Brett Stuff
Judging the Judges
Term Year: 2018

City of Escondido, California, et all v. Marty Emmons

Summary Analysis

DATE: 2019-01-07
DOCKET: 17-1660
NAME: City of Escondido, California, et all v. Marty Emmons

   AUTHOR: Per Curiam
   JOINING: Roberts, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh
   GOOD: Yes

Case Commentary

Deciding whether I agree with a case (or whether it is worthy) can be a bit tricky.

In the previous case (Stitt), I believed that The Court was technically correct (consistent with previous opinions), but I felt the underlying law was unworkable; and so, I disagreed (Good: No).

I feel (more or less) the same about this case. But this time, I shall agree with The Court's decision (Good: Yes).

I question whether either is worthy of The Court's time, however.

Qualified Immunity
Government Employees can't be prosecuted or sued for doing their jobs.

There is nothing wrong with this doctrine. However, how do we know when a Government Employee has gone beyond their job and abused their position?

The Supreme Court has decided (long ago) that Government Employees should be held to the standards of Government Employees. Yes, it is circular.

While I feel (and many others) that Government Employees should be held to the standards of The People.

In this particular case, a police officer:
  1. Arrested a man
  2. Tackled a man
  3. Fell over while restraining a man
  4. Apprehended a fleeing suspect
  5. Abused an innocent bystander
  6. Behaved quite reasonable
  7. And/or used unnecessary force
It's all (pretty much) in the eyes of the beholder. In my opinion, the Police Officer acted quite reasonably; and so, I would grant him (and all the parties involved) Qualified Immunity: meaning, he was just doing his job.

And let's be cognizant for a moment that a Police Officer's job includes tackling folks, running them down, zapping them with tazers, and occasionally shooting them. In short, Police Officers are paid to do that which is obviously illegal for anyone else to do.

So, it can be difficult to determine if any one Police Officer was just doing their job or (as they are accused of in this particular case) are using excessive force.

Are you with me so far?

Now, it's important to understand that in every (and I mean, every) case in which Qualified Immunity is claimed, a judge is reviewing the merits of the case.

If the defence cries 'Qualified Immunity!' and the judge upholds the plea, the judge has just decided the case based on the merits (of Qualified Immunity) and thrown the case out of court.

However, if the judge denies the claim of Qualified Immunity, the judge has not decided the case; but rather, is simply allowing the case to go to trial... presumably, where a jury will decide the merits of the case, because it is not clear (to the judge) whether the Public Official acted as they should... or not.

Thus, all (Bench Decided) Qualified Immunity does is bypass a jury trial and grant summary judgement to the defendants (on the grounds that they are Governmental Employees).

And this is only meaningful or helpful if we allow that jury trials are inconvenient, costly, time-consuming, and often yield poor results. Because if this were not the case, getting a Preliminary Judgement of Qualified Immunity wouldn't be very meaningful or important and we would not be talking about it.

Hey, believe what you want.

I believe the Legal System is so broken that the government knows it would be completely shut down if it actually had to defend itself in the courts... and face jeopardy just like every other Citizen of these-here United States of America, whenever someone was unhappy with its (or its agents) actions.

In (the beginning and) the end, it's an admission of failure by the system, itself.

After all, if the system worked, this case would have been decided six years ago... in under an hour. As it is (six years later and after who knows how many billable hours), the case has, still, not been decided (much less gone to trial), while the parties involved continue to argue over whether a Citizen has a right to demand a Police Officer undergo Trial by Jury for Perceived Offences.

So, really, your system can suck it.

On the other hand, based on the evidence presented (blessed little since I did not review the Police Officer's body-cam footage or read any of the supporting documentation, never do), I believe the Police Officer behaved within the bounds of reason. I don't see that they did anything wrong.

Finally, it should be noted that (it would appear to me) in order to defeat a Qualified Immunity defence, The Supreme Court wants the offence to back their argument with a precedent (a previous court case of high relevance). But this is pure nonsense, as Civil Rights are a Rapidly Evolving Social Construct (becoming more and more liberal every day). And as such, there aren't (in point of fact) very many Historical Precedents, which conform to Modern Moral Standards.

And yet, because I believe the Police Officer is innocent and at its core the lawsuit is without merit and frivolous, I find myself Concurring in The Judgement of The Court.

Judging the Judges

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More importantly, four cases in, and I am already confronted by the difficulties inherent in judging a broken system. It's only going to get worse.

Furthermore, I fully expect to disagree with half of The Court's Opinions... and would expect any thinking man to do the same (though, not necessarily the same half). It's, almost, a statistical necessity.

© copyright 2019 Brett Paufler
A Personal Opinion/Editorial