This firework-throwing judge was anything but Honorable.
We’ve just seen the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the highest court in the land, and it came after some serious deliberations about the rights and responsibilities of a judge.
When you’re behind that bench, you represent the rule of law. You need to have a cool head and a keen mind. You need to be ready to evaluate facts, dismiss opinions and find the truth. It’s a tremendous responsibility.
Nebraska Supreme Court judge Richard “Deacon” Jones systematically trashed that responsibility and got away with it for a staggering 11 years.
When you’re in court, the decisions a judge makes are incredibly serious. They can mean the difference between life and death, drive you into bankruptcy or tear your family apart.
So when Jones would set bail for a prisoner at 13 cents or a “gazillion pengos” or sign paperwork “Adolf Hitler,” “Mickey Mouse” or “Snow White,” it didn’t sit well with hard-working lawyers doing their best for their clients.
That was just the tip of the iceberg for Jones. Driven by a relentless disrespect for his profession, he pulled weird pranks on defendants, lawyers and even fellow judges. He threw lit fireworks into offices, placed insulting phone calls and generally made life difficult for everybody in his orbit.
It wasn’t all fun and games in his court. What finally got him removed from his position was some significantly nastier business. In 1997, a fellow judge named Jane Prochaska couldn’t take it any more. She presented a detailed chronicle of Jones’s misdeeds for the past decade.
Most crudely, Prochaska reported that Jones had pressed his 400-pound body up against her in an elevator, grabbed her breasts and fondled them. This was no isolated incident, but the latest escalation in a pattern of abuse towards Prochaska that he had perpetrated for years.
In 1993, Jones falsely claimed to another court employee that Prochaska had offered him oral sex. According to the court complaint, he would also loudly fantasize about killing her in numerous gruesome ways, including:
• references to stuffing dynamite in her tailpipe, and being there to “watch the mist blow 20 feet in the air”;
• turning Prochaska’s head into “pink mist”;
• and pouring honey on her and letting ants crawl over her.
During the proceedings, other people came forward to share their horrific experiences with Jones. Judge Mark Ashford testified that the receipt of a death threat in his office mailbox in 1991 was traced back to Jones, as well as some vandalism in his office.
For his part, Judge Jones claimed that his actions were all part of an atmosphere of “mutual pranks,” despite no evidence of any actions going the other way. He also said that signing the wrong name on documents was done to keep court employees “on their toes.”
There are about 60,000 judges in the United States across all levels of the legal system, from the Supreme Court on down. Around 500 complaints are filed against them each year, and most get dismissed on lack of merit. For a judge to be disciplined takes a lot of work. It’s quite literally fighting the law, and the law usually wins.
Luckily for the people of Nebraska, Jones lost. He was stripped of his gavel in 1999.
This should be a cautionary tale for all of us. Even with 11 years of bad behavior, it took a ton of work to get Jones out from behind the bench. When a judge is appointed to the Supreme Court for life, you’re pretty much stuck with them — the only way to remove one is by impeachment, which has only been tried once, against Samuel Chase in 1805 (it didn’t work).
Jones actually tried to get his job back by filing a lawsuit, saying that he was discriminated against because he was a “fat, diabetic, white Christian.” Needless to say, this one didn’t have any legs and the (alleged) Hitler-loving, boob-groping judge finally retired to private practice.