For six decades, Sam Dalton fought against injustice in Louisiana, in capital cases and beyond. He died Tuesday, September 5, at age 90. The Washington Post recently published a story about, and interview with, Mr. Dalton—a part of which was an important message for judges: Where do you come down in the debate between electing judges and appointing them?
I’m against electing judges. I’m also against appointing them.Laughs.
He then elaborated:
I think every judge should handle both civil and criminal cases. When you split up cases like that, you immediately start to see fighting over budgets. But more importantly, there’s something important and necessary about having judges handle a wide variety of cases. It gives them some worldliness, some context and perspective. Criminal courts judges can often become hardened to the misfortunes of people. They can lose their sense of empathy.
You have to remember that nearly all judges are former prosecutors. There’s an undercurrent of alliance between judges and prosecutors, so there’s a certain collegiality there. They run in the same social circles. They attend the same Christmas parties.
I then asked Dalton to name the most urgent problem in the criminal-justice system today. He answered, “A true appreciation of what’s at stake. To take someone’s freedom — that’s the ultimate deprivation a government can inflict on a citizen, short of taking his life. Everyone in the criminal-justice system — judges, prosecutors, police, criminal defense lawyers — can get lost in the day-to-day and lose sight of what’s really going on in these courtrooms.” He added, “But that’s only one side of the problem. The criminal-justice system today also fails to do what it’s designed to do, which is to protect us from dangerous people.”
I asked if he was referring to the fact that every time an innocent person is convicted, a guilty person goes free. He wasn’t. He was referring to something much more profound.
The full article, written by Radley Balko, is at THE WASHINGTON POST.