Motion to Dismiss

Should Judge Lynne Hufnagel be benched? Ask the bankrupt cabbies, bullied witnesses and banished lawyers who've tasted her bitter brand of justice.

The judge pointed with pride to her appellate record. Out of 93 criminal appeals, she'd been reversed 18 times, but not once had she been reversed for imposing a criminal sentence that was too harsh. True, she was "disheartened" that attorneys seemed to find her lacking in courtesy and compassion, the whole "judicial demeanor" thing, but she'd sought the help of a professional who worked with "executives who have communication problems" and was trying to change.

"What do the voters want to know about their judges?" she asked. "If a judge is courteous and compassionate, does that outweigh a lack of diligence or legal knowledge? If a female judge takes control of her courtroom and demands excellence from attorneys, is that less tolerable than if a male judge does the same thing? Is excellence from attorneys too much to demand when people's lives and liberty are at stake?"

And so it went. As Hufnagel saw it, her poor score could be largely explained as the revenge of sloppy attorneys on a female judge who set high standards for her courtroom. Never mind that Fasing's panel urged the retention of four other female judges in Denver--not a shrinking violet in the bunch--or that surveys have indicated, over and over, that attorneys have serious qualms about Hufnagel's sense of justice.

The lawyerly closing argument failed to sway the commission, but in the final analysis, it isn't their verdict that counts. On November 5 Judge Hufnagel will face a higher court, one that can be as tough and capricious as her own. That court may be no larger than a voting booth, but its judgment is final.

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