We noted in an earlier post that Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner had recently granted Amy Holley's motion for a new trial. She, along with her husband, had been convicted by a Shelby County jury last fall.
Joiner is the judge who repeatedly made unlawful rulings in my Legal Schnauzer case, favoring an attorney who has practiced for many years in Shelby County and has a long-standing friendship with the judge. The attorney in my case, William E. Swatek, also has an almost 30-year history of unethical actions in the legal profession.
Joiner has proven in my case that he is more than happy to let politics triumph over the law and the facts in a case before him. And that raises questions about his handling of any case that comes before him--even one involving something as dreadful as alleged child abuse.
With all of that in mind, let's ponder some issues raised by the Holley case:
* Child sexual abuse cases must be among the most difficult that come before a court. Here is a Web site that focuses on child sexual abuse cases. Here is an article about media reporting of such cases, noting that child sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes. Obviously victims of child sexual abuse are highly sympathetic. But here's the flipside: Numerous adults have seen their lives turned upside down by allegations of child sexual abuse that proved to be highly questionable or downright false. Here's a Web site for a firm that specializes in assisting adults who have been falsely accused of child sexual abuse.
* Comments left by readers of the Shelby County Reporter reflect the conflicting emotions that come from child sexual abuse cases. Friends, acquaintances, and family members wrote that they knew the Holleys and could not imagine that they had actually committed such crimes. Someone claiming to be a social worker in the case said the jury had made the right decision, and the children had been through "devastating" circumstances. Someone claiming to be a juror said there was not enough evidence to convict on some counts, but evidence was strong on others, and the jury stood by its decision.
* I was not present for the Holley trial, and I have not reviewed the case file. I do know that a jury convicted both Amy Holley and her husband, Charles, on child sexual abuse charges. And I know that a judge, J. Michael Joiner, who has a history of ignoring the law and facts and playing politics with cases before him, has set aside Amy Holley's guilty verdict and ordered a new trial. Charles Holley has asked for a new trial, and a hearing on that motion is set for February 27.
* My interest is not so much in the actions of the Holleys, but the actions of Judge Joiner. I know from firsthand experience that Mike Joiner is a corrupt judge. That he is allowed to serve on the bench at all is a disgrace. But that he is overseeing matters as important as those raised by the Holley case is truly horrifying.
*According to an account from The Birmingham News, the Holleys were foster parents to two children, a brother and sister who were 5 and 4, respectively, at the time. According to a motion by Amy Holley's lawyer, Mickey Johnson, the boy accused only Charles Holley, and the boy did not waver in his story from the first investigative interview through the trial. The girl, according to Johnson, denied anyone had abused her through three investigative interviews. The girl's story changed, and according to Johnson, eventually included a tale of swimming in a river of snakes.
* Recall in our previous post on this subject that even The Birmingham News reporter called Joiner's actions "unusual." An attorney who teaches criminal law said he had never seen a judge make such a decision in his 20 years in practice. Joiner would not comment on his action, and the News gave no indication that he had issued a written explanation, so we don't know his reasoning. But a look at the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure sure makes you wonder what was going through his mind.
* Let's consider just the case against Amy Holley for a moment. According to the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, Joiner probably had at least three opportunities to find that there was insufficient evidence to convict Amy Holley. Mickey Johnson, Ms. Holley's attorney, almost certainly made motions for judgment of acquittal at three stages--at the close of the state's evidence, at the close of all evidence, and after the verdict. Evidently Joiner denied motions at all three stages. The court, on its own motion, may grant a judgment of acquittal. Joiner did not do that.
* Amy Holley was convicted of sexual abuse, and Joiner sentenced her in November to five years in prison. Charles Holley was convicted of sodomy and two counts of sexual abuse. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
* A motion for a new trial must be filed no later than 30 days after sentence is pronounced. Such a motion was filed for Amy Holley, and Judge Joiner granted it. Why did a newspaper reporter call this unusual? Why did a law professor say he had never seen such a ruling in 20 years of practice? Probably because Joiner almost certainly had three times ruled during the case that Ms. Holley was not due a motion of acquittal.
* Why would a judge, who had heard all the evidence and three times denied motions for judgment of acquittal, suddenly decide a few months later that Amy Holley should receive a new trial? Joiner is not talking, so we can only assume that he agreed with long-time Shelby County attorney Mickey Johnson that there was not sufficient evidence to support the jury's guilty verdict. But why did he repeatedly find during the trial itself that the evidence was sufficient to move the case forward, eventually going to a jury?
* Here's a curious thing about Joiner's actions: When he repeatedly denied motions for a judgment of acquittal, a jury was on hand. But when the motion for a new trial was made, the jury had long since done its duty and was nowhere to be found? Did Joiner feel more free, at that point, to do whatever the heck he wanted to do?
* Here is something else curious about this case: The Shelby County Reporter, at least based on a review of its Web site, has written nothing about Joiner's decision to grant Amy Holley a new trial. Recall that numerous readers had responded on the paper's Web site about a story on the Holleys' conviction. Those readers included someone claiming to be a social worker in the case and someone claiming to be a juror. Both of those readers indicated they felt the jury's decision had been correct. Is it possible that the Shelby County Reporter, at the urging of judges who operate across the street from the paper, has intentionally not reported on the new-trial ruling so as to not give a forum for knowledgeable readers to express their displeasure?
* I wonder how jurors in the Holley case feel about Joiner suddenly deciding to override their finding, apparently giving no explanation for his decision. It's safe to assume that those jurors took several days out of their lives in order to fulfill their public duty and hear what had to be a most unpleasant case. I think it's also safe to assume that a jury in "conservative" Shelby County was not chomping at the bit to find a foster mother guilty of child sexual abuse. The jury must have found something in the evidence to be compelling, and yet the very judge who three times had allowed the case to move forward has now overridden their work. Again, I don't have any information regarding Amy Holley's guilt or innocence. But if I had served on that jury, I would wonder what was behind Joiner's "unusual" actions.
* By the way, the Holley case is not the only criminal matter in Shelby County where politics appears to have reared its ugly head. I'm aware of a case of animal cruelty where politics might have trumped the law, resulting in a most curious acquittal. We will look at that case in a future post.As for the Holley case, we will follow it closely. And we will keep in mind the words of Martin Luther King in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
At Legal Schnauzer, we have a slightly different take on that famous quote: A judge who perpetuates injustice in one case, is a threat to perpetuate injustice in any case. J. Michael Joiner is just that kind of judge.