Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Johnny-Come-Lately Don't Know Much About History: Why Judge Buffington Was Right

I have to laugh (smiling isn't enough) at the conservatives who are SO up in arms about Chancellor Larry Buffington's appointment of former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz to a post as Simpson County Youth Court Defender.

For example, a "Simpson County resident" named Tom Bruckner has announced that he is filing a complaint with the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance against Chancellor Buffington. The right-wing (but highly entertaining) blog Y'all Politics reports Brucker's screed verbatim here:

Among other things, Bruckner says:

I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting in Simpson County on February 11 and feel obligated to make a formal complaint against Judge Larry Buffington. His actions warranted a complaint when he used his power as a judge to make an unnecessary appointment, just so one of his friends could earn state retirement.

Put aside for the moment that Judicial Performance complaints are supposed to be confidential (a requirement honored in the breach more than the observance).

ALSO put aside this writer's experience that the Commission never targets judges in the "in" group, and has a history of racially disproportionate prosecutions.

My question today is simple: where, oh where, have Citizen Bruckner and Y'all Politics been? Many of us have, FOR YEARS, attempted to change the system which allows local judges to appoint their public defenders. It creates a situation where the defender feels more obligated to the judge(s) than to his or her own client.

The most recent example has been the debacle with the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel under the leadership of former director Robert Ryan. The Mississippi Supreme Court had originally appointed Jack Williams from Oxford to head that office. But when Williams insisted on having sufficient time to prepare capital post-conviction petitions, then Chief Justice Edwin Lloyd Pittman fired Williams and appointed Ryan (without ever advertising for other applicants).

Think Ryan got the message? He filed numerous post-conviction petitions that merely copied and pasted from the prisoner's prior appeals, attached hearsay affidavits from investigators and paralegals instead of from the witnesses they interviewed, fired pro bono investigators who had found real evidence of mental illness and instead filed spurious mental retardation claims without evidence, and in a case where the client WAS mentally retarded, rested his case without calling a psychologist or other mental health expert. "Just going through the motions" doesn't begin to cover it. "Good enough for government work?" Not.

Note: the JFP story I wrote about the execution of Earl Berry, and Ryan's woeful work, is at

The JFP's Ronni Mott did her own excellent reporting on the subject of MOCPCC:

Did Y'all Politics say ANYTHING about the fact that Ryan evidently cared more about pleasing the Chief Justice who could hire and fire him, than about his clients' welfare? Did Citizen Bruckner? If they did, I didn't see or hear it.

Another example: under Governor Kirk Fordice (of all people), the Mississippi Legislature created a State Public Defender Commission, which was charged to implement a statewide public defender system with the lawyers appointed by a neutral, non-political, non-judicial body. Just think: lawyers for indigent defendants appointed on the basis of merit, not by fear or favor. The PROSECUTORS Association howled after the bill was passed, and succeeded in having it repealed the next session (under Governor Musgrove).

Did the conservatives complain then? I was there, and unless I'm deaf, I didn't hear it.

So clearly, then, our Johnny-Come-Lately Citizen Bruckner and his favorite red-meat blog don't care about neutral appointments of indigent defenders. They're just trying to gore the ox of their choice.

On the other hand, if Citizen Bruckner means what he says, maybe he could persuade his legislators to re-institute the Public Defender Commission. I'm sure Y'all Politics will endorse the idea . . . right?

Until that day comes (watch for the tell-tale outdoor hockey rinks in Hades), Judge Buffington has the prerogative to appoint the lawyer(s) of his choice to be youth court public defenders.

And it seems to me that a former Supreme Court Justice is more than qualified for the post.


Alan @ YallPolitics said...

Jim, all snarkiness aside (apology line forms to the right), you might want to read what I have had to say about this.

Just because something appears as news on YP doesn't mean I endorse it. In fact, there's a ton of stuff I disagree with that I put on the site just to make fun of or to expose to others that wouldn't otherwise see it.

For someone known for open mindedness (even towards the great unwashed and native Mississippians), you're a little quick on the trigger there, aren't you, sport?

Jim Craig said...

Thanks for the comment, Alan, and welcome to my world. While being called "snarky" and "quick on the trigger" by Y'all Politics is akin to being called a "slut" by Bill Clinton, I considered it something of a compliment.

All trigger-happy snarkiness aside, I did read the series of posts you suggested, but I don't think it contradicts what I said. After a series of critical posts against the appointment of former Justice Diaz by the Chancellor, you issued this mild rejoinder:

I am candidly not real emotional about this. As long as Diaz is adding value, I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t view this as a scam or anything else other than what it is. I guess it’s a little squirrely for Buffington to order that he get hired. That is mildly strange. But at the end of the day, there are a lot worse things to focus on.

My point was that it was not at all unusual for Judge Buffington to order the appointment of a public defender. It happens all the time. Many of us have worked to change that system and create an independent appointing authority, but "law and order" conservatives have thwarted reform.

It seemed to be earlier today, and still does this evening, that the only reason folks are upset about this appointment is that they don't like the politics of the judge making the appointment or the person being appointed. In my opinion, that's not a principled grounds for complaint.

Alan @ said...

I think I now understand the disconnect. YP is primarily a news forum. They weren't posts "for or against" Buffington or Diaz. They were cited posts from folks like Salter that just happened to get picked up. Again, they don't reflect the "YallPolitics" viewpoint. Only things with my name by them or "YP" in the title do that.

The news coverage was pretty against him because of the shenanigans he pulled on running for two seats simultaneously and the arrogance he has shown generally. I don't care where you're from . . . that's pretty lame. Plus the fact that he ordered executive branch officials to show up to a meeting only to be confronted with his own idiocy by counsel and quash his own subpoena shows he's not working with a full political or judicial deck. From Buffington, it comes off less like a procedural order and more like a judicial fiat.