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ORDER IN THE COURT?
By Jim Rambo
(Ed. Note: This is the second in a short series of columns about the author’s experiences over his long career as a prosecutor up in the “old country.”)
The Judge Sums Up
During jury selection in a murder trial before Judge Carl Goldstein, the prospective jurors were asked whether there was any reason that they felt they could not serve. One man came forward. He was young and wore a tee shirt.
Shaking his head, the guy said that there were only two people that he hated, “all black people and Rambo here.” I didn’t recognize the man and wondered why he felt so strongly about me. Seeing all of the spider web tattoos covering his neck and face, I surmised that I had likely convicted one of his friends of something. However, Judge Goldstein put it in perspective with his comment when he excused the man from further service.
“At least he’s an equal opportunity hater.”
In the throes of one penalty hearing in a capital case in Wilmington, Judge Henry DuPont Ridgely was presiding. He made a ruling in favor of the state and I sat back, quite satisfied with the developing situation. However, defense counsel, Theo Gregory, leaned over and, in a soft voice, said to me “That ruling’s bullshit, Jim. You know it, that’s bullshit!”
My mischievous mood overtook me. I leaned over to Gregory and told him that I couldn’t hear a word that he said. In frustration, Gregory loudly answered me, declaring “I said that was bullshit, Jim!”
Judge Ridgely, of course, heard Theo the second time and dressed him down immediately. We both heard every word that Judge Ridgely said.
Judge Albert Stiftel, of the Superior Court, was a fine judge and a wonderful, humorous man. The story is told that he once sentenced a man with the unlikely name of “Northeast West.” When all arguments had been completed by the state and defense, Judge Stiftel began his sentencing order: “Northeast West, you’re going south!” (south being the direction to the Delaware Correctional Center)
Albert Leaves ‘Em Laughing
One particularly anal engineer who worked for the DuPont Company was charged with a speeding offense and somehow got himself a jury trial in Superior Court. It must have been my unlucky day because I was the assigned prosecutor. The trial took several whole days and Judge Stiftel was the presiding judge. Neither Judge Albert Stiftel, the jury nor I was amused at the engineer’s antics as he represented himself. There were endless technical arguments about weather and how it, along with numerous other things, might have affected the police radar reading. Finally, it was over.
The defendant was declared guilty by the exhausted jurors. I could barely bring a smile. However, Judge Stiftel asked the defendant whether he had anything to say before sentence was imposed. This was clearly in the nature of “judicial error” and several jurors rolled their eyes. The indignant defendant began a tirade against the jury and how they couldn’t possibly understand the true meaning of either the presumption of innocence or reasonable doubt.
When he had finished, I sat mute as Judge Stiftel stared at the defendant. “Well, think about all the times that you were speeding and never got caught and you’ll feel better.” He slammed the gavel and left the bench. The jurors sat bent over in laughter.