LET IT BE.
Now that the dust is starting to settle from the volcanic reaction to recent events in the Casey Anthony case, this seems the appropriate time to take stock of same, try to decipher meaning and motives, and hopefully calm the troubled waters.
Let’s start by taking a look at the precipitating event which leads us to where we are today, the now infamous invitation by Judge Stan Strickland, subsequent to an October 2009 hearing, to one David Knechel to approach the bench. At that time, in open court, with television cameras rolling, Judge Strickland offered recognition and a compliment to Mr. Knechel (known to most as Marinade Dave) for some earlier blogs Mr. Knechel had published about the subject case.
For those who do not know this, Mr. Knechel, under the pseudonym of Marinade Dave, regularly writes and publishes a WordPress blog about a range of topics, but primarily about missing and murdered women and children. So, a trip to the bench for a brief public exchange seems harmless enough, right?
Well, not really. The problem seems to lie in that several of the blogs to which the Judge referenced his compliment contained remarks by Mr. Knechel critical of the Defendant and the Defense team.
Whether the criticisms had merit is not the point. The issue is really quite narrow: could a reasonable person construe the Judge’s remarks to Mr. Knechel as a ratification of his criticisms of the Defendant and her Defense team? And, if so, would a reasonable person then conclude that such ratification evinced a prejudice or bias either for the State of Florida, or against the Defendant and her lawyers? Again, if so, then the conclusion could be drawn that the Defendant could be deprived of her constitutional right to a fair trial. The upshot is that the beliefs and any conclusions drawn here lie not with anyone but the Defendant, herself.
That leads us to a discussion as to the propriety of the Defense attorneys filing a motion to disqualify Judge Strickland. Upon learning of the above incident, the Defense had no alternative but to disclose it to their client, Casey Anthony, and discuss with her the effect of same on her, and, whether she still held the belief that she could receive a fair trial with Judge Strickland. If Casey Anthony reasonably feared that she could not, her Defense counsel is left with no other choice but to file a motion to disqualify the trial judge.
Why is there no choice? Because, in the event that Ms. Anthony is convicted of murder and sentenced to death, and loses her first round of appeals, then subsequent appellate lawyers would attack the competency of her trial lawyers for their failure to raise the issue. Ultimately, if this attack is successful, it would result in a reversal of her conviction and a new trial for Casey Anthony.
This inexorably leads us to discuss the contents of the subject motion to disqualify trial judge. Therein lies one’s sense of disappointment and a cause to levy criticism and rebuke. The motion to disqualify trial judge needed only to have addressed the narrow issue which I earlier defined. The evidence offered in the motion on that issue alone would have been found to have been legally sufficient and should have achieved the desired result.
However, it is the inclusion of all of the rest of what can only be described as vicious, scurrilous, vituperative, condemnatory and patently mean-spirited, together with unsubstantiated and untrue allegations that subjects this pleading to the harshest of criticism. What is it about this case that causes otherwise good people to act with such toxicity and attack, with utter disregard of the consequences, the character of a man like Judge Strickland? I don’t have an answer, perhaps some of you do.
At this point, we have to address Judge Strickland’s order. Usually when a judge grants a motion to recuse or disqualify, it is done without comment or opinion. This order, granting the defense motion, however, contained an opinion, causing some in the legal community to wonder about, if not view with a critical eye, the prose contained in said opinion.
In ruling on a motion to disqualify, a judge is only to pass on the legal sufficiency of the motion and cannot defend, dispute, or put into context the allegations contained in the motion. He cannot call a press conference to do this either. In this instance, the judge, granted the motion with an opinion, which obviously was in defense of his character.
Certain law school instructors leveled some criticism at Judge Strickland for that. But perhaps it would serve those to remember that Stan Strickland is not only a circuit court judge, but also a husband and a father, whose children live, go to school and work in our community. Judge Strickland has given back to and served the citizens of the state of Florida not only through his civic contributions, but also through public service and sacrifice of financial gain, in the furtherance thereof.
I would assert that he should be expected to respond to a wholesale attack and vicious characterization that goes to the very essence of his being. Perhaps these same law school instructors might want to consider how they would react if they, themselves, were the subject of such a personal attack, and it was instead, their wives, children, parents, friends and colleagues who had to deal with the consequences and the aftermath.
Finally, in looking back, should we castigate Marinade Dave for blogging? Judge Strickland for extending a compliment? The Defense for filing the motion to disqualify (which, again, they were obliged to do)? Or, Judge Strickland, again, for the content of his order?
No. The prosecution of Casey Anthony will not be impacted by this series of recent events, nor will the ends of justice be subverted and, in the end, the jury will reach a just verdict based upon the evidence presented at trial. So, in the words of Paul McCartney and the Beatles, “Let it be.”