Judges Gone Bad: Drunk Judges Misbehaving

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Judge wearing wig and using gavel

Most of us enjoy having a drink or two from time to time, and judges are no different. But not everyone behaves themselves on the drink, including some members of our esteemed judiciary.

If you’ve ever been in trouble for drink driving, you are certainly not alone. In fact, several Australian judges have been caught doing the very same thing, including NSW Supreme Court Judge Roderick Howie, SA Supreme Court Judge Anne Bampton and NSW Court of Criminal Appeal Judge Anthony Meagher.

Judges Caught Drink Driving

In 2011, Judge Howie crashed into another car while driving with a high range blood alcohol concentration of 0.168. But what made the whole thing worse was that Howie wrote the leading judgment on high range drink driving, in which he emphasizes the seriousness of drink driving and the strong need to deter others. Despite crashing his car while drunk, Howie avoided prison – he was instead sentenced to 100 hours of community service and a 6 month loss of licence (the ‘minimum’ period of disqualification).

And last year, South Australian Judge Anne Bampton crashed into a cyclist after being more than double the legal limit. Fortunately, the cyclist was not injured, and Ms Bampton was formally appointed to the South Australian Supreme Court just a few days later.

Judge Kicked Out of Court

Drink driving isn’t the only form of behaviour to land judges in trouble. One drunken judge in the UK was escorted from the courtroom after kissing a lawyer, swearing at an usher and insulting a prosecutor.

The judge, Esther Cunningham, was not acting in the capacity of a judge at the time – but representing her cousin in a dangerous dog case. And this wasn’t the first time that Judge Cunningham acted out of line. On another occasion, she was conducting a legal training course but went on a tangent about how she wanted to punch the chairman of her legal governing body.

Cunningham was ultimately suspended from practising for six months and had to pay legal costs of £6,200.

Some say she’ll be back better than ever.

French Judge Hails Police Car

In France last year, an off-duty judge enjoyed a few too many drinks and accidently hailed a police car, mistaking it for a taxi. The judge’s three young children, aged 7, 8 and 9, were with him at the time.

Police did end up giving the judge a ride– not to his holiday home, but to the police station. When police refused to take him home, the judge punched and kicked them. The un-named judge was then taken to the station where he attempted to bite two other officers.

His children were returned to the custody of their mother, while the judge spent the night in a police cell.

He later admitted to being so intoxicated that he thought the flashing light on the police car meant it was a taxi.

The judge was ultimately charged with ‘assaulting persons in a position of public authority’. It is expected that he will also face disciplinary proceedings for misconduct.

US Judge Admits Hearing Cases while Drunk

A judge from Broward County, Florida, has admitted not only to ‘driving under the influence’ of alcohol, but also to coming on the bench several times while drunk.

Last year, Judge Gisele Pollack revealed that this was due to her battle with alcoholism, which she has been struggling with since 1980. She resigned from the bench, but returned to work this year as an assistant public defender.

Alcohol and the Criminal Law

These examples show that alcohol can sometimes get the better of us, no matter who we are.

Simply being intoxicated at the time of an offence does not normally lessen its seriousness, unless your drink was spiked, or if you were charged with an offence of ‘specific intent’ and were so drunk that you could not have formed that intent.

From drink driving, to common assault, to more serious criminal charges, if alcohol has led you to fall on the wrong side of the law, it is a good idea to seek the assistance of an experienced, specialist traffic lawyer.


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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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