70th Installment. Mark E. Brennan, Part 3: Sentencing
Third in Mark Brennan series
For lawfully hijacking the respect the jury ordinarily reserves for the judge, the Colorado Supreme Court suspended Attorney Mark E. Brennan for a year and a day, announcing to trial attorneys in Colorado and beyond: exercise your professional judgment about how much deference your client's interests allow a biased judge, and you risk not only the reasonably contemplated mistrial and fine for contempt but your livelihood. The court is unembarrassed in signaling its solidarity with Judge Blackburn for the humiliation he suffered in his own courtroom; summarizing the case, the court admits it punishes Brennan for his supposed bad manners (his "impertinence"):
Respondent purposely challenged a federal district court judge, because he believed the judge held a bias in favor of his opponent. Ultimately, the judge found Respondent in contempt of court for his insolent behavior and disrespect for the authority of the tribunal. Yet, even after the judge entered the contempt order, Respondent persisted in his impertinent behavior.
The court flaunts its vindictive motives yet pretends to apply Colorado ethical standards against disrupting a tribunal and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Judge Blackburn had admitted the record doesn't support his conclusions, and the same holds for the ethics court, allowing the verdict to avenge Brennan's "impertinence," instead of reflecting the evidence: "Simply recounting Brennan's myriad and varied transgressions does not adequately capture the pervasiveness and the magnitude of his prejudicial behavior," Judge Blackburn had written.
Mark Brennan did what any trial attorney must try to do when confronting a trial judge biased against his client yet acting within his discretion: he replaced the judge at the pinnacle of the jury's respect. The maneuver's difficulty is attested by the contempt citation Brennan earned in its execution, but the possibility of this maneuver's success preconditions a real jury trial. Standing for prohibiting success in this subtle encouragement to a jury's moral mutiny, officer-of-the-court jurisprudence would guarantee the judge his respect by right, when the law only gives the judge every procedural advantage to maintain it.
Brennan tried to introduce his deposition of the jury foreman as evidence in the discipline case, but the court didn't allow it; Brennan's success was his real transgression. The tenor of the jury-foreman's exculpation:
You were absolutely polite. You tried your best. I know you did. You could tell. The other jurors could tell that you did. You didn't disrupt the trial in our hearing... ¶ But as far as the jury impression, no, it was a clash of styles. You were not impolite. You were an absolute gentleman. (Dillingham Deposition, January 2009, 54: 6 -- 14.)
Brennan had won over this jury, despite the court's bias. When the jury foreman heard of the original verdict's partial revocation, she perceived it as "an attack on me, and … an attack on the jury... [A]n attack on a jury that he portrayed as so ignorant and so naive that we could not see through the BS that was going on to get to the question ..." The pedestal where jurors put the judge, which courtroom procedure takes such pains to construct and repair, was leveled: "I would like to sue for libel. ... This is a judge that I told everybody I met I thought was the epitome of what a good judge should be.... It was Alice down the rabbit hole." (21: 7 -- 12.)
Courtroom justice involves delicate balances, and among the balanced factors is the right of an attorney to try to turn the jury's respect away from a biased judge. Officer-of-the-court jurisprudence, enforced by the state bars, is an aberration threatening to become the rule which emasculates the jury trial.