Judge Cain’s Really Awful, Humiliating Poem

Criminal defense lawyers have an inadequate grasp of real life in prison.  Judges, even more so. But it’s not hard to understand why Darek Lathan found his experience to, well, stink.

Darek Lathan wrote that he warned the officer he was struggling with a cold and diarrhea from taking cold showers in the prison, but wasn’t allowed to get out of line.

He suffered “harassment, embarrassment, riddiculing (sic) and emotional distress” when other inmates began laughing at him after the bathroom accident, he wrote. The lawsuit asked for $2 million in damages.

Don’t get hung up on the ad damnum, it’s just a number that’s pulled out of his butt to cover whatever the amount might ultimately be found to be.  But soiling oneself in front of other inmates could have far more significant consequences in prison than, say, for a toddler at pre-school.  In a place where the respect of others can mean the difference between life and death, a daily beating or worse, being put in the position of suffering the ridicule of a significant number of tough, and otherwise unpleasant, people is not quite trivial.

But the judge who fielded Lathan’s complaint knew better.  It’s not that the court was obliged to agree with Lathan. There is never an assurance that a judge will “get it,” particularly when “it” is something well outside of the judge’s life experiences. Sure, we can hope that judges aren’t so arrogant as to limit their scope of concern to their own very limited world, but wearing black doesn’t make a judge any wiser than he was before. A little slimmer, maybe, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain used five stanzas of verse to rule that Lathan, the plaintiff, has no case:

Cold showers caused his bowels to malfunction
Or so the plaintiff claims
A strict uncaring prison guard
Is whom the plaintiff blames.

While in line for recreation
And little time for hesitation
His anal sphincter just exploded
The plaintiff’s britches quickly loaded.

It made the inmates laugh and play
To see the plaintiff’s pants this way
The foul, unsightly, putrid mess
Caused the plaintiff major stress.

Claiming loss and shame to boot
The plaintiff filed the present suit
But the law provideth no relief
From such unmitigated grief.

Neither runs nor constipation
Can justify this litigation
Whether bowels constrict or flex
De minimus non curat lex.

Ah, Judge Cain. Aren’t you witty.  Look how you’ve reached down and punched Darek Lathan, because his complaint is so ridiculously laughable to you.  After all, you never shit in your black robe. In prison. Because a guard wouldn’t let you go to the toilet as you suffered diarrhea.  And endured the ridicule of others who might just be inclined to take out their lack of respect by smacking your judicial ass around the room a few times.

“I read the complaint and quickly concluded that it was totally frivolous,” Cain said after the ruling was posted on the court Website.

“You know, if he is going to file something that frivolous, he can’t expect me to be too judicious in how I respond. He can’t expect me to take it seriously.”

Was Lathan’s complaint so clearly frivolous? Clearly, Cain thought so, and since Cain is a judge, he must know because judges are brilliant.  It’s not like we have appellate courts because judges ever make mistakes.

It may well be that Lathan’s issue was trivial. Or it may well be that Judge Cain is too clueless and taken with his personal sensibilities that he couldn’t grasp why it wasn’t trivial at all.  But to dismiss it as a joke, to rule with poetry that would make a college sophomore gag, is disgraceful.  So what if you don’t think Lathan suffered enough?  Not only could he expect a judge to take it seriously, but so too could the rest of us who might think you’re not merely wrong, but a total arrogant asshole.

And then there’s the punching down part.  If nothing else, Lathan is a prisoner, and there isn’t much a prisoner can do to level the playing field with a judge, even a local yokel one who sits in the Court of Common Pleas in Franklin County, O-friggin-hio.  So from that perch, so high and mighty, you spit at a guy who can’t fight back.  How impressive is your power, judge.  How important you are to beat up a prisoner.

Cain said he spent about an hour composing the poem, not counting a break for lunch.

The judge is comfortable working in words. He began his career as a writer, earning a journalism degree from Ohio University in 1965 and working as a Dispatch reporter for a decade before getting his law degree. In the 1970s, he was among those who wrote song parodies poking fun at local personalities for the Press Club’s Gridiron Shows.

“We have to have some fun every once in a while in this job,” he said.

How great that you had fun at Darek Lathan’s expense.  But if it took you about an hour to write that utterly fucking awful poem, you really suck at writing.  But that’s the least of it.  Dismissing Lathan’s complaint, and dismissing it so cavalierly, is a disgrace.

It’s unlikely that there will come a day when someone will have such utter control over your world that they force you to shit yourself before your courtroom, soil your robes, become the clown, the target of ridicule.  It’s unlikely that anyone will be in the position to take it out on you, day after day, by humiliating you (if you’re lucky) or forcing your mouth to gently close around a penis (if you’re not).  That’s the world that only people with trivial problems, like Darek Lathan, need endure.  Not big time judges like you.

But Lathan’s embarrassment came at the compulsion of a prison guard.  You brought your humiliation on yourself with this garbage. You will always be covered in shit as far as I’m concerned.

H/T Michael Lockard

19 comments on “Judge Cain’s Really Awful, Humiliating Poem

  1. paul

    Here i was hoping you would respond with a poem of your own.

    There once was a judge in Ohio
    Whose poetry makes me cry-oh…

    1. SHG Post author

      I actually thought about it, but it struck me as wrong to respond to Cain’s arrogance with my own flippancy.

    1. SHG Post author

      Of all that was wrong here, I can forgive the spelling error. Especially since I spell de minimis wrong all the time.

  2. Richard G. Kopf

    SHG,

    I once had a section 1983 case about “Prison Loaf.”

    Prison Loaf, sometimes called Nutraloaf, disciplinary loaf, food loaf, confinement loaf, seg loaf, or a special management meal, is a food served in prisons to inmates who have misbehaved in various ways. It looks like meatloaf but it is all the ingredients of a meal ground up together. Prison loaf is usually bland, and often tastes awful, but prison wardens argue that nutraloaf provides enough nutrition to keep prisoners healthy without requiring utensils to be issued.

    In my case, I wrote a very snarky, and (so I thought) terrifically funny order denying the complaint. As you and your readers know, I can spout off without sufficient reflection. Well, on this particular occassion, I gave the opinion (which I had written myself) to my career law clerks. I asked for their advice. They thought it was great. The prisoner was a real jerk who had caused serious problems. (I won’t detail them ’cause, among other things, they were really gross.)

    Anyway, as I got to thinking about my masterpiece, I asked myself how this poor awful bastard sitting in seg. would feel upon receipt of my opinion. For once in my life, I decided not to be a smart ass. I shit canned the opinion, and denied the petition without flare.

    Now, the foregoing is not a shot at Judge Cain. A steady diet of prisoner complaints makes one cynical–I don’t care how good a judge you are otherwise. There is an almost irrestible urge to scream “stop” already with this nonesense. That said, this case presents your readers with a peek inside the judicial mind. Sometimes, it is not pretty. But for the grace of God, I could have written the same poetic denial. But, I am very glad I didn’t.

    All the best.

    RGK

    1. SHG Post author

      I remember the prison loaf (there were a series of complaints, as I recall) issue. Even though I think you made a wise decision, there is a difference when the attack bears upon the swill they force prisoners to eat and some needless personal humiliation at the hands of guards. The nutraloaf wasn’t personal. Lathan’s issue was. Very personal. To punch at Nutriloaf is fair game. To punch at Lathan is cruel.

      I’ve also learned, since posting this morning, that Lathan’s original conviction was reversed, and he was retried and convicted. On appeal of his second conviction, his lawyer, a former AUSA, submitted an Anders brief. Lathan’s had his share of beatings already.

      1. Richard G. Kopf

        SHG,

        You write: “To punch at Nutriloaf is fair game. To punch at Lathan is cruel.’ That is not an unfair assessment. But I am more interested in your readers understanding the judicial urge “to punch.” It exists, and, as a realist, I think you serve your readers well by highlighting this unpleasant reality.

        All the best.

        RGK

        1. SHG Post author

          About the worst punch I ever took came from Judge Kimba Wood, SDNY, who caught right under the jaw when I wasn’t looking. The most delicate punch I ever got was from Judge Louis Stanton, also SDNY, which was so subtle I started to snort. I loved trying a case before Judge Stanton.

  3. Patrick Maupin

    If Cain hasn’t always been a thoughtless terrible writer, his family should have him checked for early stage dementia.

  4. Michael Lockard

    I’ve died and gone to heaven.

    But if I screw up and find myself in front of a judge, PLEASE promise me that they will not sentence me with poorly framed verse?

  5. Pingback: Nutralife | Simple Justice

  6. Steve UK

    Lathan’s complaint itself looks a little less convincing that the precis in the media. Either way the display of judicial ego demeans Cain’s credibility.

    1. SHG Post author

      We give pro se complaints a lot of latitude. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get tossed, but that the judge doesn’t act like an offensive asshole punching down at a helpless prisoner with mean-spirited snark and bad poetry while tossing it.

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