Two of them spitting mad

Bonner County

Bonner County

One of the macro issues in our system of justice has to do with what we do with all those criminal convicts: Are we really making the smartest, most effective or even the safest choices in locking up so many people at tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer fund each? Sure, some have to be segregated from the rest of us, but is that the only real option available to us?

Question comes to mind in the case of Idaho 1st District Magistrate Justin Julian and convicted stop-sign runner Daniel J. Malone.

Last September, a law officer charged Malone with failing to stop at a stop sign at Larch Street and Ella Avenue in Sandpoint. Malone contested the ticket, saying he wasn’t guilty, and on Christmas Even the case went to trial at the Bonner County Courthouse, Julian presiding. Julian found him guilty and imposed a $75 fine.

Malone responded, “bah, humbug,” in reference to the season. Then his case over, he left the courtroom, but not by much. He apparently stood outside the courtroom and kept looking at Julian, in “a menacing fashion,” Julian said. Exactly what make his stare menacing wasn’t completely clear.

Malone’s attitude was made clear enough, though by what Julian said happened next: “Once I made direct eye contact with the Defendant, he demonstrated his contempt for the Court by willfully and maliciously expelling a large amount of saliva in the direction of the Court, and onto the carpet of the Courthouse hallway.” After which, he left the building and went to his car in the parking lot.

Then the chief bailiff, Mark Johnson, stopped him from leaving and took him back to the courtroom. There, Julian confronted him and (a news report says) told him, “There is no excuse for your disruptive and disgusting behavior. I’m holding you in contempt. You’re serving the next two days in jail.”

Which he did. Malone was released on Friday, having spent Christmas in jail.

Malone’s behavior sounds juvenile, and you can understand Julian’s irritation. But we would have two questions for the judge.

One, the lesser, is whether a judge has enforcement, including jailing, powers for “contempt” that occurs outside the courtroom and isn’t part of a case before him. If so, where would that authority stop? Suppose Malone had been outside in the parking lot, lifted a middle finger at Julian, and Julian happened to observe it – could he have had him him hauled in and jailed for that?

But the larger question is this: If Malone was creating a problem of disruption for the court, then why not send the bailiff out to the hallway to deal with it? (Couldn’t a door have been shut?) Why allow the problem to escalate?

Why not, in other words, try to defuse the problem? In the case of Daniel Malone, angry after a $75 fine, the anger level has no doubt spiraled upward. And get the sense that, for a case involving a stare and a spit, it didn’t have to go this far.

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