Dark Justice -- Seven
Be Kind to the Well-meaning Dilettante

I'll Have Mine Fried, Please

Anyone here eat at Feby's Fishery in Wilmington, Delaware, on February 15? If so, did you happen to overhear Superior Court Judge Peggy Ableman's chit-chat with her husband over dinner?

One witness said she told her husband that "she would get the last word" and that the man on trial before her "would get the death penalty." 

So much for a neutral and detached magistrate in that case. The defendant was subsequently sentenced to death.

Lawyers for the man filed a motion for a new trial claming judicial bias. Judge Ableman would have none of it. Her recollection of the dinner conversation was that she was disappointed in the perfomance of defense counsel. Listen to part of her ruling:

"Defendant has not cited, nor am I aware of, any authority that would prevent a judge from telling her husband, `An attorney has so botched the death penalty case that I am trying that I am going to be stuck with a ten-two jury vote to execute a juvenile." Temper, temper, judge.

The defendant will not be executed, thanks not to the judge, but to the Roper decision declaring it unlawful to execute juveniles. The defendant was seventeen at the time of the murders for which he was tried.

The judge's remarks were overheard after the jury's verdict of guilty, but before a verdict on the penalty phase.

Sounds like a biased jurist to me. And, of course, her observations of defense counsel's performance will be pivotal in the inevitable habeas corpus petition for ineffective assistance of counsel.

Judge Ableman now finds herself in a tough spot. She has all but declared defense counsel ineffective. Question: Will she appear voluntarily at that habeas hearing to support the claim of ineffectiveness? Or will she try to quash the subpoena claiming judicial privilege?