RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Richmond traffic court judge, who has been on the bench for 24 years, is breaking her silence about how she says some court cases are decided.
If you think some people get off easy because of who they know or because of the high-dollar attorney they can afford, outgoing Judge Birdie Hariston Jamison says you may be right. She says she's being removed from the bench because she won't play that game. The judge referenced a marketing joke about lawyers that goes like this: "A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the Judge."
It's not amusing to Judge Jamison, who acknowledges her reputation for toughness, and says how she handles D.U.I. plea deals is why she was removed. During the time we sat in on court, the judge rejected several plea deals, "I am not going to be able to accept you all's plea agreement."
Judges are usually highly secret. However, Judge Birdie Hairston Jamison believes she was kicked off the bench for rejecting too many D.U.I. plea deals and says she wants people to know.
The day we sat in, several plea deals got rejected during the 90 minutes we were there. In courtroom 208, every person convicted of D.U.I. will get jail time. The minimum is one day in lockup. Jamison says it allows the person time to reflect on his or her decision to drink and drive. Some defendants also must write a paper about getting arrested. The ousted jurist says she will run court this way until she removes her robe and becomes a regular resident on Dec. 1.
"In my courtroom, if there was some legal issues reason to reduce your case, I'm going to do that." Judge Jamison says. "I am not going to do it just because you hired X attorney, who's come in and worked a deal with the commonwealth's attorney. I'm not going to do that because it's not fair. This person here had a 0.25 BAC, and they want to amend it to a 0.14 and won't be in jeopardy of going to jail. Then, the next person has a 0.16 and they're going to jail. Not happening."
Jamison is one five judges not reappointed. The Commonwealth's Judicial Evaluation filled out anonymously by 133 unidentified lawyers last year rated her the worst of 17 judges evaluated. She believes railing against what she calls a dual system did not endear her to some lawyers.
"I feel my integrity on any number of occasions would have been compromised if I had done what some of these attorneys wanted me to do. I wasn't going to do that. I haven't done it in 24 years, and it was not my plan to change," Judge Jamison says.
Republican Delegate Manoli Loupassi, who chairs the panel that certified the judges, says Judge Jamison's handling of D.U.I plea deals didn't hurt her. "She had poor evaluations six years ago, so she knew there were problems. Six years later, the evaluations were the same or worse," he says in an email.
"I am very spiritual, and I believe in my heart that all things work together for the good of those who love God. People say, 'How can you come to work?' I'm not even worried about it because I believe people who dig holes for other people end up in the hole themselves. I am being forced to retire because I was not reappointed to my position [due to] an anonymous evaluation done by attorneys who have a vested interest of winning in the particular courtrooms. I really didn't think that 20 percent of 133 lawyers being unsatisfied would be reason to not reappoint a judge who had been on the bench 24 years without any complaints at all."
Jamison says the anonymous evaluation is biased and the Virginia Supreme Court has her letter of complaint. "It was the only source of information because all of the other information about me was positive," she says. "There were petitions that were sent. There were lots of letters sent supporting me. There were no judicial and inquiry review complaints. There were no bar complaints. Certainly nothing in my personal life that would indicate that I am anything other than law abiding. In my courtroom, I didn't want to have a dual system of justice. I don't care if your attorney is the public defender or one of these lawyer legislators you're going to get the same opportunity for a break. That's the way it has been in my court, and that's the way it's going to be until I retire."
Delegate Loupassi says he's never witnessed any lawyer pressuring judges. He adds it's about selecting the best judge and not about who's deserving or entitled. Loupassi also says the Senate and House voted unanimously to replace Judge Jamison with veteran lawyer Jacqueline McClenney.
Before she retires, Judge Jamison will be honored in a private ceremony where judges, attorneys, close friends and family will pay tribute to her years of service to communities all across Virginia.
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