Don’t make a judge mad, it’s redundant

By Fred Grimm, The Miami Herald, May. 16, 2006

Our Judiciary Has Divided Mental Disorders into Two Stark Categories: Ours and Theirs.

Judge John Sloop Clearly Suffers from a Mental Defect under the Heading of Ours.

Sloop has described a kind of self-diagnostic epiphany one night last year while watching a TV bit on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Good thing he was paying attention. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has become the bulwark of his argument that the Florida Supreme Court ought to let him keep his $131,000-a-year job.

The famously mean Seminole County judge told the Judicial Qualifications Commission that his latest fit of nastiness — tossing 11 people in jail after they had been directed to the wrong court — was due to his newfound mental disorder.

Sloop, 16 years on the bench, has previously been rebuked for waving a pistol around his courtroom, verbally abusing defendants and charging defendants $50 for each night they spend in jail. He had promised the Judicial Qualifications Commission in 2002 that he would cause no more problems.

A burst of ill temper on Dec. 3, 2004, got him in trouble again. He ordered the arrests of 11 defendants, all facing minor misdemeanor traffic charges, who missed their court dates. Sloop was told by deputies and two other judges that, in fact, the 11 had been directed to the wrong courtroom that morning. Sloop signed the arrest warrants anyway.

The 11 were led away in chains, strip-searched and tossed in jail for eight hours. Judge Sloop explained to the qualifications panel that he now knows it was that damned ADHD causing him to misbehave. ”I was struggling with an undiagnosed disorder,” he said at a hearing in March.

His deposition is laden with enough language of self-realization to land him a guest appearance on Oprah.

He now speaks as an ADHD survivor. He explains his long history of bad behavior as ”coping skill,” albeit one unappreciated by the 11 folks he tossed in jail.

Suffering from ADHD, said the judge (who has been transferred to civil court until the Supreme Court decides), has been “like living in a fog where you don’t feel quite in sync or connected.”

Poor Judge Sloop. Though one wonders how many of the 10,800 mentally ill inmates languishing in Florida’s jails might argue that they, too, have been living in a fog and not quite in sync. Except, of course, the judiciary files those disorders under theirs.

Sloop’s fellow Florida judges are notoriously unsympathetic to defendants whose mental disorders contribute to criminal transgressions.

Eddie Cryczan, known as Crazy Eddie, suffered a long history of mental illness. He was suicidal, and he told doctors about a fantasy to kill his mother.

Right after he was released from a mental hospital, he did just that. But when he was tried on first-degree murder charges in Broward County 10 years ago, his craziness was not crazy enough to sustain an insanity defense. He was convicted of first-degree murder (though the jury rejected his demand for a death sentence.)

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Eric Michael Clark, a paranoid schizophrenic who believed his parents to be space aliens. His long history of mental illness didn’t matter at his murder trial.

Florida judges in particular pack prisons and jails with pathetic, lost, delusional, raving mad inmates, until county jails house three times more mentally ill inmates than the state’s psychiatric institutions.

Like Dana Clyde Jones, 44, who has been in a coma since he was beaten up in the Broward County Jail on Dec. 16.

The plight of Jones, whose mental illness became tantamount to a death sentence, and so many other truly disturbed prisoners makes a jarring contrast to the psychological defense offered by Judge John Sloop.

The Florida Supreme Court will decide whether a TV-inspired diagnosis of ADHD excuses a judge of downright meanness.

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