Individual rights protection is the only legitimate reason for government to exist *** [T]he duty of this court, as of every judicial tribunal, is limited to determining rights of persons or of property ***.
Tyler v. Judges of Court of Registration, 179 U.S. 405, 409 (1900)
It begins with a discussion about what I am doing with my reporting equipment in his courtroom, just across a long hall and already ffull of people. The elderly jurist with the soft eyes wants to make sure that I am not promiscuously using my camera on just anybody, but am following the particular case of Diana Watt.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
If that matter had been all, the conversation would have ended within 75 seconds and I would have been escorted back to the courtroom gallery.
Sessions judge Clarence Shattuck asks if I had heard his statement at the beginning of court about the rights the people, that all defendants have a right to a trial by jury and an indictment, and to a public defender if they are poor. That indicates, he suggests, his care that the people maintain their rights, and that as they waive important rights entering his court, they do so knowingly and intentionally, in their own best interest.
He sits in his robes across a broad desk, with an mostly blinded window behind him. It occurs to me that the encounter, nominally about my press credentials, is providentially ordained for high purposes, and that I should pursue my reader’s and listener’s interests as their advocate and make a clamor in his ear about the claim of the rights of due process.
“Sir, I am covering the Watt case because it is a picture of a longstanding abuse by the state of the people in this county through Title 55, which is the gateway into access to poor African-American people such as Diana Watt, who by no indication — she has told me — by no indication is involved in transportation, is not an operator or a driver of a motor vehicle for hire.
“Yet, she is stopped by an officer and thrown to the ground in an encounter that should never have happened because commercial enforcement of people exercising a privilege is subject to administrative hearings under the uniform administrative procedures act. And people not subject to the statute are not subject to enforcement because they are not for hire and are not operators. And the police should absolutely leave them alone.
“This story is so important to me because it illustrates a great damage and an injustice that has poor common people like her harassed by the state in what is clearly ultra vires police activity. The city which the officer serves is under administrative notice that it has to obey the law as written, and not follow judicial fictions from the high court that pretend there is no distinction between travel and transportation. Judge Shattuck, do you know about my administrative notice to the city?” **
Mass system denies particular justice
I know that Judge Shattuck cannot take part in ex parte communications — which is to say conversation with any active party in a dispute without the other active party present. I weigh my words, and whether might it put him in a vulnerable position. But he is a judge, the rule is binding on him, and I am not a party to State of Tennessee vs. Diana Watt. And, besides, I can tell him nothing new, as Judge Shattuck is familiar with my work as broadcast journalist and blogger.
Judge Shattuck is alert. “Don’t tell me too much about the case, now,” he says, compulsorily.
Mrs. Watt had been forced to appear before him six times with the cop Brian McClard making six unexcused no-shows — but Mrs. Watt made no statements whether she was ready to move forward. (She was repeatedly presumed to be unready, without Judge Shattuck having asked her, apparently.) Her treatment has been dismissive of her due process rights, and Judge Shattuck knows I have been highly critical of his handling of the case.
I generalize the Watt case into a rebuke of the system and of session courts. The system grinds the poor, I observe. There is sloppy work on everybody’s part — the cops, the PDs, the DAs, and the inferior court judges. The mass system in his court holds no one to account in the process of criminal prosecution, and the particularity and scruple required in law enforcement and prosecution are long withered because few resist and 95 percent of cases are plea bargained. Most everything seems to operate on presumption — especially presumption of jurisdiction in Title 55 cases.
The plea bargain mill in his court’s conference room, foyer and at its front door subsidizes and enables the city’s overpolicing and long terrorizing of the people, I suggest.
“There is no law in the system, Judge Shattuck, only sociology and only custom. Plea bargaining is not justice in any way.” If the hallowed state is so constantly getting its feelings hurt enough to handcuff a woman for an administrative offense, I wonder in this writing, why is its chief agent, Neal Pinkston, so willing to bargain away its injuries in exchange for hastily listed plea deals to lesser offenses?
Stripmining the people; order vs. justice
The system has so many people coming into it that it cannot possibly do justice to anyone, I aver. Judge Shattuck listens, which I believe he’s good at doing. Looking at the human being charged with running the court, it occurs to me the problem is not Judge Shattuck, who seems a better man than his job. The evil is in the office and the hidden purpose of such inferior courts, facilitators for the Tennessee deep state, whose primary actors are attorneys, bar associations and a commercialized and partly privatized judiciary.
Title 55, I say, “stripmines people into the legal system where they are ruined and the conviction factory gets its supply of product — the poor and the ignorant, like Mrs. Watt.” I say she has been unable to find work as a caregiver for old people.
I invoke, perhaps too weakly, God’s claims upon Judge Shattuck’s office. The poor people of the county are under God’s protection, and I say that includes blacks, the poor, immigrants and the “biblical categories of orphans and widows.” These are the people God expects the judges to protect. These are people who are ignorant, do not know their rights and cannot defend their rights, are not articulate and do not know how to fight. That is why God gives them special protection, because judges and authorities have a duty to look out for them and let no one offend them — least of all those others in authority.
Judge Shattuck does not condescend to rebut, challenge or contradict my assertions. He no doubt is thinking of a long docket, which a sheriff’s deputy said earlier can be 120 people in a day.
Maybe he thinks he and I might, at another time, look into the law business complex he has so long served. Hardly anyone sees its claims and pretenses in ethical terms — as morally false, heartless, impersonal and pernicious. People, instead, just see courtrooms as “the way things are” with facts being normative. Maybe he sees the the immoveable object, and is troubled by it as a churchgoing Christian.
“How long do you think I have been on the bench?” he asks.
It’s been 37 years as an elected jurist in Hamilton County, he says. His term expires in 2022.
Judge Shattuck is 83 years old and says he will probably keep his law license in retirement.
Judge Shattuck seems a very honorable and dignified man. From the audience gallery, he appears decent and careful and there’s nothing hard edged about him. Press accounts about Judge Shattuck are favorable.
Why fault judge if people ignorant of rights?
At this point I want to be sympathetic to Judge Shattuck. Who but Mrs. Watt herself is to blame for her being in her bad state, rejecting a public defender, too poor for an attorney? I argue.
“Sir, I know you’re in a difficult situation because you can’t act without a party moving one where the other.” I cite Ashwander v. TVA 297 U.S. 288 (1936) that says a court does not give advice but will act on “controversy of a justiciable nature, thus excluding an advisory decree upon a hypothetical state of facts.” The rule in law is that if you ask the wrong question you will get the right answer to the wrong question. It is not the job of the judge to help you frame your argument or ask the right question.
Though Judge Shattuck may sympathize with a defendant, he indicates, he is not in a position to be anyone’s attorney or advocate. He’s the judge, the referee, the umpire. He acts when bid to act by motion.
And how are ignorant people able to make motions? I ask. What do ignorant and poor people able to do in court? So it’s not his fault that defendants, the defense bar and prosecutors play on concepts and customs apart from actual law, often in complete disregard for rights, and if no one brings up a problem or a denial of due process, it’s not Judge Shattuck’s job to solve the problem on his own initiative, I offer.
Why do so many people plead? I ask rhetorically. I answer the question. “People plead because they have no option, even to false and bogus charges. They are too poor and ignorant, they can’t keep coming back, they want to get their woes over with, and so they plead,” I say. They are pragmatic and compromised. His court gets in the numbers and puts on the pressure, and disposes of thousands of thousands and thousands of cases at a clip.
One man can change much
Sometimes, though, justice requires that the judge take initiative and make it clear what the rights of the people are. My thought is that judges have forgotten how to represent the interests of the people and to protect the ignorant and the weak and the poor. They do not have any more a sense of justice. The system is too big , the people are so numerous, that no one’s particular woes can come to one’s personal attention.
And so we have a system that is unjust.
I am led by the Holy Spirit to be bold since Judge Shattuck offers no correction to my analysis.
“Sir, when you retire, do you think you and I can work together on legal reform in Hamilton County, bring more justice into our system and help the people?” To take away the sense of boldness of that proposal, I immediately ask, without giving him time to answer, “Or maybe you’d just like to come on my show and talk about your job?”
I give him my card. “I’ll give you a call,” he says, laughingly.
Statutory construction — the rejected remedy
I say reform is required because the system is unjust. “It has too many of the people in it, and there’s too little attention to the law. I’m a defender of the law as written, and so much of what happens in court and in law enforcement requires judges and the people to ignore the basic rules of statutory construction. There’s no distinction between travel and transportation in the current regime. Title 55 is the key access point that the state has against people who are its victims.
“If you throw out the rules of statutory construction, you are saying essentially there is no law, except when we want to use it or cite it.”
Without the use of these rules of construction — the same one that regulate the reading and interpretation of the Holy Scripture, where the Word interprets the Word — no one can delimit any law, narrow its scope, determine its subject, or lay out its force.
Without the rules of statutory construction being followed, there is no law, there is mere policing. Policing apart from law is despotism, and Judge Shattuck knows it.
It is on this note that I rise and turn to take my leave.
The deputy sees me across the hallway into the courtroom, full of milling lawyers, public defenders, district attorneys and a seated crowd of defendants and family members and witnesses.
** Quotes in this story are my best recollection, presented in good faith with intent for accuracy, as I made no recording of the conversation.