Four-Time “Worst Judge” Honoree Berates Ohio Jurors for Getting Verdict Wrong

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Aug. 7 2013 5:24 PM

Four-Time “Worst Judge” Honoree Berates Ohio Jurors for Getting Verdict Wrong

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A file photo of a gavel.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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What’s the most important part of being a judge—besides, you know, familiarity with the law and owning enough black robes? Hint: It’s in the name. Give up? It’s judgment: knowing when to throw the book at a defendant, when to be lenient, and when to yell at a jury for being stupid enough to acquit a defendant whom you believe to be guilty.

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There’s never an appropriate time to publicly shame eight jurors in open court, you say? Well, then, you’re obviously not Judge Amy Salerno, the pride and joy of Franklin County (Ohio) Municipal Court, and a woman who will probably have an HLN show of her own before the year is up. (Thanks to the reader who brought this story to my attention.)

Last week, Salerno presided over the trial of Joseph McGee, who had been charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct. The case against McGee seemed strong: video footage appeared to show him striking the man he was said to have struck. So you can maybe understand Judge Salerno’s surprise when the jury found McGee not guilty. It’s pretty hard, though, to understand why she thought it was a good idea to openly berate the jurors for doing so. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the jury is correct. Now it’s 98 percent. You got this wrong,” Salerno told jurors, according to the Columbus Dispatch and other sources. (I like to think that she was also gesturing with her gavel in an accusatory fashion.) Salerno also reportedly boasted that the defendant had another case pending in her courtroom, and that she would get him the next time around. Take that, you stupid jury!

Now, Salerno may have expected the jurors to hang their heads, ponder their mistakes, and then write her some sort of chagrined note apologizing for the errors of their ways. Instead, they complained to Administrative Judge James E. Green, who has asked Salerno to recuse herself from all future cases involving McGee. Judge Green may also pursue further disciplinary action against Salerno, presumably for her unseemly behavior, and also for being very bad at calculating percentages.

A reprimand would seem to be warranted. Maybe Salerno was right, and the jury really did mess this one up. It doesn’t matter. Judges are supposed to remain in control of their courtrooms and their own behavior, not make jurors feel bad for having done their duties as citizens. (That’s the media’s job!) Then again, maybe this is just how Salerno rolls. A Reddit thread on the incident mentioned this Columbus Monthly article from 2009 about a Columbus Bar Association survey that ranked her as the worst judge in Franklin County Municipal Court, with Salerno finishing last or tied for last in all five categories: objectivity, judicial temperament, legal knowledge, sentencing, and timeliness. Salerno also earned worst judge honors in 2007, 2011, and 2013. Considering the survey is conducted every two years, Judge Salerno is on quite a roll. I can’t wait to see if she earns a five-peat in 2015.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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