Historically Little Johns have been nice characters, side kicks to heroes and often are portrayed as that chubby friend you love who is the first person invited to your birthday party.
In Mississippi, like most other things found in that crazy state, Littlejohns are a little different.
On Wednesday [10/07/2010], a scene reminiscent of My Cousin Vinny -- but with core Constitutional values at stake -- played out in a Mississippi courtroom when a veteran judge threw a defense attorney in jail for refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance.
According to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Chancellor Talmadge Littlejohn, a veteran jurist who recently celebrated his 50thyear in the state bar, urged 49 year-old defense attorney Danny Lampley to recite the pledge of allegiance, something the lawyer has refused to do on principle. Lampley reportedly “rose and was respectful,” but remained mum. Littlejohn found him in contempt of court and ordered him jailed. Lampley spent 5 hours in prison before being released, and was back in Littlejohn’s court later in the afternoon.
If I was that guy, I'd be spitting pissed. His response to the incident is so measured and calm, I almost want to find out his zen master secrets to staying cool so that when I get totally fucked by someone in a position of power, I can come of as even half as calm and collected. Of course, maybe the 5 hours in jail gave him some time to chill out.
“This morning, [ending up behind bars] was the last thing on my mind," Lampley told the Daily Journal. He added that he and the judge have a "different point of view" about things like loyalty oaths and the pledge of allegiance. "I don't have to say it because I'm an American," he said. But, he added, "I have a lot of respect for him …I'm just not going to back off on this.”
So, can a judge put an attorney in jail for not saying the pledge? No chance, Mac.
Radley Balko, who covers criminal justice issues for Reason, called Wednesday’s contempt charge, “just astonishingly ignorant, arrogant, and thuggish. Oh, and illegal. It’s also way illegal. Like, not even close.” David Hudson Jr., an expert at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, told the Daily Journal that forcing Lampley to repeat the pledge was an obvious violation of his right to free-speech. "I've never heard of a judge jailing a lawyer over this," he said.
I guess my main question is - why does the guy who got wrongfully put in jail have any respect for this guy in the first place? I'm not a big proponant of judging people based on mistakes they made 30 years ago, unless the mistake was pretty big and involved a glaring amount of misconduct and misuse of power. Surely Littlejohn can't have - no wait. Yep. That's right.
In 1974, when a 21 year-old black man was gunned down by police in Byhalia, Mississippi, local activists with the Marshall County United League criticized law enforcement’s response to the killing. Members of the league distributed pamphlets criticizing Littlejohn, who was then the District Attorney. They called a hearing into the shooting a “farce,” and accused Littlejohn of “acting as defense attorney for the officers rather than as prosecutor,” according to a 1978 ruling by a federal appeals court.
In response, Littlejohn then used a grand jury to launch a legal witch-hunt against the group, investigating its finances and organizational leadership. The Marshall County United League sued, and a federal appeals court concluded that Littlejohn had acted “in bad faith for the purpose of harassing those who, in the exercise of their First Amendment rights, had criticized defendant Littlejohn.” In issuing an injunction preventing Littlejohn from pursuing his investigation further, the justices characterized the case as an “abuse of the grand jury process [that] cannot be tolerated in a free society."
What a dick.