Judges must respect the jury system and jurors who serve at trials. It is their solemn duty.
But one Allegheny County Common Pleas judge may need a law school refresher course on how the system works.
A complaint filed against him alleges that Judge Mark Tranquilli didn't like the "not guilty" verdict delivered by a jury in a drug case and tossed the verdict slip back at his clerk.
Gratuitously, the judge told the jurors that he believed the defendant was a drug dealer rather than a user — a not-too-subtle swipe at the verdict.
Things didn't end in front of the jury. The complaint alleges that the judge then singled out one particular juror for criticism. The judge thought she should have been stricken because, in the judge's mind, she was favorable to heroin dealers. Not that the judge had any proof of that. Jury deliberations are secret, so the judge had no way of knowing her role in the decision.
The judge also referred to the woman as "Aunt Jemima," according to the complaint.
The complaint was filed by Joe Otte, the defense attorney in the case. Ted Dutkowski, the prosecutor handling the case, corroborated Mr. Otte's claims in a memorandum.
If all this is true, one has to ask: Is this a decent man who had a bad day or a man who should not be on the bench? His lack of respect for the jury, one member of the jury in particular, the jury system and his own office is mind-boggling — and unacceptable.
Judge Tranquilli has been assigned to administrative duties pending further investigation.
That investigation should proceed openly and apace.
The behavior and alleged comments by the judge show a thorough lack of judicial temperament.
No judge has the right to come out from behind his robes to attack a juror. No decent judge would try.
The jury system is enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Like democracy, the jury system isn't perfect. But like democracy, it is the best thing available.
Judges exist to serve and uphold that document, not to vent their spleens.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.