Franklyn Williams had a lot to say, and under the circumstances, it’s not entirely surprising. After all, he was about to be sentenced.
Franklyn Williams, 32, is accused of three armed robberies in Richmond Heights and Euclid.
During his sentencing hearing, Williams would not stop talking, despite more than a dozen warnings from Judge John Russo over the course of about 30 minutes. Williams even interrupted his own attorneys.
Not to nitpick, but sentence isn’t imposed on people merely accused, but people convicted.* That said, even the accused is entitled to speak on his own behalf at sentence. Indeed, it may well be the most important speech he utters. Then again, that cuts both ways.
To be clear, a utilitarian exception to free speech is the judge’s authority to manage his courtroom. In other words, you can’t speak when the judge tells you can’t speak. Judge Russo’s handling of the situation was exceptionally poor. He was rude. He was offensive. No doubt he was frustrated by Williams’ failure to listen, but that happens. Defendants are funny that way, not “respecting” the court’s directions the way judges would like them to.
It would appear that the lawyer sitting next to Williams’ lacked his client’s trust. It may be for good reason. It may be that no lawyer could have won Williams over. But Williams had a damn good point: this was his life and he alone would spend whatever term of years that was about to be imposed. His lawyer wouldn’t be there. The judge wouldn’t be there. This was Williams’ one chance to say his piece.
On the other hand, was infuriating the judge a good tactical move on Williams’ part? Of course not. Much as Williams may believe that he was ill-served by the legal system, and much as he wanted to seize upon his presence before the court as an opportunity to seek redress of his grievances, this was not the way to accomplish anything useful.
Then again, neither was this.
The judge “explains” his reasons for taping Williams’ mouth shut, primarily his refusal to stop talking, the inability of the court reporter to make a record of proceedings (they can’t keep track of more than one person speaking at a time) and courtroom decorum. Beyond Williams’ refusal to “zip it” was the various ways Williams had failed to adhere to the directions and requirements of the court up to that point. Williams was a monumental problem defendant.
Every criminal defense lawyer appreciates the frustration of dealing with a defendant like Williams. Some clients just won’t stop, won’t listen, won’t learn and won’t do what’s in their best interests. Had Williams waited until the judge gave him the opportunity to speak, Williams could have said whatever he needed to say, no matter how well or poorly it served his cause. That’s his right.
But there’s a reality here belying the decorum of the courtroom, the niceties of our rules, the court reporter’s needs and the best tactics at sentence. For better or worse, Williams, and Williams alone, will pay the price for his choice, a great many of which were likely very poor. As frustrating as it must have been for Judge Russo, part of his job is managing the difficult, even the impossible, defendant.
Defendants aren’t obliged to handle themselves properly in a courtroom. Judges are. Judge Russo, seeing that Williams’ would not be silenced, could have let him speak, let him get it all out, let him utter every word that was burning inside him, until he flamed out. And then gone on with the sentence. This may not have comported with procedure, but it would have better served the law than putting red tape over Willliams’ mouth.
*Williams was convicted, after trial in abstentia when he absconded during trial.