Opinion: Judge Abused Power by Overreacting to Butt Slap

Opinion: Judge Abused Power by Overreacting to Butt Slap

As if we needed another reminder what happens when those who are paid by our taxes conflate public service with public tyranny, Florida Judge Kathleen McHugh has shown us yet again. In case you missed the story, she overturned a previously agreed upon plea agreement on behalf of former NFL player Chad Johnson – all because some people in her courtroom quietly laughed. 

And Chad Johnson was not even one of them either. 

Now it’s been reported that she overturned the plea because Johnson slapped his attorney on the rear end, and obviously, that was what the gallery in the courtroom laughed at. However, such behavoir is not a crime, and frankly what he did was not any more disruptive than other courtroom victory celebrations – such as hugs, kisses and bumps, which happen routinely. Besides, McHugh’s own words – dripping with arrogant disdain – prove it was the laughter that Johnson himself did not participate in that was stuck in her craw. 

To set the scene, after hearing the accepted plea agreement, Johnson answered the judge by saying of his attorney “I think he’s awesome,” prompting McHugh herself to agree with Johnson and chime in that “you should…he’s an excellent attorney.” At that point, Johnson gave a quick butt slap – like he would to any teammate who had just made a good play – to attorney Adam Swickle. That was followed by some rather quiet yet discernible laughter in the room, including some giggles from a bailiff. 

That set Judge McHugh off, who said “Mr Johnson, I don’t know if you’re taking this whole thing seriously…I just saw you slap your attorney on his backsides….the whole courtroom’s laughing.” When Swickle intervened on Johnson’s behalf, the judge added “the whole courtroom’s laughing…because he just slapped you…on the behind…”

Swickle tried again, observing very correctly that “I dont think he meant to get a reaction from the court room….I just think he’s relieved more than anything.” That logic and common sense was not enough for McHugh, who responded by saying “I’m not gonna accept these negotiations…I don’t think anything’s funny about it Mr. Johnson…this isn’t a joke….everybody in the courtroom was laughing…..I’m not accepting these negotiations.”

Johnson did not laugh, nor was his gesture directed at the audience on the room. Swickle did not laugh either. What we have is a giddy gallery and an arrogant judge, and yet it’s Johnson who will pay the price. 

I have no idea about the merits of the underlying case, and certainly Johnson and his antics may be tiresome – but it’s Florida Judge Kathleen McHugh that should scare us. Frankly, I haven’t seen this kind of pompous government imperiousness since the testimonies of IRS uber bureaucrats Steven Miller, Lois Lerner, and Sara Hall Ingram. 

Judges have absolute power in their courtrooms, with no checks and balances on their inability to exercise appropriate discretion. Judge McHugh – for some reason – took offense to laughter that was not directed at her or her court. She then punished a third party for that offense. Absolute power – corrupts absolutely.  That’s a cliche we’re able to correctly use on a far too regular basis these days.