The head prosecutor in St. Louis, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, has repeatedly sought to have cases removed from a judge she considers too lenient, and the judge has publicly criticized prosecutors' "ridiculous" sentencing recommendations, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported March 12. Joyce has ordered prosecutors to file motions to remove Circuit Judge Evelyn Baker from more than 150 cases.
While lawyers familiar with the brouhaha told the Post-Dispatch Joyce was upset with Baker's "leniency" in drug cases, Joyce would not comment directly, telling the newspaper only, "I request a change of judge when I believe it is in the best interest of justice, and the victims' and citizens' safety."
"That's such a joke," Baker shot back. "The safety of citizens. Whatever happened to the efficient and effective administration of justice?" Moving to disqualify her from cases only further slowed an already overloaded court system, she told the newspaper. "It's a disservice to taxpayers," the judge said. "People are sitting over there in that jail -- that we're paying for -- because their cases are not moving."
Prosecutors want sentences that are "very high," Baker said, particularly for first-time non-violent drug offenders. "Treatment is a lot cheaper than incarceration for an extended period of time," she argued.
Prosecutors' sentencing recommendations are often "ridiculous," Baker continued, citing the case of an aging drug user with no history of violent crime. He was convicted of heroin possession, and prosecutors sought a 20-year sentence, she said. By contrast, those same prosecutors recommended the minimum 10-year sentence for an alleged gang member convicted of second-degree murder. In another case, Paul D. Baker pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance, and prosecutors recommended a 20-year sentence. Judge Baker gave him probation.
While Circuit Attorney Joyce told the Post-Dispatch she denies Baker's accusation that her office had a "blanket policy" of seeking her removal from cases, Joyce did say that her attorneys had filed at least 150 removal motions directed at Baker. They had filed none against any of the 10 other circuit court judges in the jurisdiction, she admitted.
Baker told the Post-Dispatch that her sentences adhered strictly to the state's sentencing guidelines, but that she also kept prison overcrowding with drug offenders in mind when pronouncing sentences. "I know they don't like a lot of my rulings," she said, "but I strictly go by the law."
The rebellion of the black robes, most pronounced in the federal judiciary, creeps through the state courts as well.