Monday, August 04, 2008

People v. Sutton (Cal. Ct. App. - July 30, 2008)

The holding here is itself important -- basically, that even if the defendant doesn't waive time (i.e., the right to be brought to trial within 60 days), appointed counsel's engagement in another trial constitutes "good cause" to continue the trial beyond that statutory period. That's an important -- and interesting -- holding, and does conflict a tiny bit (albeit in an arguably distinguishable way) with some other holdings.

But let me focus less on the doctrinal merits here than on a passage in the opinion that quotes some of the dialogue below. Dialogue that jumped out to me as not right -- as not the type of discourse that I especially like to see manifested by judges. Here's the exchange between the defendant and Superior Court Judge
Judith L. Champagne (up in Los Angeles):

“Defendant Sutton: I’m confused.
The court. What are you confused about, Mr. Sutton?
Defendant Sutton: I’m told you have 60 days to start trial. Sixty days was up yesterday, and we’ve not waived any time. The minute order –
The court: That’s excellent. And I found good cause to put your case over.
Defendant Sutton: What’s the good cause? What’s the good cause?
The court: The good cause is that one of the lawyers is engaged and can’t try two cases at one time. And if one of the lawyers is engaged on a case with two defendants, it’s good cause to put both over. Now, do you want a further explanation than that?
Defendant Sutton: Yeah, but the minute order show we never waived any time. I’m confused.
The court: You’re not confused. You just don’t like it.
Defendant Sutton: Well, that’s a fact.

The court: That’s a fact. And you know what my answer to you is? Too bad. See you on Monday.”

The sarcastic "that's excellent" comment is somewhat snarky, but I'm willing to let it go. But I thought the "too bad" comment somewhat crossed the line. The Court of Appeal doesn't mention anything about this exchange, but I'd have dropped a footnote that said we expect a little more circumspection, neutrality and restraint from our judges. Because the appearance of justice matters too.