Re 2: Judge Decided on Station Fire Plea Deal
1. According to Roger Williams University Law Professor David Zlotnick, as reported by Kate Bramson on the Projo’s 7-to-7 blog, a greater degree of secrecy is allowed in Rhode Island courts than is allowed in Federal courts…
A law professor at Roger Williams University says the controversy swirling around the Derderians’ plea agreement highlights the downside of negotiating deals in secret….We appear to have yet another case of Rhode Island’s weird civic culture concentrating power in the wrong places. The rules in Rhode Island seem to make judges into semi-prosecutors, who can help negotiate plea deals and make sentencing decisions before a complete case has been presented at trial.
It can be an efficient way to bring cases to closure. But there�s a downside, and Rhode Island is witnessing that right now, Zlotnick said today.
“Now the danger is: People are saying, ‘I didn’t say that,’ ‘I didn’t mean that'”, he said.
“That’s the downside of allowing an informal system with judge participation. The downside is that sometimes people disagree about what happened in chambers and there’s no court reporter in chambers and we don’t know what happened.”
That wouldn’t have happened if this were a federal court case, Zlotnick said, because federal judges are not permitted to engage in plea-bargaining in closed chambers.
This is not an appropriate role for a judge. A judge is supposed to apply the law impartially before and during a trial phase, without taking a position on what punishment defendants “should” get for crimes that have been committed. Judges are only human; if they are allowed to directly participate in plea negotiations, it is unavoidable that they will become emotionally invested in seeing certain outcomes brought about. That may be a large part of what has happened here.
Rhode Island rules concerning judges and plea negotiations should be changed to more closely resemble the Federal rules in this area.
2. As Dave Kane has discussed (noted by Marc), the families and friends of the fire victims live with the Station tragedy every day, no matter what the legal process says or does. It’s doubtful that the day or two of extra secrecy that Judge Francis Darigan wanted would have changed much. But deciding on a sentence for the Derderians, before the victims have had the chance to present their side, has reinforced a tragic sense of powerlessness and become a real source of further harm.
3. It is still unclear why Kathleen Hagerty, defense lawyer for Michael Derderian, is insisting that who offered the deal be publically acknowledged, to the point of making unusually detailed revelations about plea negotiations (the handwritten note, the phone message from Assistant AG William Ferland).
Given the circumstances, the Derderians got an outcome very favorable to them. Why does making public the way in which the deal came about matter to their lawyers?