Elsewhere in this publication, I wrote about the week I spent covering the jury trial of the State of Nevada vs. James David Norrell, the young man charged with two felonies for the “crime” of defending himself, his pregnant wife and his 2 ½ year old son in their third floor Reno, NV apartment.
After a week of reversible error, feckless judging and the kind of things you never saw on Law and Order, the result was a hung jury.
To put it mildly, it was not newbie Judge Lynn Simons’ finest moment; and the Washoe County District Attorney’s office must also shoulder some blame for even charging this case, much less taking it to trial.
The judge arrogantly flouted the Nevada case law requiring her to instruct the jury regarding defense theory of the case, even when the jury ASKED for such an instruction. Nevada has a law on the books allowing a citizen to make an arrest in certain circumstances, and she refused to tell the jury. Twice.
And, frankly, that was the tip of her fecklessness. She allowed young ADA Sean Alexander to call rebuttal witnesses who had previously been excused—after the ADA was seen in the hallway discussing their new testimony. She allowed the prosecutor to question why Norrell DIDN’T say something in his testimony in his closing—a clear violation of Supreme Court case law.
And through all of this, the jury came back with no verdict because they were 12 Americans who did their jobs much better than the Judge and the prosecutor.
For the defense and Mr. Norrell, it was like trying to play the Lakers at Staples Center with three really good players while the refs continuously made bad calls.
Here’s the problem. Norrell probably spent between $20 and $50,000 with defense co-counsel Byron Bergeron and John Malone defending himself. And the DA’s office—in a wrongheaded attempt to save some face—may still attempt to retry him. That’s a lot of money for a kid starting a family who was living in Federally subsidized housing. But his future career in security depends on his ability to carry a gun.
Here’s the bigger problem.
Most people think that the criminal justice system is fair and even-handed and concentrates on violent and property crime. Until and unless they get sucked into the system like Norrell did, they maintain that belief for most of their lives.
You can’t put a cop on every corner, so our system largely depends on voluntary compliance. People have to respect the system, and that starts with the police, the judges and the prosecutors. If the average person reads about the conduct of cases like this, what then?
Well, the symptoms of “what then?” are the rise of outsiders like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Not that their initial success is a bad thing. But it’s a natural reaction to an increasing distrust of government at all levels.
District Attorney Chris Hicks was elected in 2014 with no opposition and virtually everybody’s endorsement. Judge Simons was also elected in 2014, and her endorsement list read like a list of everybody who ever had a reason to have their own personal judge on the bench.
District Attorneys are elected to maintain justice—not to win at all costs—and part of their job is to weed out bad cases before they are charged or proceed to trial. Hicks had plenty of chances here, and I don’t want to hear about how big the office is and how much bureaucracy it has. His name is on the door, and his employees are that bureaucracy; and he is responsible because the voters say so.
Judges are elected to call balls and strikes—not set the strike zone or the width of the plate. That is the sole province of the state legislature. Lynn Simons—despite the fact that she has only been on the bench about nine months—should know that legislating from the bench is not what District Judges are charged with doing, and she ought to be ashamed at her conduct of this trial.
This isn’t penny-ante stuff. People’s lives and liberty are at stake with the stroke of a DA’s pen and an arrogant ruling by a sitting judge. That is why it is appropriate to remind both Hicks and Simons that they were elected, and they can be unelected. As easily as Donald Trump can lead the Republican Presidential race because people are mad at Washington, Hicks and Simons can be in private practice in 2019 because of cases like the one against Norrell.
Respect isn’t something which the criminal justice system gets automatically. It must be earned by those who run it. And if the taxpayers have no respect for it, it is clearly the fault of the people who we have entrusted to run it.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.