There are a lot of bad judges out there. (Just ask Morrissey.)

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The Chicken of D.C.
Bad Judges
Last month, in Illinois, Circuit Judge Daniel Rozak was handing down a sentence in a felony drug case when a courtroom spectator did something unforgivably disruptive. He yawned.
The move (by its very nature) may have been spontaneous, but Rozak found it highly offensive nonetheless. He slapped the yawner -- 33-year-old Clifton Williams, the cousin of the defendant -- with the highest contempt sentence possible under Illinois law: six months in jail.
In the description of the contempt order, Williams "raised his hands while at the same time making a loud yawning sound," a move ostensibly calculated to undermine the judge's authority.
"It was not a simple yawn," a spokesman for the state's attorney's office said. "It was a loud and boisterous attempt to disrupt the proceedings."
Perhaps. But Williams's family -- who rely on him to help care for his 79-year-old grandmother and could not afford a lawyer to appeal the sentence -- was understandably stunned.
"I was flabbergasted because I didn't realize a judge could do that," Williams's father, Clifton Williams Sr., told the Chicago Tribune. "It seems to me like a yawn is an involuntary action."
Williams's grandmother, who lives with her grandson, called the sentence "ridiculous."
"You've got all these people shooting up kids, and here this boy yawns in court [and gets six months]. It's crazy," she said.
Indeed, while Williams was carted off to jail, his cousin, the drug-case defendant, got two years' probation.
Despite the six-month sentence, three weeks later, Williams was freed. Maybe it was the bad press. Maybe the judge had a change of heart. Either way, according to press reports, "as Williams stood before the bench in shackles," the judge reiterated that he had not gone to jail for simply yawning but for making a sound "that was offensive to the court."
Such incidents, where local judges treat courtroom spectators like trespassers on their personal kingdoms, are hardly rare in American courthouses. For all the discussion of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's "judicial temperament" during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, it is not uncommon to find judges who use their positions on the bench to impose arbitrary and extreme punishments on people who are not even on trial.
"Contempt of court" is hardly a new concept, of course. Judges have long enjoyed the power to impose order in their courtrooms by cracking down on those who disrupt it, including lawyers who argue before them. (This power even has a solid place in popular culture; in the movie My Cousin Vinnie, for example, the wisecracking and amateurish New York lawyer, played by Joe Pesci, routinely spent the night in jail for regularly offending a humorless Alabama judge, with his accent, clothing and smart-ass remarks.)
Despite this, the concept was once controversial, and with good reason: The notion that one's rights of free speech flies out the window upon entering a court of law is not only ironic, it's somewhat at odds with democratic ideals. But the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the power in cases "where immediate punishment is essential to prevent demoralization of the court's authority before the public."
Fair enough. But as one blogger pointed out after the Williams story broke: "Let us not forget: judges are public servants. They receive a good salary; lifetime medical benefits; and pensions from the very people who come to their courtrooms and who are subject to their contempt orders." These same taxpayers are the ones who foot the bill to imprison people like Williams.
In recent years, pundits, politicians and judicial nominees have popularized the notion that judges are nothing more than cool arbiters of the law, reflexively objective as umpires (an idea that, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean "we would need only one, and it could be a supercomputer," as Slate legal writer Dahlia Lithwick quipped this summer).
But while their robes and gavels imbue them with a noble and commanding presence -- and the ceremonial language of the courtroom affords them near-deity status -- in reality, judges can be as capricious, petty and bullying as any other mere mortal.
Below are eight more stunning examples of judges who have overstepped their power, not necessarily through bad rulings, but through contempt orders, tantrums and the arbitrary authoritarianism of a petty tyrant.
1. 'Everyone Is Going to Jail!'
You know the drill: You're at a movie or a play or some public function and some jerk forgets to turn off his or her cell phone. Eye-rolling follows. It's annoying. But is it criminal?
Of course not. But that didn't deter family court Judge Robert Restaino, of Niagara Falls, N.Y., from ordering the mass arrest of 46 people after a cell phone rang in his courtroom.
"Now, whoever owns the instrument that is ringing, bring it to me now, or everybody could take a week in jail," Restaino said upon hearing the ring. "And please don't tell me I'm the only one that heard that."
No one confessed.
"Everyone is going to jail," the judge warned again. "Every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. If anybody believes I'm kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going."
Restaino made good on his promise. When no one stepped forward, he ordered all 46 people into police custody. Most of them were able to get out on bond. But not all.
"The 14 defendants who were unable to post bail were transported to the county jail," according to the North County Gazette. "Those defendants remained in custody for seven hours, until the judge released them after learning that the press was inquiring into his actions."
In 2007, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended by a 9-1 vote that Restaino be disbarred for his actions, which were carried out "without any semblance of a lawful basis" and "out of pique and frustration."
The New York State Court of Appeals upheld the recommendation.
2. Texting in Court = 30-Day Sentence
In another cell-phone incident, this one in Utah, a woman was jailed after she was caught texting in court.
Susan Henwood's husband, Joshua, was on trial in a debt-collection case this spring when he got sick and couldn't make the proceedings. So his wife went in his place. As she watched the trial, she kept her husband updated via text, with comments like, "it doesn't look good for you."
"They're coming for the Polaris Ranger," she typed at one point, referencing the car they shared -- "one of several items" the plaintiffs wanted seized, according to local press.
This warning, according to Judge Stephen Henroid, amounted to an insidious attempt to conspire with her husband to circumvent the law. He sentenced Henwood with 30 days in jail.
"I think he personally attacked me, to get to me, through my wife," Joshua Henwood said.
"You see drunk drivers, and what do they get? A few days. She texts, and she's in jail for 30? No, no," Susan's grandmother, Dolores Kyle, told reporters.
In the end, Henwood spent two days in jail. However, "the judge can still order Susan to finish the remaining 28 days of her sentence if he chooses to do so later."
3. The $54 Million Pantsuit
Stop me if you've heard this one: A former Legal Aid lawyer starts a new gig as an administrative judge in Washington, D.C., and buys a $1,000 suit for the occasion. He goes to get the pants dry cleaned at a local strip mall and, as sometimes happens with dry cleaners, the pants go missing.
The judge sues. For $67.3 million.
So goes the tale of Roy L. Pearson Jr., who, in a fit of rage over a lost pair of pants, used "a complicated formula" to calculate that "under the city's consumer protection law, the owners, Soo and Jin Chung, and their son, Ki Chung, each owe(d) $18,000 for each day over a nearly four-year period in which signs at their store promised 'Same Day Service' and 'Satisfaction Guaranteed,' " according to the New York Times.
In the ensuing trial, Pearson, who represented himself, "cast himself as a victim of a fraud on a historic scale, perpetrated by malicious business owners who had no intention of delivering on those promises."
The case gained notoriety, with reporters flocking to cover it. "It was the case that people couldn't stop talking about," the Washington Post wrote. Although Pearson eventually reduced his demand to $54 million, he kept up his fight, rejecting numerous offers to settle. Finally, in June 2007, the judge in the case made her ruling:

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