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November 14, 2007

The Coin Toss

In Virginia, Judge James Michael Shull was faced with of two divorced parents, each wanting custody of their child for Christmas. Since there was no compelling reason to choose one parent over the other, Judge Shull tossed a coin. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled last week that Judge Shull “failed to uphold the dignity of the judiciary,” and removed him from the bench: a rather draconian punishment, given the behavior of some judges who are allowed to keep their gavels and robes (such as Philadelphia judge Teresa Carr Deni, appointed to another 6-year term earlier this month, despite her decision last month to downgrade the alleged at-gunpoint rape of a prostitute to a “theft of services” charge).

And exactly how should Judge Shull have resolved this issue? This was the proverbial coin-toss decision, which made tossing a coin rather appropriate. Would the Virginia Supreme Court have preferred he ask for a sword and suggest a more Solomonic solution?


  1. Considering that in most states, a coin toss or other mutually agreeable game of chance (e.g. cutting a deck of cards, rolling dice) is the legal method for settling a tied election, this judge’s call fits with precedent. Apparently his mistake was not in his method, but in letting his method be known.

    Comment by David — November 14, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  2. From the column:

    “A 60-year-old German man was in court to appeal his indecent behavior conviction for running naked onto the field during a girls’ cocker game and striking a series of bodybuilder poses”

    Freudian slip much, Bill?

    Comment by Count Shrimpula — November 14, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

  3. As Freudian slips go, that one was a doozy! Thank God that one was scheduled to be part of next week’s newspaper column and not the one that was published this morning.

    And thanks for the save.

    Comment by Cidu Bill — November 14, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

  4. Heh, no problem. Wouldn’t want you to have to banish your own column to the Arlo Page.

    Comment by Count Shrimpula — November 14, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

  5. I’ve heard a story of a Texas judge that flipped a coin to decide a tied local election. Both parties agreed before hand. Saved the town a bunch of money for a runnoff.
    This judge should have asked the lawyers and parties involved if it would be agreeable then flip a coin.

    Comment by Brazos — November 14, 2007 @ 6:03 pm

  6. That’s the fallback for deciding elections in California:

    15651. (a) If at any election, except as provided in subdivision
    (b) and an election for Governor or Lieutenant Governor, two or more
    persons receive an equal and the highest number of votes for an
    office to be voted for in more than one county, the Secretary of
    State shall forthwith summon the candidates who have received the tie votes, whether upon the canvass of the returns by the Secretary of State or upon recount by a court, to appear before him or her at the Secretary of State’s office at the State Capitol at a time to be designated by him or her. The Secretary of State shall at that time and place determine the tie by lot.

    Comment by Evan Kirshenbaum — November 14, 2007 @ 6:56 pm

  7. Had the judge read his Old Testament, he would have awarded half the child to each parent, and sent the bailiff to find a sword.

    Comment by Ooten Aboot — November 15, 2007 @ 12:09 am

  8. Ridiculousness.

    Comment by Powers — November 15, 2007 @ 8:57 am

  9. The judge was removed partially because of the coin toss, but also because, in another case, he ordered a woman to drop her pants in court, so he could see if she had really been stabbed.

    Comment by Autumnal Harvest — November 15, 2007 @ 10:40 am

  10. Gotta like the father’s chances this way. Here in Ohio, the best way for a father to get custody is gender reassignment surgery.

    Comment by arik1969 — November 16, 2007 @ 4:18 am

  11. Arik1969, the best way for a father to get custody is to smear the mother as a “lazy whore” because she has a boyfriend and wants to put the child in daycare. Then after the father gets custody, he leaves the kid with his 18-year-old girlfriend du jour who wants to play mommy.

    Comment by Charlene — November 16, 2007 @ 5:33 am

  12. Endangered Child Alert Issued In Wise County

    This is the same woman who claimed domestic abuse because she cut herself so she could get custody and Judge Shull decided which would receive joint custody firs by a coin toss. Now whe has abducted the child and gone to England. I guess he was right to ask to see her cuts.

    Go figure

    Comment by Bernie Misura — February 26, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

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