Silence of the Lambs

Judge Amanda F. Williams, of Brunswick, GA, possibly the toughest drug court judge in America, has announced she will step down from the bench after 21 years on Jan. 2, 2012 in the wake of a complaint filed by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Williams’ achieved national notoriety in March 2011 when she became the focus of an hour-long program by the American Public Radio show, This American Life, which questioned Williams’ punitive approach to drug offenders.

The radio show featured one case in which Williams sentenced a drug offender who had experienced his first relapse to 17 days in detention and added a year and a half to his time in the drug court program.  A spokesperson for National Association for Drug Court Professionals said the NADCP recommends no jail time at all for a first relapse.

In recent months, the Georgia judicial commission said it received several complaints from lawyers against Williams, who was the chief judge of the Superior Court of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.

The commission finally brought a formal complaint against Williams on December 11, 2011, charging Williams violated judicial ethics when she gave special treatment to relatives of friends, allowed her relatives and her personal attorney to appear before her without recusing herself, and generally behaved in a “tyrannical” manner.

Perhaps the most controversial complaint facing Williams involved a girl who entered her drug court program in 2005 after pleading guilty to forging two of her parents’ checks.

In 2008, Lindsey Dills violated her “drug court contract.” Williams initially sentenced Dills to 28 days in jail but later modified her order to indefinite detention with no contact from anyone except her drug court counselor. The commission states that Dills remained in solitary confinement for 73 days, during which time she attempted suicide. Although Dills’ suicide attempt occurred on Dec. 9, 2008, the commission states that Dills was not transferred to an in-patient medical facility until Dec. 22, 2008.

The case raises the question? Why did it take so long to address what the commission refers to as Williams’ tyrannical behavior?  Why did it take a radio show to shine a spotlight on Williams’ antics?  Where were the court staff and the attorneys who dealt with Williams every day?

The New York Times quotes one attorney as stating: “Judge Williams was a person you did not cross. She ruled by fear and intimidation. I’ve been in front of 50 judges in 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like her.”

Because Williams, 64, vowed not to seek another judgeship, the judicial commission said the complaints against her will be dropped. However, she could still face criminal charges related to her conduct.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April, she defended her behavior. “I didn’t just decide I was going to be mean to these people,” she said. “These people aren’t sitting in jail forever and ever and ever and ever. I’m fair. I’m consistent. I do care.”


*** As we read about the one percent who own 40 percent of our nation’s wealth, the millions of unemployed, the plague of home foreclosures, the failure of schools, and the GOP’s insistence upon extending Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans, let us remember the lessons of the original bully boss. PGB


The Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge

Spirit of Christmas Past: And as your business prospered, Ebenezer Scrooge, a golden idol took possession of your heart, as Alice said it would.


Ebenezer: I suppose you’ll be wanting the whole day tomorrow.

Bob Cratchit: If quite convenient, sir.

Ebenezer: Every Christmas you say the same thing. And every Christmas it’s just as inconvenient as the Christmas before. Good night.


Jacob Marley: In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing holes! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!

Ebenezer: But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!

Jacob Marley: BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!


Spirit of Christmas Present: My time with you is at an end, Ebenezer Scrooge. Will you profit from what I’ve shown you of the good in most men’s hearts?

Ebenezer: I don’t know, how can I promise!

Spirit of Christmas Present: If it’s too hard a lesson for you to learn, then learn this lesson!

[opens his robe, revealing two starving children]

Ebenezer: [shocked] Spirit, are these yours?

Spirit of Christmas Present: They are Man’s. This boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy!

Ebenezer: But have they no refuge, no resource?

Spirit of Christmas Present: [quoting Scrooge] Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?


Tiny Tim: God bless us, every one!

*From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Where’s the Civil Justice?

A one-two punch makes it very difficult for workers to combat the epidemic of workplace bullying and abuse in the United States.

For one thing, unlike many industrialized countries, there is no law or regulatory scheme in the United States prohibiting workplace bullying.

With respect to the laws that do exist and which might offer workers some protection, the American civil justice system is simply out of reach for many Americans.

The World Justice Institute’s 2011 study of legal systems across the globe shows the United States ranks far behind other countries on providing an accessible legal system to the public.

The group’s report,  Rule of Law Index, analyzed nine different factors of legal systems around the world to gauge how well they function and serve each country’s residents.

In assuring access to the legal system, the U.S. ranked 21st out of the 66 countries included in the study. The U.S.’s lowest scores came from the “Access to Legal Counsel” and “Access and Affordability of Civil Courts.”

When the World Justice Institute’s study compared the U.S. to 23 other countries with similar average incomes, the U.S. ranked 20th, coming in ahead of only Croatia, Poland, and Italy. The “high income” countries (like the U.S.) with the most accessible civil justice systems are Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, Norway, Estonia, Austria and Japan, Belgium and the United Kingdom.  (So, Estonia beats us again!)

In the area of affordability of legal counsel, the U.S. ranked 52nd out of the 66 countries studied. “Legal assistance is expensive or unavailable, and the gap between rich and poor individuals in terms of both actual use of and satisfaction with the civil courts system remains significant,” the report’s authors said.

There also is a general perception in the U.S. that ethnic minorities and foreigners receive unequal treatment from the police and the courts.

The bottom line is that American workers have a much more difficult time than workers in other countries accessing the civil justice system to prevent employers from engaging in discrimination or workplace bullying.

The World Justice Project (WJP) is a multinational and multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the rule of law throughout the world. The WJP Rule of Law Index  is a quantitative assessment tool designed to offer a detailed and comprehensive picture of the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law in practice. Data comes from a global poll of the general public and detailed questionnaires administered to local experts.