Jan. 30, 2013 06:45

"The American system of criminal justice demands that judges not only uphold the constitution and laws of this country but also remain un-swayed by fear of public criticism. Your recent public criticism of Judge Edward D. Rubin severely tests that principle, but I am sure Judge Rubin will live up to his reputation as a fearlessly independent judge." -  Russell Castille, former coordinator of the pre-trial monitoring program, 15th Judicial District Court

[Editor's Note: There seems to be some misunderstanding about Judge Ed Rubin's role in the OWI cases at the heart of the ongoing federal bribery investigation. Judge Rubin heard every one of the "immediate 894" cases in which bribes were paid to at least three staff members in District Attorney Mike Harson's office - recall that all three have pleaded guilty to accepting cash and gifts. The feds make it perfectly clear in the stipulated factual basis for these guilty pleas that all of these cases were handled by the same judge - as you can see from the excerpt we included with this post. Additionally, IND Monthly reviewed the cases in the parish court house and found Rubin's name on every immediate 894 case for which there is still a record on file. The letter below from the former coordinator of the pre-trial monitoring program in the 15th Judicial District Court is the third this paper has received defending Judge Rubin's role in this matter. Read the other two here and the original story here.]

Dear Editor:

The American system of criminal justice demands that judges not only uphold the constitution and laws of this country but also remain un-swayed by fear of public criticism. Your recent public criticism of Judge Edward D. Rubin severely tests that principle, but I am sure Judge Rubin will live up to his reputation as a fearlessly independent judge. I have known Judge Edward Rubin for many years and I know that as an elected judge he committed himself to work hard every day to make fair and objective decisions without fear of public criticism and over the years he has made many of us proud of his judicial record that speaks of that commitment.

It is with those thoughts in mind that I reluctantly write in response to your recent article that called Judge Rubin the "go to" judge for handling certain criminal cases. I write only because it is important enough for the integrity of the legal system that someone responds on his behalf because the Canons of Judicial Ethics prohibit him from personally responding. My response is similar to that of others who have tried to set the record straight so that you understand the process of criminal rehabilitation.

Though they do not identify the district judge by name in the factual basis for this guilty plea, the feds make it clear that the same district court judge handled all of the immediate 894 sessions that were part of an elaborate bribery scheme.

The process of allowing deserving offenders to admit a mistake and take early steps to rehabilitate has been part of our legal system for as long as we have been a country. That process requires the participation of impartial prosecutors and court personnel but more importantly impartial judges unafraid of the public criticism that may come from taking a chance on a deserving offender. It is the essence of rehabilitation and, as another writer wrote "has been-and should continue to be-a part of the American system of criminal justice." But not everyone believes that, and not everyone can stand the criticism that comes from acting on that belief.

It is with that belief that Judge Rubin has consistently followed the law and tried to give deserving offenders a chance to rehabilitate. Like most judges he follows the precepts of Article 894 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure that allows a judge to defer imposition of a criminal sentence and place an offender on probation so that at the completion of the sentence the conviction can be set aside. Judge Rubin has saved many a young life and a many a young man or woman's future by that process.

In prosecutions for first offense operating a vehicle while intoxicated that process had occasionally been modified at the suggestion of mental health professionals, substance abuse professionals, and prosecutors. One modification included early intervention and an early conclusion of the case. To achieve those objectives required some judges to adjust their schedules and sometimes act quickly on cases while also handling other cases.

As an example of innovative procedures designed to rehabilitate, Judge Rubin sat as the judge in the Drug Court Program for over three years. During that period he was honored to have the Chief Justice and an Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court observe his court and both said that Lafayette's Drug Court was one of the best in the state, if not the best. Judge Rubin based that success in part on encouraging defendants who sought to enroll in Drug Court to seek early intervention or treatment while waiting for the opportunity to enroll.

The topic of your article was DWI cases. If you check the Clerk of Court records in Lafayette Parish during the period of time in your article, 2010 to 2012, you will find that Judge Rubin resolved 171 DWI cases. During that same time other judges resolved 194 cases, 127 cases, 130 cases, and 110 cases. As you can see the cases were fairly well distributed. The Clerk of Court's records also [show] that during that same period of time Judge Rubin took only three plea sessions in chambers. Although your article implied that there might be something unusual about taking pleas in chambers that is not the case. There is nothing wrong with taking pleas in chambers if all parties agree. The Clerk of Court's records also show that in those cases taken in chambers the district attorney's office and the other party wanted the case heard in chambers. In fact on that day Judge Rubin was also handling juvenile cases and State law requires juvenile proceedings to be closed to the public. The adults in the DWI cases could not be in the juvenile court at the same time. And when those adults entered their convictions in chambers the assistant district attorney, defendant, court reporter and minute clerk were all present to record the convictions.

Your article also mentioned that the offenders often had the benefit of an early disposition of the case rather than a long probationary period. You really need to look into the misdemeanor probation program created by the judges. This is not a program created and run by the district attorney's office or the Louisiana Department of Probation and Parole but by the majority vote of the judges of this district. The fees paid by the offenders under that program benefitted the program. The judges also hire the probation officers, and the offenders paid a monthly fee into the same fund to be supervised by those officers. For those reasons a judge should not be inclined to keep a deserving offender on that program and paying those fees if the district attorney's office confirmed that the offender had quickly completed the normal conditions of probation such as community service, a substance abuse program, driver improvement classes, and a mental health evaluation and deserved to be relieved of those fees and expenses. Under that circumstance the only one who would be asking for more probation and more fees paid into the probation program would be the judge. And that would not be fair. On every occasion when the prosecutor asked for the provision of Article 894 the district attorney's office had the benefit of the police reports, criminal history of the offender, and the certificates showing completion of those special conditions. Unless a judge finds compelling reasons to keep the offender in that program and paying those fees, no judge should refuse, under those circumstances, to grant the request of all parties and the mental health and substance abuse professionals.

When preparing the news stories, two newspaper editors made much of the fact that when they called Judge Rubin's office for a response he did not respond. But your article failed to mention that all judges must comply with the Canons of Judicial Ethics that prohibits a judge from commenting on pending cases. You should have mentioned that in your article. Your implication is simply unfair to Judge Rubin.

The criminal conviction of some people involved in the criminal process is disheartening. But no judge should allow his or her fear of public criticism arising from those convictions to avoid the obligation to a prompt, efficient, and fair administration of justice. All judges rely on the integrity of others to bring deserving cases to court. When they do, all judges have a judicial obligation to dispose of those cases promptly, efficiently, and fairly, and that is how Judge Rubin has always acted and how I hope he continues to act. He and all other judges will have to continue to rely on the integrity of others to bring before them deserving cases that require them to act without fear of public criticism. And the good judges will continue to act on a commitment to rehabilitate good people who deserve a second chance for a once in a lifetime act of poor judgment.

Russell Castille
former coordinator of the pre-trial monitoring program
15th Judicial District Court