While Phill Kline stood before the Kansas Supreme Court defending the claims against him, an Appellate Court staffer was watching – and tweeting.
“Why is Phil Klein (sic) smiling? There is nothing to smile about, douchebag.”
“I love that Phil is all talking about Dr. Tiller like they are cool, and not that his witch hunt helped lead to Dr. Tiller’s murder.”
“I predict that he will be disbarred for a period not less than 7 years.”
Sarah Peterson Herr’s statements are not disturbing because they are her opinions, or even because they are rude. Her statements reveal an extremely hostile bias of a person who works in a courthouse – a person whose inner circles are the very judges and clerks that will decide Phill’s case.
Judicial clerks have tremendous influence on the outcome of a case. It is the clerks who do the initial research on the relevant case law. Clerks are responsible for fact-checking the record and the briefs. Clerks often write the opinions.
If a clerk feels this comfortable expressing such a hostile opinion in public, imagine what is expressed behind chamber doors!
The point is: we don’t know. But we should.
Our system of justice guarantees every defendant the right to a fair trial, one that is decided on the law and the facts, and not on any personal bias.
Judicial clerks are held to the same standards of professional ethics as judges and practicing attorneys. The Kansas Supreme Court did the right thing when it fired Ms. Herr. It is also doing the right thing by completing its investigation of her bias and possible influence. But it needs to go deeper. A judicial climate that nurtures such blatantly hostile opinions about a pending case needs review – and cleansing.