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The tale of the judge with the questionable sense of humor

If you’re looking for a lesson in how to make yourself unpopular in court, you need merely look to the example of Hennepin County District Judge Stephen Aldrich. Aldrich, it seems, is the sort of person who likes to make little wisecracks, and they are the sort that suck the air out of a room. FOX9 offers an inventory of his past lead balloons of levity, including this humdinger, spoken after a clerical error: “With all the women running for president, there’s no one left to make things right.” Aldrich’s comedic gaffe will be his last, if a judicial watchdog group has its way. He is reported to have lobbed this bon mot while reviewing a case in which a woman was seeking a restraining order against her husband: “I’ve been married 45 years. We’ve never considered divorce, a few times murder, maybe.” FOX9 notes that “The joke lands flat, when you consider 21 women in Minnesota were killed last year in domestic violence.”

Well, there’s a watchdog group named WATCH, and, as Madeleine Baran of Minnesota Public Radio explains, it doesn’t cotton to that sort of behavior: the group is demanding that Aldrich resign. “It really minimizes the seriousness of the situation,” says Marna Anderson, executive director of WATCH; her organization also points to multiple past examples of insensitive joking from the judge. Aldrich has apologized for his comments, according to Rochelle Olson of the Star Tribune, saying, “I tried to use humor to lower the tension in the courtroom and in retrospect I chose the wrong words.” Olson also interviews Carol Arthur, director of the Domestic Abuse Project, who explains why little jokes like this might get people’s noses out of joint: “We hold our judicial officers to a higher standard because they are our justice system. Matters before them can’t be treated as a joke.

So it doesn’t pay to toss off thoughtless levity in the courts; sometimes it also doesn’t pay to be honest. For instance, if you’re a plumber from Mora and you express concerns that jury duty might be a financial burden, you might just get slapped with contempt of court and sentenced to do a day in jail. At least, that’s what happened to a fellow named Todd Gilly, according to a story by the Star Tribune’s Allie Shah (link also includes a video of James Lileks interviewing Shah about the story). Admittedly, Gilly’s statements, made during the pretrial interviews, were a little sketchy: He is reported as saying, “I could see myself just going with the flow to get it over with to get back to work,” and it’s one thing to say that you can’t afford jury duty but another to say you would not take the task seriously as a result. Nonetheless, as Shah points out, Gilly’s complaint is an increasing common one: In Hennepin County, for example, the number of dismissals because of “severe financial hardship” is up 25 percent in the past year.

But let’s not get wrapped up in tales of financial hardship, of which there are plenty, and get back to tales of people making themselves unpopular, which is rarer (although, sadly, not nearly rare enough) and often more amusing. Take the case of Jill Krouts, the mayor of Greenfield. According to FOX9, Greenfield residents are so unhappy with her that they are threatening to disband the city if she doesn’t resign. It’s hard to imagine what you might do that would make people so unhappy that they would rather shut down a city than have you as its mayor; in this case, it seems to mostly be about insurance.

As explained by Herón Márquez Estrada of the Star Tribune, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust has raised the city’s insurance deductible from $500 to $200,000, but the furor also is inspired by behavior from the city’s elected officials, including the following, according to an interview with a local developed: “We’ve had guns, we’ve had chairs thrown, we’ve had armed guards at council meetings.” Interestingly, as Márquez Estrada points out, just four years ago the residents of city were demanding their previous mayor resign. The Municipal Minnesota Law blog seems disgusted by the whole thing: In a post titled “How Do You Budget for a Blood Feud?“, author Trevor Oliver writes, “Greenfield is getting interesting because it seems that it may be the first place where losing insurance doesn’t knock some sense into people.”

Speaking of popularity: Michele Bachmann is in the news so much lately that sometimes it seems we should offer a Daily Bachmann column. Here are just two stories out of what El Guapo might call a plethora of similar stories: Firstly, Pat Kessler from WCCO-TV discusses a sign at the Washington, D.C., health care rally that Bachmann organized that, inexplicably, showed a pile of bodies of Holocaust victims. New York Congressman Steve Israel was horrified by the sign, which was in full view of Bachmann when she spoke, and demanded an apology in a statement that he posted to YouTube. Bachmann did apologize, sort of, saying, “Some individuals chose to marginalize tragic events in human history such as the Holocaust … by invoking imagery and labels which have no purpose in a policy debate about health care.”

In the meanwhile, Andy Birkey at the Minnesota Independent calls out Bachmann’s condemnation of the Goldstone Report, “a United Nations-commissioned report on possible war crimes during the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Gaza strip in 2008 and 2009.” Bachmann criticized the report, saying that it ignored that Israel’s behavior was in the context of ongoing bombardment from Gaza. In fact, the report does discuss that, in depth: It devotes 20 pages to the subject, a fact that inspired Birkey’s headline, “Did Bachmann read the Goldstone report before condemning it?

It’s been a weird few weeks for day care tales: There was the woman last week who was using safety pins to make jury-rigged straightjackets for the children in her charge, and this week WCCO’s Bridgette Bornstein tells of a Minneapolis baby who put something into his mouth that he oughtn’t have. Of course, anybody who has experienced a baby know this is just something you have to look out for, as babies will put almost anything into their mouths: clods of dirt, sweat socks, household pets. In this instance, however, at the AGAPE Child Development Center, what the baby put in his mouth was a ball of crack cocaine. Fortunately, the stuff was wrapped in cellophane and the child was fine, but still, what kind of boobery leads to this? The day care is saying it was probably dropped by a parent, although they’re also going to start randomly testing employees.

In sports today, once again we will glance away from team sports to look to the world of hunting: Liz Collin of WCCO reports on an astonishing 8-point buck that was shot in October, which would be something any big game hunter would brag about. There’s just one problem with this buck, though: it was poached.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Stephen Dent on 11/13/2009 - 12:36 pm.

    Isn’t Hennepin County District Judge Stephen Aldrich the same guy that went after Councilmember Goodman for being too rude? I wonder if he has a thing against women? Maybe just smart, strong ones!

  2. Submitted by steve aldrich on 01/17/2011 - 11:59 am.

    After all the commotion, the Board on Judicial Standards “took no action” on the “joke” case. On the other WATCH complaint re: the Lessley murder case, I agreed to a settlement that found four of my statements to be a problem. The BJS complaint originally named 8 comments and the original WATCH complaint had many more not charged. Now WATCH has complaining against Judge Nordby for remarks made in December, 2009 in court and on the record. Judge Nordby denies any violation of the judicial standards and the BJS Panel hearing is January 18- 19, 2011 at Rm. 210, Minnesota Justice Center.

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