Legal Profession

Judge Censured for Cane-Flinging Incident

Still frame showing direction in which cane was flung

Sources report that an Arkansas judge has been censured for a 2021 incident in which he angrily confronted someone who parked in his reserved space. See Judge is censured for tiff over his reserved parking spot; a cane was thrown,” ABA Journal (Jan. 25, 2022). That in and of itself probably wouldn’t be worth mentioning here, but for the oddly amusing detail that “a cane was thrown.”

I also find it odd that the Journal used the passive voice there, but then you can probably guess that the unstated subject of that sentence was the judge.

The parking lot in question is between a restaurant and a court building. According to the reports, on April 30, 2021, a 20-year-old student drove onto the lot, planning to meet his parents for dinner. A sign at the entrance to the lot states “Employee parking only, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.” Because it was after 7 p.m., the student allegedly understood this to mean parking in the lot was acceptable. He parked and entered the restaurant. Upon exiting, he was confronted by an angry judge who pointed out to him that, notwithstanding the sign at the entrance, a sign on the court building’s wall says that the specific parking space is reserved “24/7.”

The student’s parents arrived shortly thereafter. According to his father, the judge was “berating” his son for the parking violation, and repeated apologies did not defuse the “rabid fury and anger” the judge displayed. The father and judge then had words. Towards the end of that confrontation, the judge, who has walked with a cane since hip-replacement surgery nine months ago, flung that cane to the ground.

Of course, the question uppermost in your mind right now is: “Kevin, why are you using ‘flung’ instead of ‘thrown’ to describe the motion of this cane?” I’m so glad you asked. Here’s the evidence, courtesy of 5NewsOnline:

To me that is a “fling.” Now, normally I’d consult the Oxford English Dictionary for this kind of thing, but the website is down right now (or, more likely, Oxford has wisely decided it wants no part of this nonsense). According to Merriam-Webster, the terms are largely interchangeable, but “throw” may “specifically imply a distinctive motion with bent arm,” such as that used to throw a baseball. And to me, at least, “throw” similarly suggests that one is not simply propelling something through the air in a random direction, but is propelling it at a particular target. E.g., you could “fling a baseball,” but you wouldn’t say “hey, fling me the baseball.” (Not without getting beaten up, at least.) As we will see, the judge did not propel his cane in this manner or at some target of his wrath. Rather, he propelled it to the side and down toward the ground. And he did propel it, as opposed to simply releasing it and allowing gravity to do the rest. (That would have been a “drop.”) The amount of force used is therefore relevant. Here, I would say it was enough to exceed a “toss” but did not rise to the level of a “hurl.” Because “fling” tends to “stress[ ] a violent throwing” (says Merriam-Webster), but not too violent, that seems like the best fit here.

Such is my reasoning.

There is, of course, no law or rule of judicial ethics against flinging things. Things get flung all the time. And yet it still seems important, as the Journal headline suggests, that “a cane was [flung].” Why? Well, as the state disciplinary commission put it, referring to the video, “the judge [flings] his cane as if to clear his hands and adopts an aggressive stance.” In other words, the flinging tends to emphasize the judge’s willingness to fight (over a parking space). This is even more significant because, as you may have heard in the video and as the commission also mentioned, the judge was also armed with a gun at the time, which he was wearing on his hip. Now, he is entitled to do that (Second Amendment etc., plus he had reportedly received death threats), but the fact remains that packing heat makes a difference in how certain actions may be interpreted. So I think this helps explain the special emphasis on the flinging of the cane.

Be that as it may, the commission concluded that the judge had violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, in particular Rule 1.2, which requires judges to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary.” An angry confrontation over a parking space in public and while armed, it decided, tended to undermine these things.

To his credit, the judge apologized and accepted responsibility for his “participation in the parking lot dispute,” and promised to do better. It was also undisputed that the past few years have been difficult for him in some ways, including triple-bypass surgery and the hip replacement that was the reason for the cane. Those were cited as mitigating circumstances. I also think it is fair to point out that security-cam footage (see below) seems to make clear that the the parking-space trespasser was fully aware of the sign saying that the space was reserved 24/7. After parking, he gets out and looks toward the wall where the sign was located, then walks out to the sign saying the lot is reserved only until 5 p.m. Completely ignoring the rule of construction that says specific provisions control over more general ones, he then walks away. So I think we all understand what happened there.

Not saying this justifies the flinging, at least not during a face-to-face confrontation. But it would be irritating.