Command Presence Doesn’t Care About The Black Robe

In the courtroom, the judge is god.  But on the street, the judge will do as he’s told.  In New York, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Raffaele was taught that painful lesson, although he never really appeared to get it.  In California, it was Judge David Cunningham’s lesson to learn.

[Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham] claimed that two campus officers cuffed him and threw him into the back of a squad car after he had finished his morning workout at a gym in Westwood on Nov. 23, 2013.

The officers acted after he got out of his car to retrieve his car insurance and registration information and refused orders to get back in his car, the university said.

You have to love it when the media reports that the judge “claimed” something happened, just like ordinary folks do. From the LA Times:

He said that the officers stopped him seconds after he left a LA Fitness gym, shoved him against his car, handcuffed him and locked him in the back seat of a police cruiser until a black sergeant arrived. He alleges that the only explanation for the conduct was “his African American race,” and that he was not even close to university property.

What makes this remarkable is that this conduct happens to a whole lot of people who aren’t judges, who weren’t the “former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission,” and who aren’t even black.  While the judge “allege[d]” that the only explanation was his race, that fails to explain why people of every color are given similarly delicate and caring treatment.  It may be because the judge was black. It may also be because . . . reasons.

According to Cunningham’s complaint, he was trying to find his registration and insurance forms in his car’s glove box when a prescription bottle for high blood pressure medicine rolled out. One of the officers asked him whether he was carrying drugs. Cunningham then said he went to search his trunk for the papers and that the officers, Kevin Dodd and James Kim, rushed and handcuffed him.

Drugs?  Well, that’s a familiar tune.  What if he appeared to clench his buttocks too tightly? Would some judge sign a warrant for a forced digital rectal exam?  After all, the officer commanded the judge to stay inside his car, but the judge got out to get his registration.  It may have seemed like a reasonable thing to do for the judge, but command presence demands the judge comply. Kinda like when a judge makes some utterance from the bench that no one can challenge.

In a statement after the incident, the UCLA police department said the matter began as a routine traffic stop and that Cunningham ignored officers’ orders to stay in his car. “Despite these instructions, the driver left the vehicle – an escalating behavior that can place officers at risk,” the department said at the time.

Drugs, placing the officers at risk. They had a bad dude on the un-sunny side of the street, and that can’t be permitted, no matter what color he is.  Had a sergeant not intervened, recognizing that the perp in the back seat of the cruiser wasn’t a good candidate for a digital rectal search, this could have gotten way uglier.

Cunningham, who had reviewed many cases of possible police misconduct matters during his time on the Police Commission, said he feared for his safety and began yelling about police brutality and demanded they call a supervisor.

Nonetheless, Judge Cunningham was sufficiently offended at his handling to file a claim against UCLA for being “shaken, battered and bruised,” which they settled for a cool $500,000.

[H]is attorney will receive $150,000 and an additional $350,000 will establish a scholarship fund named after Cunningham and administered by the UCLA Black Alumni Association for undergraduate or law students…

In addition, UCLA pledged to improve training for police on diversity and to hold a one-day community forum about relations between police and the public, including racial profiling.

A gracious outcome by the judge, who kept nothing for himself.  Don’t try this at home, kids, as you aren’t likely to come close to such a wondrous settlement. You are not Judge Cunningham.  And indeed, Judge Cunningham is not you.  It’s not that his perception, that the only problem here is racial insensitivity, and a one-day training seminar for UCLA police on diversity will put this nasty business behind them, is a terrible thing.  Well, maybe it is.

Whenever a person gets treated poorly by the police, there is a question in the back of people’s minds that if only this was to happen to someone in a position of authority, of power, they will finally realize that life on the street can be brutish, hostile and violent  at the hands of the police.  If only it would happen to them, instead of just us.

The fact is that it does, every once in a while.  It happened to Judge Raffaele. It happened to Judge Cunningham.  It happens.

“Both parties are eager to use this as a teachable moment that provides greater insight into important issues, increased educational opportunities and improved relations between law enforcement and the public,” the statement said. “This civic-minded agreement serves the best interest of the entire community and settles the matter to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.”

There you go. A teachable moment, a civic-minded agreement and a problem solved.  Nothing more to see here. Move along. That’s a command.


9 comments on “Command Presence Doesn’t Care About The Black Robe

  1. william doriss

    Not so fast, Kimosabe, The Lone Ranger says to his sidekick.
    “It looks like we’re finished.”
    “What do you mean, We?”

  2. Wheeze The People™

    Just like the Rodney King incident was a teachable moment, right?? “Welcome to L.A., where we treat you like a king, Rodney King (in my worst James Bond voice) . . .

    Teachable moments, now that is one meaningless cliche, isn’t it?? There can be learnings from every moment really, but something about leading whores to water, don’tcha know . . .

  3. Marc R

    Not licensed in CA, but my understanding is they’re not one of the 40 states with sovereign immunity waiver caps. Even GA has a cap ($1M per individual claim). This judge filed suit for $10M and the judge ordered a $500K settlement…the lawyer, wow, he probably needs 10 people with serious broken bones and metal rods to hit that amount normally.

    So the teachable moment is had this complainant been nobody it would have been dismissed for lack of ability to show facts that a reasonable officer knew he acted wrongly, or settled for $4K (inc. fees and costs). But if I get lucky and have a judge or other high-powered person become inconvenienced then I hit the tort lottery. Did I learn the lesson?

    1. SHG Post author

      Definitely one of them. It makes me nuts when the groundlings assume that every time a cop smacks someone around, they’re going to win the lottery. People have no idea how hard it is to win, or that every affront isn’t a million dollar damage award. But it helps to be a judge.

    2. Rick Horowitz

      There’s definitely no one where I’m from making much money off police misconduct/brutality.

      Wins in Fresno are close to non-existent, and I don’t know a single lawyer who only handles these types of cases. There might be one. I just don’t know him.

      I do wonder what happens when these judges return to the bench. Do they take anything they’ve learned with them?

  4. Bob

    So Driving While Black can sting while DWB (Judicial) goes ka-ching. Its good and its embarrassing to be white.

  5. david

    So the doctor who gets a separated shoulder while being attacked from behind while trying to free a baby from a locked car under the instruction of a uniformed fireman gets $99K; and the judge who gets out of his car and opens the trunk during a traffic stop (and doesn’t get shot!) gets $500K for hurt feefees.

    1. SHG Post author

      Yup. That’s how it basically lays out. Like I said, it’s good to be a judge.

      And if you think the doc didn’t do too well, imagine how an unemployed guy will do in settlement.

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