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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?

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