Sciascia: A Vulgar Display, a Humiliated Defendant and the Erosion of the American Judicial System


One intrepid criminal defendant earned himself a tongue-lashing from Michigan District Court Judge Jeffrey Middleton on Tuesday, after a vulgar display in virtual court.

It was a typical day at the COVID-displaced office, when Nathan Saxaon — charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia — came before the bench in St. Joseph County via Zoom to forward a guilt plea. His screen-name on entry: “Buttf***er 3000.”

Suffice to say, Middleton was anything but amused. “We’ll bring this fool in,” the judge declared to a crowded virtual conference room. “Good morning sir, what’s your name?”

“Me?” the defendant responded. “Nathaniel Saxaon, sir.”

“Your name’s not Buttf***er 3000, you yoho,” Middleton said, short of patience. “Logging in to my court with that as your screen-name. What kind of idiot logs into court like that?”

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It was one long, embarrassing moment before the reality set in for Saxaon. As is often the case for a fool caught in the act, he apparently had no recollection of doing the crime.

Of course, whether he did or did not remember it, the result was the same. The defendant was promptly removed from the courtroom, returned to the virtual waiting area to “think about” what he had done. When he was eventually ushered back in, apologies were made and the expected plea was officially entered.

And while Saxaon had obviously earned the admonishment, it remains deeply unclear — at least, to this concerned and mildly amused citizen — that Middleton’s response was fair.

WARNING: The following video contains vulgar language that some viewers may find offensive.

The language used by the judge was that of an aggravated parent and, in fairness, the defendant’s display was certainly disrespectful, out of turn and unacceptable. Of that, there is no doubt. But it hardly comes as a surprise, despite what the pearl-clutchers and institutional apologists would have you believe.

In fact, it is not abundantly clear that the “virtual court” commands any more respect than it was given here.

Driven from the courthouse to the personal computer by COVID-19, the American judiciary has given way to complete and utter erosion over the last year. Its standards of honor and respect have been blown to smithereens by an attempt to bring the institution into line with the wider government’s expectation that all of American society function as normal from home for the time being.

Do you think the virtual court deserves more respect than this?

The results have ranged from comedy lawyers in virtual cat filters to alleged abusers and their victims testifying from the same lodgings without supervision.

Clearly, the experiment failed. The court, surprisingly, is not the church. The judiciary is not the church.

Contrary to post-modern thought, these two institutions are not as much a collection of like-minded individuals as they are physical places. They cannot function in the relaxed privacy of the home with no compulsory features whatsoever.

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They are public arms of the state. And so long as the state intends to act like an illogical parent, it should expect its citizens to act like children.

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