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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?

November 9, 2007

Playing with Matches

smokey.jpgCalifornia authorities have determined that one of last month’s California wildfires – one which destroyed 21 homes and injured several people in the Los Angeles area – was accidentally started by a 10-year-old boy playing with matches. Now they have to decide what to do about it, the options including removing him from his parents’ custody, placing him in juvenile detention, and handing his parents a multi-million dollar tab.

The rule of thumb when dealing with juveniles is whether the child understood that his actions were wrong – but it’s not so simple in this case: It’s one thing to understand that playing with matches is wrong, and quite another to anticipate that you might be laying waste to your entire neighborhood.

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