Gill: 'Wicked Witch' Edith Jones 

It’s easy enough to find supporters of capital punishment in Louisiana, but there is one place where their opinion is not popular.

The consensus on death row at Angola is strongly abolitionist.

That just goes to show how stupid condemned men are, because they should be grateful to the state for giving them a chance to make peace with God. That will happen only in the shadow of death.

Edith Jones of Texas, who sits on the federal appeals court in New Orleans, so informed the University of Pennsylvania law school in a speech that had audience members practically falling off their chairs in astonishment. Down here, however, nutty, authoritarian effusions from Jones no longer raise eyebrows.

The local bar is in two minds over her. Some call her the Wicked Witch of the West, but others say Darth Vader is more like it.

Jones’ Pennsylvania speech was not recorded — we must rely on the testimony of audience members who have filed a complaint against her with the Judicial Council — but she evidently failed to consider the possibility that convicts might not share her Christian principles.

Being put to death cannot be regarded as a blessing for everyone. “Thanks all the same, but I’m a member of the Secular Humanist Society” won’t cut much ice with the screws when they arrive take you down, however.

Doubtless out of concern for the souls of convicts, Jones wishes we could just get on with executions. The pace continues to slacken, but as long as 20 years ago, Jones was calling for the death-row backlog to be cleared up. In a Texas Bar Journal she proposed a mandatory quota of “approximately four to six executions per month,” but conceded she might be a bit of a softie, since, at that rate, “it would take more than four years to conclude all the currently pending cases.”

If that suggested scant regard for due process in capital cases, Jones had not mellowed a decade later when a district court ruled that a Texas defendant had been denied a fair trial because his attorney kept falling asleep. Jones was one of two appeals-court judges on a panel of three who voted to kill him anyway, but the full court overruled them.

Jones’ bizarre views on the death penalty have long been known, and it is unlikely that a complaint would have been filed merely because she endorsed it so heartily in her Pennsylvania speech. Still, federal judges are expected to cite might more up-to-date authorities than Deuteronomy for their opinions.

But that was hardly her only, or her worst, offense. The speech betrayed a set of prejudices that would make Archie Bunker blanch and trampled all over the concept of judicial impartiality.

The judicial code of conduct prohibits public comment on “a matter pending or impending in any court,” but Jones did not scruple to name and vilify defendants who have appeared, or may yet appear, in her own. She also explained that blacks and Hispanics commit more crimes, and are more prone to violence, than whites, a view that is unlikely to promote the required “public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Mexicans, meanwhile, would rather be on death row here than in prison at home. Jones believes this not because Mexico has abolished the death penalty, thereby depriving its convicts of an early opportunity to get right with God, but because she just thinks America provides more “legal protections.” Whether she regards this as a good or a bad thing is hard to say.

There is no doubt where she stands on executing the mentally retarded, whatever the U.S. Supreme Court may say. If you are bright enough to do the crime, you are bright enough to die, according to Jones. A mental retardation defense is a “red herring.”

These are just a sample of the pronouncements that suggest Jones lacks the judicial temperament, but they hardly amount to “high crimes and misdemeanours.” A complaint of judicial misconduct can result in a suspension, but Jones, who was until quite recently chief judge of the circuit, will probably face a reprimand at worst.

No need to make peace with God therefore.

James Gill can be contacted at jgill@theadvo