Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Twist On Corruption: Bailiff Tampering

We've all heard of jury tampering, even bribery of judges. This though is a first for me - bailiff tampering, brought to us from Cincinnati via John Wesley Hall's Law of Criminal Defense Blog.

From the story:

Hoping to crack a federal drug case, investigators were listening in on telephone calls when they stumbled across a conversation that is sending shock waves through Hamilton County's judicial system.

On that wiretap, federal officials heard what they believe was an attempt by convicted drug dealer Charles Johnson to buy his freedom by arranging a meeting with a court bailiff he hoped would fix his sentence.

Johnson's case has investigators poring over thousands of court documents involving criminal cases before West over the last five years. They are looking at why some cases presided over by West never had their sentences carried out and why other cases before him had no activity for years.

In three specific cases, West acknowledged from the bench that the case files he uses to track each case's progress contained handwriting that wasn't his.

This is the best:

Generally, judges write their notes from each case on a case file or card they keep for their records. Some judges, though, cede the responsibility of maintaining the case file to their bailiffs.

Now listen, I know things are done differently everywhere. In Miami, court files are noted by the clerks. Bailiffs usually are left to tell people in the gallery to "shut up," "take the baby out," "have a seat you're late, HAVE A SEAT I SAID," or "I don't know if the judge called your name HAVE A SEAT."

There's also the "cool" bailiffs who slap you on the shoulder, ask how you are, and bring up yesterdays ball game, or the trial that finished up last night.

Never though, do they write in court files, that I know of.


In each of those three cases, the person charged with a crime had no action taken on their case in at least two years. In each, West insisted he knew nothing about why those cases were dormant and noted there were no legal documents - especially none signed by him - that allowed the cases to be continued or set for another court date.


Then there's part two of the investigation:

"Some defense attorneys called us and said they loaned him money," Deters said.


I sure hope so.

We'll see.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

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