My hiatus from blogging caused by doing other important stuff as minding my grandchild who at times makes me think of the young lad in O Henry’s Kidnapping of Red Chief will continue after this short note.
(Because of Red Chief or my senility the rest of this tweet which I will let stand is messed up. I mistook the Judge Richard Sinnott for Bill Sinnott. It was Bill who worked with me in the DA’s office. I should have known it b/c Richard did not look like Bill as I remembered him but figured the gray hair changed his looks. Anyway, a big mistake by me and my apologies to Richard and Bill Sinnott.)
Judge Richard Sinnott is in the news as you know for his action against persons who were arrested for committing alleged criminal acts while being in the group of people who opposed the straight guy march and for his allegedly intemperate act in tossing a woman lawyer in the can. There are some who would argue that had she been a man she would not have been locked up but there seems to be little to base that on other than the idea that somehow Sinnott has a problem with women lawyers. I’ve never been before him but I’d tend to doubt it.
In the interests of full disclosure Sinnott was a young assistant district attorney in the Norfolk District Attorney’s office when I was the deputy DA. If my memory is correct he worked on a wiretap with me but I don’t recall he was particularly interested in doing them. He preferred to be in the courtroom than in the investigative end which many do. I know while with me he worked well and closely with other assistant DAs both male and female so it is hard to see that he would treat one sex differently from the other. I recall him as a competent ADA – not that I saw him in court that much – but when an ADA fell short of the high expectations we had of them I’d often hear of it from judges or others. I had no complaints from anyone about his work.
Now he is in the middle of a scrum with others. The Globe’s columnists supporting the others. Reading the news I’m not certain exactly what happened before he held Attorney Susan Church in contempt or what was involved in the cases before him.
As to the cases the law seems quite clear. If DA Rollins entered a nolle prosequi (pros) to any of the cases that were brought based on the complaints filed by the police then those matters should not have been before Sinnott. The right of a DA to nolle pros a case is unrestricted. A statement of the reason is supposed to be filed with it but most DAs simply say “in the interests of justice.” I would spell out the reasons in great detail when I took that action so that future questions about it would be set out.
One nolle pros I entered came after a judge ordered a complaint to issue against a police officer. I believed he was wrong so I nolle prossed it. He was furious but without recourse other than to beat up on the young ADAs who came before him.
The point is simple: a nolle pros makes a case disappear. No judge has to be involved. The person who was the defendant in the case does not have to appear in court.
Most DAs are reluctant to enter a nolle pros. They want a judge to dismiss the case. In those instances then the judge has full discretion to do whatever he wants with the case. Sinnott in that instance is correct in making whatever decision he wants. He can say I’m not going to do it until you notify the victims, or, better, he can just say denied. I recall being at a side bench with Judge Dwyer and seeing a sign on his desk that spelled out in big letters “silence.” I said “shouldn’t that be facing toward the people in the court.” He smiled and said: “No, it is intended to remind me to keep my mouth shut.”
As for the contempt, the judge did tell Attorney Church he was warning her to stop talking or something like that. She continued. Foolish move. Attorneys will often over talk a judge and little happens to the attorney – although it doesn’t seem to inure to the benefit of a client when they do. But when a judge has had enough and tells one, as I have been told, to sit down or she’s heard enough, then you do it.
Now remember I’m from the time when people coming to court not properly dressed were barred from entering it; attorneys in sports coats told to go home and change, and the judge was similar to the captain of a ship. I know much has changed, well I saw it during my career. I do however believe that the tradition of respect for judges must be strongly adhered to. If a judge is wrong there are remedies for it, the one that does not exist is to challenge him or her in the courtroom after being told you’re going a little too far. Fortunately we don’t require people to walk the plank anymore.