The story goes when Henry David Thoreau was on his death bed, a minister asked him, “Henry, have you made your peace with God?”
Thoreau replied, “I didn’t know we’d quarreled.”
Sustaining outrage at any one of dozens of public officials or even the public itself (voter turnout, anyone?) comes easy.
However, as a rule, we rarely take exception to the decisions and rulings of judges and courts.
For one thing they are the final arbiters of crimes and disputes and are empowered with great responsibilities, up to and including determining someone’s fate.
At the very same time, our courts and the judges who preside over them are also expected to be impartial and unbiased — justice is supposed to be blind, after all. Right?
Most of us like to think so, despite the disparities and even outright injustice in so many cases in our nation’s history and apparently just this week in Monongalia County Circuit Court.
This week, Judge Phillip Gaujot told attorneys he plans to recuse himself in a case where the defendant is charged with second-degree arson and conspiracy.
When the plea hearing Gaujot was presiding over was suddenly put back on the trial docket, the judge said he could not remain unbiased any longer about this case.
According to the judge, “My opinion is that this is a hate crime.” Period.
The defendant allegedly, along with two other men charged in the incident, attempted to set fire to a Westover church, whose congregation is primarily black. The defendants are all white.
Still, the case was never investigated as a hate crime, and the church’s pastor said she did not think of the church as a black church and had no reason to believe arson targeting the building was tied to race.
Judge Gaujot even attested that this case could not be proven to be a hate crime, yet it was so rooted in him that it was one he could not continue hearing this case.
Of course, there are exceptions where a conflict of interest is evident, but isn’t it every judge’s obligation to remain unbiased in every case, including those perceived to be hate crimes.
Yet, what makes this incident even more egregious is that no one else has said it’s a hate crime. And seemingly, this defendant and the other men now appear to be suspect of another crime — a hate crime at that — before their trial begins.
It also should not surprise anyone that this judge’s prejudicial statement itself is used later to request a change of venue or even lead to this case’s dismissal.
Whatever the outcome, Gaujot’s actions and comments in this case appear neither unbiased or impartial.
Which ultimately amounts to quarreling with every idea of justice.