Monday, June 23, 2008

Alabama Judicial System Gets a D+ in Judicial Ethics

They really should have gotten an F- in judicial ethics. Case and point.

News staff writer
Birmingham News

Alabama's system of enforcing judicial ethics received poor marks in a report card recently issued by the national watchdog group HALT.

HALT, or Help Abolish Legal Tyranny, gave Alabama an overall grade of D+ and ranked the state 38th in its 2008 Judicial Accountability Report Card.

The Washington-based legal reform group issued failing grades for not requiring judges to publicly disclose potential financial conflicts and for putting few limits on receiving gifts.

HALT said the report was the first comprehensive nationwide study of systems used by states to police judicial ethics. Alabama was one of 16 state and federal jurisdictions with overall grades below C.

The survey said the procedures and investigations by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission are not transparent enough, and the system lacks meaningful sanctions.

"Alabama's system of judicial oversight gives too many judges a free pass," Suzanne M. Blonder, HALT's senior counsel, said in a statement. "We hope that Alabama's chief judicial officers will work to transform a mechanism marred by secrecy into a system dedicated to upholding the integrity of the judiciary."

Jenny Garrett, executive director of the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, said she strongly disagreed with HALT's assessments and Blonder's comments.

"Alabama has always been considered to be in the forefront of judicial ethics," she said. "This commission is very diligent in following the rules of procedures promulgated by the Alabama Supreme Court and the state Constitution."

The commission, however, believes some of the rules it must follow have hurt the system's integrity, Garrett said.

Under the leadership of then-Chief Justice Roy Moore, the state's high court changed rules in 2001, allowing accused judges to receive copies of complaints against them. The information included the name of the person who filed the complaint.

"Our filings of complaints dropped in half," Garrett said. The most drastic drop was in complaints by lawyers, she said.

A court committee is now considering restoring complainant confidentiality.

Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission receives and investigates complaints filed against judges and justices, and recommends whether formal charges should be filed.
Those charges are considered by a nine-member Court of the Judiciary, which can suspend, remove or otherwise censure a judge.

One of the court's best-known decisions was when it ousted Moore as chief justice in 2003 for defying a federal judge's order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the Supreme Court building in Montgomery.

Praise, criticism:

HALT gave Alabama a high mark for what the group called "consumer friendliness" because the state does not ban people from speaking publicly about complaints they file against judges.

But HALT criticized the Judicial Inquiry Commission because its Web site does not have complaint forms to download.

Garrett agreed a downloadable form was needed, and said a Web site update is in the works. She said all information a complainant needs to know is listed online, mostly in the commission's annual reports.

Other issues cited by HALT include the fact that the commission does not release information about complaints until it files formal charges.

HALT gave Alabama a high mark for what the group called "consumer friendliness" because the state does not ban people from speaking publicly about complaints they file against judges.

Huh? In the letter the Judicial Inquiry Commission sent me reporting that they had taken appropriate action against Judge Kim Taylor they forbade me from discussing it saying it was confidential information. I completely ignored their rules on that one. If a judge does wrong and gets sanctioned for it and it is a case that involves me then you can bet you ass that I'm a tell it!! I'm a tell it all!!

Here is another way that the judicial inquiry commission sucks....they refuse to tell you what action they took against a judge. I feel if I file a complaint and it is acted upon in my favor then I have a right to know what action was taken. How come the judge, who is obviously guilty of wrong doing gets to hide behind this cloak of secrecy? If we regular citizens get caught doing something wrong and are subsequently convicted of it our punishments are broadcast all over the media and our communities. It should be no different for those whose task it is to 'judge us'.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comparison Bonds in the Rochester Case

I was able to come by five more case action summaries for drug defendants in George C. Simpson's courtroom during the same time frame for John Alexander Rochester. Judge Simpson is the judge who set the bonds in the case. There are some whopping disparities. Check this out.

The bond schedule sets the bond for drug trafficking anywhere from $5,000 to $1,500,000. Class A felony bonds range from $10,000 to $60,000, Class B felony bonds range from $5,000 to $30,000 and Class C felony bonds range from $2500 to $15,000. Class A Misdemeanor bonds range from $300 to $6,000.

Regular Citizens

Charge - Unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance Second Degree - Bond $30,000 Class B Felony (This bond is the maximum)

Charge - Unlawful distribution of a controlled substance - Bond $30,000 Class B Felony (This bond is the maximum)

Charge - Unlawful distribution of a controlled substance - Bond $100,000 Class B Felony (This bond is $70,000 more than the maximum on the bond schedule)

Charge - Unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance - Bond $50,000 Class B Felony (This bond is $20,000 more than what the bond schedule says it should be at the highest)

Charge - Possession of a controlled substance - Bond $30,000 Class C Felony (This bond is twice what the schedule says it should be at the highest)

Compare to the bonds that John Alexander Rochester received from Judge Simpson

John Alexander Rochester - Judges Son

Charge - possession of Methyl Amphetamine - Bond $20,000, Class C Felony ($5,000 more than the bond schedule maximum)

Charge - possession of drug paraphernalia - Bond $5,000, Class A Misdemeanor(except it was within three miles of a school and public housing)(Near the maximum in bond schedule)

Charge - distribution of a controlled substance - Bond $15,000, (the other two people charged with this crime had bonds of $30,000 and $100,000) Class B felony (Bond set in the middle of range)

Charge - possession of a controlled substance - Bond $15,000, Class C Felony
This fine is the maximum on the schedule but still only half of what other defendants charged with the same offense had to pay. Why were others charged double?

Charge - 1st degree possession of marijuana - Bond $10,000, Class C Felony Less than the maximum bond by $5,000

Charge - trafficking cocaine - Bond $20,000. Class A Felony Now this one could have been considered drug trafficking and the bond could have been set up to 1.5 million dollars, but it looks like the judge went for the Class A Felony bond and not the drug trafficking bond.

In at least two cases John Alexander Rochester's bond was half (or less)what other people charged with the same crime had to pay. In most of the other cases the fines are way higher than what the bond schedule says they should be. That makes this even more disgusting because the Rochester's have plenty of money while the other folks don't. The Rochester's could pay almost any bond amount and not be hurt too bad financially by it....but these other, common, regular citizens, who probably make barely above minimum wage working at Tyson or Piggly Wiggly or Bill's Dollar Store, will go broke trying to scrape up enough money to get out.

Yesterday I mentioned that John Alexander Rochester, should have enhancements added to his sentence because he was within a three mile radius of the schools and many public housing complexes. Ashland is tiny. Just about everything in it is in a three mile radius. Here are the parts of the Alabama Code that deal with sales within a three mile radius.

Distribution within three miles of a school 5 year enhancement with no provision for probation
Distribution within three miles of public housing 5 year enhancement with no provision for probation aside
Use of Drug paraphernalia within three miles of public housing Subject to forfeiture

Here are the sections of the Alabama Code that deal with mandatory minimums.

Trafficking in marijuana, cocaine, meth

Sentences not to be deferred or reduced (unless the prosecutor asks for it to be or the defendant narcs out his connections, or attends treatment and pays his/her fines and court costs)

Now, I can already picture Fred Thompson, the D.A., asking for a sentence reduction for JAR and it being granted by Judge Simpson because John Alexander Rochester was able to pay his way out. Yep...theres actually a provision for folks who have money.
I don't know how the enhancements will affect this case or the possibility of the prosecutor asking for a reduction in sentence. If anyone out there knows please post the answer or email me.

This is so VILE! There ought not be two sets of rules in our judicial system. This case clearly shows that we do, in fact, have two sets of rules and that the main rule is you can have exactly as much justice as you can afford.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Told You So

A few months ago I posted about Circuit Court Judge John Rochester's son, John Alexander Rochester, getting busted for trafficking narcotics in Ashland, AL. I also posted some background on Judge Rochester's history of harsh sentences for drug offenders in the past.

I predicted, however, that his son, John Alexander Rochester, would be whisked away to treatment under the cover of darkness and we'd never hear about this case again.

And I was right. On March 21, of this year John Alexander Rochester was bonded out of the Clay County jail by his mother, Linda Rochester and secreted away to a treatment center in Mississippi.

Here are the comments made on one of the posts

"Okay folks, I want you to know this much. John was signed out of the Clay county jail by someone who appeared to be his mother.

The bond amounts were VERY SMALL concerning the charges. For the Distribution of Cocaine and Meth, he had $20,000 bonds- POSTED by one person. Not the way it usually goes. When a bond is posted, it is supposed to have TWO signers, and the property must be worth double what the bond is, liens are counted, and you can only have four bonds signed out at one time. There were at least five charges to my recollection.

People with the same charges have had much larger bonds. Someone accused of not registering as a sex offender got a bond that size.

I am having to go anonymous here because if it is known that I leaked this out, I might make someone angry at me and loose my job.

Don't take my word for it. Demand the public record. You will see it's true.

A few days ago, I heard him order a bonding company loose their license, because they did not come to court, and were not present for what is called a forfeiture case.

I heard later that the company's notice was sent out with only 2 business days notice, and that they sent it to the wrong address.

The law is very clear, a bonding company has 30 days to pay a forfeiture. I was very shocked. They just put someone out of business because of their own screw up, and we wonder why businesses won't come here.

I happen to like that bonding company. They didn't rip people off and only charged ten percent. They came every time they had been called, and were very professionial. I talked to the owner, who told me he had been a bail bondsman for 7 years that he was still searching vigorously for the defendant who failed to appear, and he was very distraught over the situation because his court date for the final forfeiture was set way too early.

It's a shame, I also heard that Judge Rochester had never done that before, and had given Grover Poole bonding over a year to pay a bond, and never revoked them.

Special treatment? Favoritism? You decide."

And another...

John was released on March 21, 2008 on at least 6 different charges. The person who claimed not to be trying to get him out is obviously a liar themselves.

Linda Rochester posted property bonds with her name only on each one as the property holder.

For your information, the Sherrif can allow someone to do that if they so desire. Of course, if you are poor, and have no friends in high places, the jail will require the two property owners. Only the Sherrif or Judge can over rule that.

Either way, I heard that this young man was caught with meth, pot, pills, cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. Serious charges, yes, but he doesn't need help. It sounds like he needs a legal job.
He was a dealer not a user. So what's to help him?

Why would anyone not want him to go to jail for what he was doing? Selling drugs is a crime. The law is the law. Uphold it, or fight for change if you disagree, but in the meantime, you must obey the law. No one is above it.

Another Anonymous

So, on March 21 John Alexander Rochester was released on property bonds totaling $20,000. Usually bonds for narcotics trafficking reach into the hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions. Only one person, his mother, signed the property bonds and that is not the way it is usually done.

Here is what I want to know.

Who set the bond?

What judge heard the bond case?

Was this done in Clay County?

I'll take a stab at my own questions. The answer to 1 & 2 is most likely Judge George Simpson, a real close friend of Judge John Rochester, who also has a son named Luke who used to stay in trouble with drugs all the time when we were in high school. I guess ole George owed Rochester one since Rochester used to handle his son with kid gloves.

I think the answer to my second question is YES, it probably was done in Clay County which screams to be investigated. It should not have been done in Clay County because of the incestuous nature of the criminal justice system. The judges are friends and have been giving each others kids free rides on drug charges for YEARS. It couldn't have been a fair hearing. Couldn't have been. It should have been moved to a different county or a Judge from a different county should have been brought in to handle this case.

But, no, the rich and powerful have a different set of rules by which they live. Us poor folks get fu**ed, to put it bluntly. Our daddies aren't judges in a small town. We don't have powerful connections.

I tell you what I am going to ask the Judicial Inquiry Commission to open an investigation into this matter. I am SICK TO DEATH of preferential treatment being given to those who have money and power. FORGET THAT! If Judge Rochester can sentence poor folks to prison for committing lesser crimes than his boy then, by god, his boy can do some hard time. This was John Alexander Rochester's second offense involving drugs. He should be in jail like everyone else.

Oh yeah, I heard Senator Jabo Wagoner's son was involved in a drunk driving accident a short time ago in Walker County and the driver of the other car was injured. But, not one mention of it in any newspaper in the state. The media ought to be very ashamed. I'd also like to note that there has been NO media coverage of the Rochester case. I found one mention on a web radio site in Anniston but the Anniston Star has not had any story on this case. I find that repulsive.

Then there was Senator Richard Shelby's son who was busted at the Atlanta Intl' Airport in 1998 for smuggling 13.8 grams of hash into the country from England. Customs found it and fined him $500. Had it been you or me we would have been charged with international drug smuggling and we'd still be in prison.

US Congressman Spencer Bacchus's son was also involved in something drug related a few years ago. He got special treatment.

There are many other cases like this involving rich kids whose daddies are senator's, congressmen or judges from Alabama. Today I will update my list of such cases.

There are 30,000 people in the Alabama prison system. The majority of them were sent there originally for drugs or alcohol. 500 a year were sentenced to prison for marijuana before drug court started in Alabama. But, prison is apparently only for poor people.

I am out to change that, starting now. I will ask that this case be investigated by the Judicial Inquiry Commission and I will begin writing letters to editors across the state in hopes that the media will also begin an investigation. The public pays the salary of these judges, who in turn send kids of the poor members of the public to prison....but let their own kids go free. We have a right to know exactly what went on in this case, who the judge was that set such a low bond, how come it was set so low, if it was done in Clay County and what we can expect to happen to John Alexander Rochester when he is released from rehab in Mississippi.

To Judge Rochester....I will be watching you very closely. Believe that! I am going to be a shrill about this case until I get some answers. How do you sleep at night when you have sentenced so many people to prison for very minor drug infractions yet your drug pushing son is pretty much free at a nice rehab center in Mississippi? This won't stand Judge. When you run for office again I will be the first one to point out what you did for your own son and what you have done to other people's sons and daughters for far lesser infractions. I hope the Judicial Inquiry Commission investigates you and takes action against you. I'd like to see you removed from the bench.

UPDATE: A friend of mine sent me all six case action summaries on this case. John Alexander Rochester was charged with possession of Methyl Amphetamine
and the bond was $20,000, possession of drug paraphernalia bond was $5,000, distribution of a controlled substance bond was $15,000, possession of a controlled substance bond was $15,000, 1st degree possession of marijuana bond was $10,000, trafficking cocaine bond set at $20,000.

Those bonds are so low for those charges it is beyond the pale. And just as I suspected Judge George C. Simpson was the judge in this case. I hope the commenter from one of the earlier posts will let us know which two charges bonds were not paid on when John Alexander Rochester was released to the custody of his mother.

My friend who sent the case action summaries also noted the following..

It appears two are Class B Felonies with a minimum of three years incarceration and the rest are possession cases. Now the mandatory three years for trafficking can be either reduced or it can be split so that the person does not have to actually serve the time.

Now, I grew up in Ashland and I know exactly where he was arrested. The park is within a stones throw of public housing and maybe a mile from both the schools. Will there be enhancements added to his sentence like everyone else's? I see no mention of enhancements in the case action summaries.

Does anyone know where he is now? Is he still in treatment in Mississippi? Is he out? When will the grand jury convene and decide whether or not to indict him?