PHOTO INDEX: THE PROVERBIAL DECK OF CARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE JOHN EDWARDS, AND FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR MARIO CUOMO.
EDWARDS TAKES MATCH
John Edwards, the millionaire lawyer running for President has decided to take matching funds in the 2008 Presidential race. The former Senator's move was seen as an act of desperation by some and by others a strategy to see if he can deliver a knockout blow in the Democratic primary. Edwards has struggled to remain in the so-called top tier of Democratic candidates ever since Clinton and Obama both doubled and then tripled Edwards fundraising over the last 9 months. Well, that struggle became even greater yesterday with the campaign's decision to accept matching funds. While the campaign is desperately spinning that this decision means they'll have $20 million to spend at the start of the year, it means the campaign has no long-term strategy. They are going for a quick knockout and if they don't get that KO in the early going, look for Edwards to lobby for the number 2 spot once more.
Every once in a while, we political people are reminded of what could have been. I caught former New York Governor Mario Cuomo tonight on Hardball. Even the show's host, Chris Matthews was less obnoxious than he normally is with the three term chief executive of the Empire State. Cuomo made the point that no Democrats have been talking about a withdrawal strategy and seem to be enabling the President in the war effort. Then Cuomo brought up something very few members of Congress have since 2003, the role they have in declaring war. The comments were remarkable and tell you that there are at least a few Democrats who are trying to articulate an anti war message and not keep this mess going.
LOKUTA: DAY 5
Attorney Virginia Murtha-Cowley just wrapped up a case in front of Judge Ann Lokuta and took a seat.
She shouldn’t have.
“Why are you sitting down?” the judge asked, according to Murtha-Cowley. “You sit down when this jurist tells you to sit down!”
So, Murtha-Cowley testified Thursday, she kept standing – even after the next case was called.
She shouldn’t have done that, either.
“Why are you standing?” Lokuta boomed, according to Murtha-Cowley. “Now you’re just being ridiculous.”
That type of humiliating, contradicting demand unfolded in front of others inside Lokuta’s courtroom, Murtha-Cowley testified.
But it really wasn’t that humiliating for Murtha-Cowley, Lokuta’s attorney, Louis Sinatra, argued.
It was Murtha-Cowley who purposely engaged in the “childish” act, in an attempt to give Lokuta a “comical” payback, Sinatra argued in his intense cross-examination of the attorney.
“That was a flippant gesture, wasn’t it?” Sinatra asked her.
“No,” Murtha-Cowley responded.
Murtha-Cowley, like so many others, was often disrespectful to Lokuta, Sinatra argued.
But those who were respectful, such as former prosecutor Ingrid Cronin, never had a problem with Lokuta, Sinatra argued in the fourth day of Lokuta’s trial on misconduct charges.
Sinatra has been making his defense clearer in the case, arguing that only people who were disrespectful to Lokuta, or unable to adequately perform their jobs, were the ones who complained about Lokuta’s behavior.
But the state Judicial Conduct Board says Lokuta’s behavior crossed that line, claiming she violated judicial code and the state constitution in her behavior and handling of cases.
The conduct board’s deputy chief counsel, Francis J. Puskas II, called Murtha-Cowley to the stand before the Court of Judicial Discipline on Thursday.
On one occasion, Murtha-Cowley was in Lokuta’s courtroom and had to turn around to check a file.
Lokuta, the attorney said, leaned forward in her seat and pointed at Murtha-Cowley.
“Don’t turn your back on this jurist,” Lokuta exclaimed, according to Murtha-Cowley.
But in Cronin’s courtroom experience, she’s seen other judges acting worse, she has said.
The former assistant district attorney conceded Lokuta often made her court sessions “long and drawn out.” She would regularly start late, about 30 minutes, and take a lot of breaks.
But Cronin said she never had a problem dealing with Lokuta.
Cronin has seen Lokuta castigate a probation officer unfairly.
She’s seen Lokuta experience wild, unpredictable mood swings.
And she’s seen Lokuta get mad over someone clicking a pen.
That behavior created a noticeable tension in the courtroom, Cronin said. And it made several prosecutors want to stay clear of Lokuta’s courtroom, she said.
Clerks were troubled, too.
Prothonotary Jill Moran saw her clerks come back from Lokuta’s courtroom “visibly shaken.”
Clerk Donna Miscavage always worried if she would be the next to catch a Lokuta lashing over something little.
“A witness, a noise, something someone said,” Miscavage testified. “She would just explode.”
Prothonotary clerk Maura Cusick always worried whether she was going to be with “the good judge or the wicked judge.” She relayed some stories about her time with the “wicked judge.”
Like the time Lokuta “chastised” Cusick because her chair was squeaking – and then demanded an apology from her.
And the time Lokuta ordered her to remove a cough drop from her mouth when she was sick – then later accused Cusick of giving her a cold.
But Sinatra, as he has argued, continues to point out that noises can be a distraction to the judge. A distraction she can’t afford when she handles important court cases.
And he probed Cusick about whether she had received poor work reviews in the past.
Cusick’s boss caught some heat, too.
Sinatra grilled Moran about her office procedures, noting that Lokuta has often pointed out deficiencies with several procedures in Moran’s office.
That, Sinatra argued, made Moran biased against Lokuta.
And he didn’t let Moran slide on the notorious “John Doe” debacle.
He asked Moran whether she “altered” a tax lien filed against her law partner, Robert Powell, in the prothonotary’s office. She denied altering the records, but conceded the lien would only show up under the name “John Doe” in the office’s computer system.
Sinatra still used it in his argument.
“You’re still filing records under phony names and you’re still altering records,” he boomed.
I have to tell you that being a worker in Anne Lokuta's courtroom demanded high standards, a strong constitution, the ability to take abuse and the very tough strength of not taking anything personal. That's my gut reaction from the testimony written today. There is no doubt she could be unreasonable and sometimes out of line. But I'm waiting to hear what provoked her behavior. The cross examination of Atty. Murtha by Lokuta's Attorney points to various sides of the story. Left standing without rebuttal you'd think Lokuta was meting out corporal punishment, most likely the way the nuns did to her in the little Polish grade school in Dupont. Or one might wonder why Murtha stood there. Was she truly scared of the Judge? Or, as the Defense Attorney points out, was she making a defiant statement?
There were mixed reviews from Atty. Cronin who on one hand told us of other Judge's behavior being worse (bet those stories will never see the light of day) but then highlights some of the Jurist's lowlights with other Court personal. Cronin seems to not have had a problem with Lokuta. However the clerks from Jill Moran's office did and complained to the Prothonotary. Ms. Moran of course allied herself with her staff, leaving herself wide open to the forged records controversy coming out of her office. It was give and take today with an eye doctor explaining Lokuta's visual problems and grimaces. Legitimate. I grimace and scare small children when I try to navigate with my cane in tight spaces on tough, cold winter days when my back pain is unbearable. But it's a natural reaction. The testimony today though was about a deck of cards.
It is how one handles the hand, the cards they are dealt. Atty. Cronin handled hers one way, Atty. Murtha her way and the clerks from Ms. Moran's still another. In the testimony today I heard no attempts from any of these victimized workers to reach out to the Judge. Just complaints. Carrying tales up to higher ups, the mommies and daddies if you will of the Courthose instead of saying to the Judge, "why?" I referenced Mario Cuomo here earlier and one of the most valuable rhetorical lessons I learned from watching him was to ask a simple question of an unreasonable foe with an unreasonable position. And that question was "why?" "Why are you acting that way toward me?" Maybe Lokuta was a bully but you deal with it. You play the cards in your hand. You do it as an adult. Because the clicking pen, the sqeaking chair, the throat lozenges all screamed out for the question a reasonale adult asks another adult veering off into questionable behavior, and that question was "why?" No one asked it or acted as an adult, they had other people handle their problems. Paternalism whether it comes from Jill Moran or the Judicial Review Board ( Judge Conahan didn't want to seem to get involved in even dealing with Lokuta as President Judge for three years begging the question just what he was doing for his paycheck) won't solve the problems of employees who can't play the hand and the cards they are dealt.
DAVID WEISS REPORTS FROM THE TIMES LEADER WERE USED IN THIS FEATURE. HE IS A THOROUGH AND TALENTED REPORTER.