Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pot, Meet Kettle

Judge Ann Lokuta, sitting on the Court of Common Pleas for Luzerne County, has been a thorn in the sides of the County Democratic Party (who didn't support her candidacy), lawyers, prosecutors, and court staff throughout most of her 15 years or so on the bench (from what this outsider can tell, the problem seems to be as much from the good ol' boy -- emphasis on the gender-- attitude up there, as it is from Judge Ann's own "unique" personality).

Most of all, she has been an irritant to the other judges on that Court (apparently, especially, her boss, the President Judge, as the charges expressly refer to her criticisms of the way he runs the courthouse).

They have, finally, gotten back at her.

The Pocono Record reports today that the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board has filed a 22-page complaint against the Luzerne County jurist. Sources tell me that this is the result of months of effort by many of her fellow-judges.

Back in the day, when I was a practicing attorney, I spent only a little bit of time in the Luzerne County Courthouse. While I never had the pleasure of appearing before her, I did have the chance, on several occasions, to observe her behavior and have, of course, listened with bemusement to all the gossip about her supposedly bizarre behavior.

I do not rise to defend Judge Lokuta -- let her able defense counsel take care of that.

But don't think that Judge Lokuta is an aberration on the Luzerne County bench -- based on years of conversations with lawyers who regularly and irregularly appear in Luzerne County, most of Judge Lokuta's fellow judges have no concept of what it means to be a judge.

With exceptions so rare you can count them on two fingers, the Luzerne County bench often can be depended on to allegedly decide cases based on the identities of the parties or their counsel.

They can be relied on to give the finger to litigants and the law by absolutely refusing to do their jobs -- minor, unimportant things, like issuing opinions explaining their decisions. Only a few weeks ago, one of their elite issued a large verdict in a defamation case and didn't bother to give the parties an opinion on why he reached the results that he did.

This lack of care is not surprising, consider that their President Judge was elected to office without ever having set foot in a courtroom, anywhere, as a lawyer representing a client -- he inherited a magistrate's job in Hazleton before he got hard for the big time.

They also delight in their unwritten rules -- such as granting a motion to compel discovery without even requiring the lawyer to notify the other side that the motion has been made.

Many of the judges also love to harass attorneys from outside the County for no other reason than that they can. (Okay, I'll have to admit a personal grudge about this one.)

As a whole, Judge Lokuta might be at the lower end of the lot, but it is already a fairly low lot of judges on the Luzerne County Bench. Collectively, this Bunch is one of the best arguments for merit selection you can find.


Anonymous said...

I would really like to know who you are! you are right on the money! you must have been a great attorney. there are so few of them!
can you imagine working here everyday? you cant imagine what i see! Other judges are out of control! there are no rules followed! EVER! the judge who does follow the rules, is an inconvience to the other judges(in thier way)they are trying to remove her! i really hope she wins. she deserves to win! shes honest and fair. just because she is strict and impartial they hate her! NOT TO MENTION THE FACT, SHES A WOMAN!!! i need support from you.

A Big Fat Slob said...

I think it would be significant to confirm if the PJ and/or any of the other judges on the Court had anything to do with the complaint(s) which led to the charges.

Unfortunately, none of the local media up there seems to have looked into this (although I did suggest it in emails to reporters covering it from two of the local papers).

I don't mean to take sides on this -- I have no intent to support or run down the judge. My main interest is in process, fairness, and apparent hypocrisy. I am also concerned about this setting a precedent.

I am familiar with the poor treatment that she got from party regulars when she ran the first time, and that the judges on the bench resented her when she was first elected; I have heard stories of particularly crude public comments by the previous PJ about her (at some St Patrick's day all male event up there); and I hear how the current PJ hates her criticisms.

I also found many of the allegations to be unrelated to her judicial responsibilities and apparently designed to give exposure to private areas of her life which, in the decidely intolerant atomosphere of NEPA, will not sit well with many who might otherwise be inclined to support her.

That, and the strange express reference to her criticisms of the PJ, lead me to wonder if the source of the complaints should be a matter of public knowledge so that the motivation of the complainers could be evaluated.

If the other judges were behind or involved with the complaints, they should stand up and stop hiding behind the aprons of the Judicial Conduct board.

Anonymous said...

so what now? how can i help the judge? im pretty sure that the newspapers are also afriad of the p.j. and retaliation. i have never talked to someone who thinks EXACTLY like i do! i thought when it went to public forum that the complainants would have to come forward, but, not yet. the judicial process has not been fair at this point! all complaints, depositions and interviews should be public one formal charges are filed, correct? they really are giving her the crap! thats why i believe that judges are involved! i feel they are waiting because the vote for president judge is coming on december 12. it will be ciavarella and he doesnt want to be exposed, neither does conahan!

Barbara K. said...

I commend Judge Lokuta for doing a job that the magisterial courts just can't seem to be bothered with. I never actually witnessed a judge literally shuffle papers like our magisterial judge did only to pass along his work to a higher court for appeal. It seemed to be too much trouble for him to do the right thing which would be a not guilty charge for a not guilty defendent. Judge Lokuta is about the fairest and most competent Judge I have ever witnessed.

Bernie O'Hare said...


"Bernie, face it. You have a hot nut for the judges."

A friend said that to me just today, as I condemned Northampton County judges over their spending. I didn't think much of the remark because it was made by a councilman who had just voted to give them something they wanted.

But after reading your well-written post, I think he may have a point. When I first read about these charges, I thought the Judicial Conduct Board finally nailed another crazy judge. I read some comments elsewhere, and quickly came to a conclusion.

After reading your post, I feel a little ashamed. I was quick to condemn this judge without waiting for the facts. Shame on me.

Thanks for bringing me back down to earth.

A Big Fat Slob said...

Bernie, thanks for reading and the comment.

I hasten to say, again, that I can't say that the charges aren't just that -- the nailing of another crazy judge -- or not. I know alot of lawyers up there would agree with the tenor of the charges. In fact, I haven't run into too many -- some, but not too many -- who rush to defend her.

Is part of the reason for that that they don't want to risk offending other judges on the bench? I can't say, 150 miles is too far to see clearly. (And, I guess I should point out that, in my consulting work the lawyers I deal with are mainly transaction and inhouse people, so they are relying on the whispered gossip at bar meetings and at meetings in bars.)

But, when you look at the complaint itself and see how much of it is petty and personal, one does wonder. The most egrious charge that I saw in there is the allegation of using court staff to do personal errands, like cleaning her house, on County time.

But others have told me that the staff person doing those things may have actually been resident in the same house, so it could be more a matter of cleaning their own house.

That makes the 'theft of services' charge a bit less dramatic.

But who knows. Certainly the local coverage hasn't been too helpful in sorting it all out -- it seems that they are also concerned about offending the county bench by being too aggressive. (Unless they put more in print than they do on line.)

Anonymous said...

You say the "other judges" are out of control yet you fail to specifically cite any instances. I've witnessed all of the judges in Luzerne County in action and I can say that all of them, with the exception of Lokuta, run an efficient and professional court (I emphasize "professional"). The charges filed against Lokuta have nothing to do with her being a woman, on the contrary, her crude and disorderly conduct both in and out of the courtroom demean women all over the county who aspire to become a judge. She verbally abuses the lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants and even the clerks and stenographers, creating a hostile and combative courtroom. She's cancelled court proceedings because she over-slept and even on some occassions, she would arrive late to court improperly dressed. Hardly the sort of demeanor one would expect from a County Judge.

As of lately, her behavior in the courtroom is much more restrained, but an observer with a keen eye would note that she is making an extraordinary effort not to revert back to her devious mannerisms. Who can blame her? She is under extreme scrutiny from her rivals and she can't afford to provide any more incidents before her upcoming trial.

Judge Lokuta's sudden gentleness would never have come into existence if it were not for the combined effort of the lawyers, judges, clients, and employees who have filed the complaint against her. This misconduct trial is not a conspiracy to rid the county of its only female judge, but it is instead the first steps initiated by the county in creating a much more professional, impartial, and efficient court system.

It should be interesting to see how this trial works out in September, especially since allegations of a possible Federal probe within the county have arisen. Oddly enough, it is Lokuta who brought these allegations into the media's attention. These accuasations of a Federal Probe may either be a ploy by the defense to shift attention from Lokuta or they may prove critical during the trial's proceedings.

Anonymous said...

Ann Lokuta was kinda nuts. But, she was a brilliant jurist. She was targetted for being different. So many times in this county, people fail to rise because they don't fit a profile. WE WASTE A LOT OF RESOURCES THAT WAY.