Short Take: Speech, Frustration and Red Tape

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.

20 thoughts on “Short Take: Speech, Frustration and Red Tape

  1. Richard Kopf


    One of the good reasons for putting a video feed into a holding cell is to deal with the situation faced by Judge Russo. Put the defendant into the cell where he can watch and hear the proceedings and then call upon the defense lawyer to proceed. Once the lawyer is done, bring the defendant back into the courtroom. Give him a time limit for allocution and then sentence him. If he goes overtime or interrupts during the pronouncement of sentence put him back in the cell with the video feed and sentence him. Short of the foregoing, Judge Russo’s utilitarian solution, while not aesthetically pleasing, brings to my mind a happy face emoji.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      Short of a violent deft, I’m not at all a fan of removing the deft from the courtroom. This is about him and he’s got a right to be there. A video feed isn’t the same, and more importantly, deprives the deft of the ability to have the judge see the person whose life he’s about to pass judgment on.

      I fully appreciate how defts like Williams (not to mention the sovereign citizens) make a judge’s job almost impossible, but that’s why they pay you the big bucks. It’s not the deft’s duty to make the judge’s life easier, no matter how unwise the choice to do so might be.

          1. LocoYokel

            Ooohh, Trial by combat idea. Stun belts on the lawyers and the last one standing wins the case.

            Probably mostly useful for civil suits but it could be used in criminal cases also.

      1. PaulaMarie Susi

        Exactly. I won’t say unruly defts are the norm, but I’ve certainly had more than my fair share over the last 3 decades. ERK is the most kind and understanding man I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, it’s a privilege to work for him. He’ll stop, let the deft have his say – no matter how insane or rambling – and then continue the proceedings. If it’s a busy day, he’ll adjourn the matter to give him/her their time to speak (and let the atty talk some sense into them). The only time we’ve held the deft remote is when they were violent or physically abusive (I don’t really mind much when they throw microphones, but I refuse to be spat upon, and they stand in front of moi). It’s usually the ONLY time in some defts life that anyone has ever truly listened to them. And, ERK listens. I pride my self on running the courtroom with a rather firm hand, but everyone is treated with respect, it’s really the least we can do.

    2. Nemo


      Serious psychological issues aside, SHG’s on the right track. I’d be willing to bet that most of the sort as the guy here felt that they were screwed from the get-go, they got screwed over in the trial, and here they are getting screwed over again because they got screwed over the first two times.

      The accuracy of such feelings will vary, and tends towards the exaggerated, but from such a person’s POV, they aren’t necessarily wrong. People get marked and imprinted by quite a range of things.

      Doesn’t make them less annoying, but it is something for an authority figure to keep in mind. It may not be personal to you, but it is personal to them.

  2. B. McLeod

    To some judges, “control of the courtroom” is paramount. I have known a few who were absolutely obsessed with this, as their 1st rule of judging. For such judges, any course of events other than counsel and their clients following the court’s directions is simply unthinkable.

  3. Joe

    I know you don’t typically post videos but I thought this was appropriate for your story.

    It should help judges clear up any misunderstanding about which duct tape to use.

    “Which Duct Tape Brand is the Best? Let’s find out!”

    1. SHG Post author

      If they’re going to tape deft’s mouths shut, at least they should use the best tape on the market. Then again, there’s something special about using red tape. Do they make duct tape in red?

      1. David

        They make duct tape in every color, print and style that can be imagined. Apparently some people enjoy crafting with the stuff. Don’t understand it but I guess people need hobbies.

  4. Matthew Wideman

    As a 1L I would decry this as awful. As a practicing lawyer, I watched a trial with a SC. It is seriously out of control and fucking nuts.

    I gained new respect for the position of Judge after watching that people’s court with poorly written motions.

    1. SHG Post author

      People have an image in their heads of how a deft behaves in court. It’s hard to appreciate that they come in all flavors, some of which taste awful, and others are poison.

  5. wilbur

    We all have occasion to deal with individuals (victims, defendants, etc.) who are so incensed, enraged or crazy that they cannot control themselves verbally. It took me a while to learn that, whenever possible, the best thing to do is just let them talk or yell, saying nothing until they are finally finished. You let them get it out of their system, because until you do there is no chance of reasoning with them.

    That’s in the best of worlds. Reality sometimes dictates other strategies.

  6. Anonymous

    I think people just have standards on what people consider decorum in society especially when the person has a title.
    I know a doctor who called a patient right to their face, “an unsuccessful hopeless failure and social loser who never had any successses in life”.

    There was no reason to ever say that unless you need to take imodium for diarrhea of the mouth

      1. Anonymous

        Nope . How many?

        And by the way I can be delayed In snarky joke comebacks. Sometimes I need things explained because I don’t get it

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