gloria Romero Perez, walked into the jury room after the jurors landed on a guilty verdict and urged them to reverse their decision because God says she's innocent. Unswayed, the jurors stuck to their guilty verdict. Another judge later ruled the case a mistrial while the Texas Judicial Commission let Robison off with a public warning. From My San Antonio:

"The judge later apologized to the jury, and said something to the effect of, 'When God tells me I gotta do something, I gotta do it,'" officials wrote in the report...

In his self-report, Robison told the committee he was experiencing memory lapses at the time and was under extreme stress due to treatment for a medical condition and the death of a close friend.

Robison provided letters from two medical professionals that Robison's outburst was caused by a "temporary, episodic medical condition referred to as a 'delirum.'" The professionals said that the issue appears to be resolved and that Robison is not currently experiencing the same impairment.

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Juror's concern that man on trial didn't swear on the bible results in the verdict getting tossed

On Friday, an appeals court judge in Camden County, New Jersey tossed out a verdict against Dr. Abbas Husain who in 2011 a jury found guilty of having sexually harassed an office employee. It came out later that one of the jurors was "very passionate" and concerned that Husain, who is Hindu, hadn't put his hand on the bible when taking the oath to testify. The juror had raised her concern with other jurors. From NJ.com:

“The juror's comment regarding the Bible raises the specter of religious bigotry,” the court’s ruling said.

The decision reversed a Camden County Superior Court judge’s denial of a new trial for Husain in 2016. A jury in 2011 found Husain created a hostile work environment, sexually harassed and retaliated against a then-part time office employee, who was awarded $12,500 in the civil case...

“The Law Division judge said the juror who made the observation was only concerned with Husain's credibility, i.e. that a person who refused to place his hand on the Bible was incapable of taking the oath seriously and was therefore incredible,” the decision said. “He contrasted this with out-and-out religious bigotry. But if he was correct, that too is simply impermissible. The exercise of a person's religion should not make him or her per se incredible.”

“Only a new trial would ensure that the outcome was untainted,” the decision continued. “The possibility that the verdict was a miscarriage of justice is too great for us to decide otherwise.”

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Man who yelled "guilty!" to get out of jury duty was promptly arrested

I guess it's kind of like yelling fire in a crowded theater: Jacob Maldonado of Honolulu, Hawaii had been called as a possible juror in a misdemeanor assault trial but really didn't want to serve on the jury. So just before the selection process began, Maldonado yelled “He is guilty! He is guilty!” outside the courtroom. From TheGardenIsland.com:

(Judge Edward) Kubo declared a mistrial, finding the man’s disturbance had affected the 44 other potential jurors, according to the judge’s order.

The judge ordered Maldonado’s arrest on a contempt charge and set a $10,000 cash bail. Maldonado spent the night in jail and appeared before Kubo on Wednesday morning...

(Attorney Jason) Burks told the judge that Maldonado’s father was recently diagnosed with cancer and his wife was also dealing with medical issues...

Maldonado was released without being charged or fined.

image: "An empty jury box at an American courtroom in Pershing County, Nevada" by Ken Lund Read the rest

New documentary about Adnan Syed from the "Serial" podcast

This spring, HBO will air a new documentary about Adnan Syed, the subject of the first season of the Serial podcast. The four-part series is directed by Amy Berg ("Deliver Us from Evil"). From the Baltimore Sun:

Syed, the subject of the wildly popular “Serial” podcast, was convicted in 2000 of killing his former girlfriend and Woodlawn High School classmate. But “Serial” raised questions about why his attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, did not call a potential alibi witness. The attorney died in 2004.

Syed’s conviction was vacated in June 2016 by a Baltimore circuit judge, and the Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision, prompting the state to bring its case for reinstating the conviction before Maryland’s highest court in November.

The HBO trailer prominently features Syed’s family friend, Rabia Chaudry, who brought the case to “Serial” host and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig. The documentary, directed by Academy Award nominee Amy Berg, promises “a piece of evidence that nobody even realized existed for all these years.”

It’s unclear when the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, will make a decision. Chaudry said in November that Syed’s family expects a ruling by August.

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NY's 1974 ban on nunchaku just deemed unconstitutional

In 1974, the State of New York banned nunchuku, the Okinawan martial arts weapon popularized in the US by the classic Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon. On Friday, 44 years later, Brooklyn federal court judge Pamela Chen ruled that the ban is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The plaintiff in the case is a fellow named James Maloney who had been busted nearly 20 years ago for possessing nunchaku in this home. From the Associated Press:

The ruling went over the history of the ban, and said it “arose out of a concern that, as a result of the rising popularity ‘of ‘Kung Fu’ movies and shows,′ ‘various circles of the state’s youth’ — including ‘muggers and street gangs’ — were ‘widely’ using nunchaku to cause ‘many serious injuries.’”..

Maloney, a professor at the State University of New York’s Maritime College, said some of his motivation was outrage. “How could a state simply ban any and all possession of a weapon that had a long and proud history as a martial-arts weapon, with recreational, therapeutic and self-defense utility,” he said.

Maloney also wanted to teach a form of martial art using nunchucks that he created, which he calls “Shafan Ha Lavan” to his sons, the ruling said.

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Judge to EPA: you are legally required to turn over Pruitt's documentary evidence for climate denial

Embattled EPA Director Scott Pruitt went on national TV to announce on behalf of the US government that "I would not agree [CO2 is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see... There’s a tremendous disagreement about the degree of the impact [of] human activity on the climate." Read the rest

Toronto cops eat drugs, freak out, and charged with Attempting to Obstruct Justice

If you’re a cop who calls for backup to save you from drug-induced hallucinations, you’re going to have a bad year.

This past January, Toronto Police Service Constable Vittorio Dominelli and his partner, whose name has yet to be released, were on duty when, allegedly, they decided to chow down on some marijuana-laced edibles. Apparently, they snatched up the Scooby snacks during a raid on a pot dispensary.

It is here that Toronto radio station News Talk 1010 reported that shit began to get weird:

… after carrying out a warrant at a local dispensary Saturday night, two officers, still on the clock, ingested marijuana-infused goodies meant to be taken from the scene as evidence. When they didn't feel the effects of the drugs right away, the pair ate more. Then more.

And then the drugs kicked in.

Oh, and kick in they did: while sitting in their cruiser, the pair of police began tripping balls. Their high was so rough that they called an ambulance and, in a panic, their station house, saying that they needed assistance. For the uninitiated, an officer assistance call is taken very seriously. Any cop in the area that’s not on call, and sometimes, even if they are on a call, will drop what they’re doing and come a-running, full speed, as if the officer who made that call’s life depended on it – because it often does. When backup arrived, one of the dope-addled cops burst from his cruiser and took off running, with responding officers in tow. Read the rest

Canada struggle to end solitary confinement is "justice deferred"

Until recently, under Canadian law, prison administrators could confine their charges to an indefinite period in solitary confinement. Thanks to a pair of high profile court rulings, this could change in a big way, provided the Federal government can get its shit together.

Last month, the Supreme Court in the Canadian province of British Columbia struck down a law that allowed prisoners to be kept indefinitely in solitary confinement. It was a huge win for prison inmates and society: long-term solitary confinement does nothing to rehabilitate or condition an individual to become a more productive member of society. Worse, as humans are social animals, being locked away from our peers for long periods of time can cause psychological trauma--that's not something you want to do to someone who'll eventually be released back into society. Human rights activists in BC applauded the court's decision. Unfortunately, a similar case, heard in a different region of Canada, is keeping the verdict from changing the country's confinement laws.

This past December, a Superior Court Judge in the province of Ontario handed down a verdict that found that solitary confinement lasting any longer than five days is absolute bullshit, according to the Canadian constitution. But, as the CBC details, the practice of doing so does not violate the constitutional rights of the individual being thrown into solitary.

Both verdicts have merit, but which has more weight?

It's a question that the Canadian government has decided can only be answered by another run through the legal system. Read the rest

God told judge to tell jury that defendant should not be convicted, so he did

In New Braunfels, Texas, State District Judge Jack Robison walked into the jury room, twice, during deliberation in a teen sex trafficking case and told the jurors that the defendant shouldn't be convicted. Why? Because God told him to.

"He said he had thought it over and prayed on it and that God told him that he had to say this," said Mark A. House, jury foreman in the weeklong trial of Gloria Romero Perez that concluded Jan. 12.

Robison, a veteran jurist who presides in the 207th district that covers Comal and Hays counties, quickly informed the state and defense counsel of his conduct and recused himself from the punishment phase of the trial.

"It's probably the most unusual thing I've experienced in 20 years as an attorney," said Sylvia A. Cavazos, who represented Perez. "Judge Robison apologized in open court to the jury, saying something to the effect that 'I apologize but, if God tells me to do something, I have to do it...'"

Cavazos contends Perez should receive a new trial because of Robison's actions, but she noted, "The DA's position was (no retrial should occur because) he encouraged them to find her not guilty, and the jury had already reached their verdict, and he didn't change their minds."

House has filed a complaint against Robison with the state judicial authorities.

"Judge facing complaints over trying to sway jury" (San Antonio Express-News) Read the rest

Attorney's pants catch on fire while defending arsonist in court

Miami lawyer Stephen Gutierrez was in court defending an alleged arsonist when his pants literally caught on fire. However, please don't assume that Gutierrez is a liar, liar. Apparently he had been playing with an e-cigarette in his pocket. From the Miami Herald:

Stephen Gutierrez, who was arguing that his client’s car spontaneously combusted and was not intentionally set on fire, had been fiddling in his pocket as he was about to address jurors when smoke began billowing out his right pocket, witnesses told the Miami Herald.

He rushed out of the Miami courtroom, leaving spectators stunned. After jurors were ushered out, Gutierrez returned unharmed, with a singed pocket, and insisted it wasn’t a staged defense demonstration gone wrong, observers said.

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Turkish court fines bystander/tourist who sued police for shooting out his eye

Shavkatbek Saipov was vacationing in Turkey in 2013 when he was hit in the eye by a teargas cannister fired by police during the brutal crackdown on the Occupy Gezi protests; he lost the eye and sued the Turkish police. Read the rest

British judge sentences racist "cunt" to 18 months in jail

When racist thug John Hennigan called Judge Patricia Lynch QC a "bit of a cunt" during his sentencing for the latest in a long string of convictions, she had the perfect response: "You are a bit of a cunt yourself." Read the rest

Courtroom smackdown! Judge and defendant get nasty

Dramatis personae: Denver Fenton Allen, a murder defendant. Bryan Durham, a Superior Court judge. And everyone watching in the peanut gallery-cum-courthouse in Rome, Ga., when things got fiery in Floyd County. Read the rest

Man sues Satan for ruining his life

Weird Universe alerts us to the curious case of Gerald Mayo, who in 1971 filed a class action lawsuit in the Western District of Pennsylvania against Satan "and his staff." Read the rest

Weird truths about leap year

With this year a leap year, February 29 is coming up next week. To celebrate, Alex "Weird Universe" Boese posted "5 Weird Facts About Leap Years" over at About.com:

2. The Extra Day Swindle

In February 1997, John Melo was convicted of home invasion and sentenced to ten years and one day in prison. Seven years later, he filed a motion complaining that the Department of Correction had miscalculated the length of his sentence. Why? Because it had failed to credit him for the additional days he had to serve on account of the February 29's during leap years.

Melo's motion was allowed, but he didn't win the case. In 2006 the Superior Court ruled (Commonwealth vs. John Melo) that not only did his case have no merit, but it had been a mistake to ever allow it to proceed in the first place, noting that he had clearly been sentenced to a term of years, no matter how long each year may be.

"5 Weird Facts About Leap Years" (About.com) Read the rest

Judge: no pajamas, no money from underwear in court

Signage at York County, Pennsylvania District Judge Ronald J. Haskell's court. (York Daily Record, via Weird Universe) Read the rest

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