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Superior court judge needs to be considerate and fair

By Brenda Denzler
Posted Wednesday, November 1, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - The only judicial candidate that I have had interaction with is Chuck Anderson. That is because my older son, who is mildly developmentally disabled, had to appear before Anderson once. On the basis of that interaction, I would have serious, serious reservations about electing this man to any post where he has power and control over people. He has a flash temper (based on my experience and on what I was told afterward), and apparently it errupts in the courtroom with distressing regularity (I was later informed).

Because my son has some developmental difficulties, I continue to help him manage many "business" affairs in his life, even though he's a young adult. Because he looks so "normal," you can't just take one look at him and know that he may have any special needs. I have gotten used to being dismissed and overlooked, in such situations, but I do find it frustrating at times to need to justify my involvement before I can get anyone to let me facilitate their business and other official interactions with my son.

When my son had to appear in court, I of course did background research on the situation and went to court with him that day. When he was called to the bench, I went along. Judge Anderson, obviously irritated at my being there, asked me who I was, I said I was my son's mother, and Anderson told me to go sit down. Then, before I knew what was happening, Anderson was saying something about my giving him a "look" and ordering the baliff to throw me out of the courtroom.

I have never in my life felt so helpless to help my son. To protect him. I sat "in chambers" under the watchful (and sympathetic) eye of the baliff and sobbed big, heaving sobs like I have seldom ever done before. The situation that my son was in court over could have gone very, very badly--a domino effect of very bad events, one triggering another, and potentially ending in tragedy--largely because of the danger that my son was in of getting wrapped up in a system that did not appreciate the communication difficulties he has.

Fortunately, I had worked my behind off before we ever got to court, trying to get a message through to the DA's office about my son. They refuse to talk to defendants before court, so that didn't work. It was very frustrating, and I was very anxious. But then someone in a social work position who knew my son volunteered to talk to the DA for us and alert *them* to the special nature of the situation.

On the day of court, I had no idea whether the attempted contact had been successful. That's why I tried to stand up with my son and make sure that he (and I!) understood the exact nature of what was going on and would have a chance to make his special needs known in court, if need be. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to say anything, since I was thrown out of court. Luckily, as I was being hauled out by the baliff to go and sit sobbing "in chambers," the DA's office was slipping a note about my son to Judge Anderson. And to his credit, he immediately reversed himself and became much more understanding. He later wrote me a lovely letter of apology, which seemed very heartfelt.

But I could not help wondering--what if I had *not* tried to do anything before court to make my son's needs known, but had relied on talking to the judge that day, myself? What if the social worker who volunteered to talk to the DA's office had not been successful? What if the DA's office had misplaced their note from the social worker on my son's case?

What would have happened to my son? How would his special situation have ever become known to the judge, since he threw me out of court before I could explain my presence?

Judge Anderson never even *asked* me to explain my presence. He got angry because of "a look" that he saw on my face, and he kicked me out. I was not consciously aware of giving him *any* look, but given my sense of frustration with always being ignored when trying to help my son, I admit that it's possible that without even realizing what I was doing, I had rolled my eyes a bit. I know that when Judge Anderson asked me, with irritation in his voice, who I was, I thought, "Here we go again." But believe me, I know enough not to deliberately provoke *anyone* in authority in such circumstances. So any "look" I may have given Judge Anderson was entirely involuntary and consisted of body language subtle enough that I was unaware of doing it.

As I continued to deal with my son's legal situation, I spoke with a number of different attorneys. When I mentioned Judge Anderson's throwing me out of court that day, I was told time and time again that he is notorious for his temper in court. A few people even encouraged me to file a formal complaint about what had happened. I objected, saying that he'd written such a lovely letter of apology, and their response was that he'd had a lot of opportunities to get good at writing those letters. They said that no
one will ever file complaints against him because they are usually afraid of him--of someday winding up back in his court and having to face him again. Some expressed frank irritation with his behavior and the fact that nothing can be done about it unless people complain, but people are afraid to complain because he's a judge. Indeed, I feel more than a little exposed in relating this story. But people need to know....

On the positive side, Judge Anderson later presided over another case involving developmentally disabled people, and he appears to have been as considerate and fair as the law and circumstances would allow, in that case. And indeed, I must say that in my son's case, once the judge knew that my son had special needs, he changed his attitude immediately and things worked out for my son as well as they possibly could have, given that he was involved in the whole situation at all.

But what if? What if I had not gotten that message to the DA? The situation my son became embroiled in was potentially explosive. What if....?

Because of Judge Anderson's reputation for angry outbursts in his courtroom, and my own experience with this, I would have real reservations putting someone like that on the superior court bench.

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