Judge Darigan and the Station Fire Victim Impact Statements
I wasn’t intending to post anything on the Station fire victims’ impact statements, but I feel the continuing judicial over-reaching by Judge Francis Darigan that now extends to today’s proceedings requires comment. According to the Projo’s 7-to-7 blog, Judge Darigan has told the victims that they cannot use their impact statements to comment on the legal process that has brought them to this point…
Jay McLaughlin, related to Sandy and Michael Hoogasian, said he felt a sense of “pain caused by disrespect, apathy, betrayal, all of which have victimized us over and over again.”Judge Darigan is out of line here. If he didn’t want people to discuss the sentences in their statements, he shouldn’t have decided on sentences before the statements were given. There are limits to how much reality judges can demand that people ignore.
McLaughlin, who is married to Michael Hoogasian’s sister Paula, then criticized the sentence and Judge Francis Darigan called a recess. Darigan has told fire victims family members and friends to restrict their comments to memories of their loved ones and the effect their death has had on them.
Darigan told the people in the courtroom that he understands their frustration, but that the hearing isn’t an opportunity for a diatribe against the proceeding.
He later allowed McLaughlin to return and continue.
Again, members of the audience applaued when McLaughlin finished. Darigan asked them to refrain.
In our system of government, judges are insulated from popular accountability. This is for a sound purpose, to give them the freedom they need to make decisions that are unpopular with the public but legally correct. But the protection of judges from popular passions was never intended to protect the type of action Judge Darigan took in accelerating the resolution of the Derderian brothers’ case. The Judge was not making a decision that was legally necessary when he inserted himself directly into sentence negotiations and accepted a plea deal over the formal objection of the Attorney General.
This doesn’t mean that Judge Darigan’s decision was wrong, but it does make inappropriate his use of his judicial position to hide from and even stifle questions and criticism about his role in what happened. Had there been a trial, victims would have been allowed to comment in their impact statements on things said during the proceedings. Since Judge Darigan has gone far beyond adjudicating questions of law and made himself a substantive part of the resolution of this case, statements regarding his actions should be considered fair game.
If the final stage of a court proceeding isn’t the appropriate forum for crime victims to discuss how the courts have failed or served them, then where is that place?
Prior to formally announcing the sentence, Judge Darigan is outlining in detail how the Derderian plea deal came about; he certainly can’t be accused of hiding from describing his role in the disposition of the case at this moment. Why this information couldn’t have been made public at the same time that the plea deal was announced is unclear. People may have had more confidence in the system if it had been.