Perverted Justice from Cobb County’s Chief Pervert
The Mary Staley Story
Reposted 8/21/11 with slight edits and a postscript
As I write this, there may be no other judge in the State of Georgia more controversial than Mary Staley of the Cobb County Superior Court, who was actually voted the Worst Judge in America by the Courthouse Forum. Mercifully, her legendary efforts to advance her own career have been largely unsuccessful. A sample of what attorneys, jurors and the parties appearing before her in the last four years have said probably explains why:
“Unjust, unfair” 3-29-07
“Evil behind the bench” 7-20-07
“A fraud” 7-26-07
“I have never met a more condescending judge…” 11-4-06
“When daddy buys you a
judgeship and you scheme
“A disgrace to the bench” 10-4-08
“I think most of the
Cobb County Bar would prefer that she
Obviously, there are many people who feel that Judge Mary Staley is remarkably unqualified for her position, and quite a few have called for her removal. Her basic abilities and moral character have been called into question. Even the US Supreme Court has referred to her conduct as “disturbing.” Justice Samuel Alito even used the words “strange and tasteless” to describe her behavior (and he was actually dissenting in her favor). It is commonly thought that she obtained her position on the basis of her father’s money without ever having served as an attorney prior to her judgeship.
Mary Staley has also been accused of racial insensitivity and the denial of due process to people of color. In fact, when she sought an appointment to the federal bench in 2005, the local President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the nation’s most storied civil rights organizations, strenuously objected to her advancement based on her treatment of an alleged victim of racial harassment.
Not only was Judge Staley named in a complaint to the EEOC by an African-American woman, Wanda Spann, but she was actually a defendant in a subsequent federal lawsuit, having been accused of writing a “false affidavit.”
According to the Reverend O.J. Brown, Judge Staley should never be appointed to a higher position “due to her lack of integrity, veracity and her failure to protect the basic human right of due process.” He also complained of her “refusal to enforce and interpret basic rules of court.”
I knew none of this in 2009, when I began to follow up on a personal interest in the civil court system by perusing documentation from past cases and sitting in on live trials. At the time, I was exploring career possibilities and wondering about law school. Since the Cobb County courthouse is nearby, I took the opportunity to watch as many judges in action as I could.
What struck me most during this period of discovery was the latitude that each judge has to conduct themselves however they please. They can be dedicated or lazy. They can be polite or arrogant. They can be just or unjust. Whereas attorneys are predictably obsequious to the officers of the court, there appears to be no standard of conduct for judges, other than what they personally impose on themselves.
Average Americans are accustomed to living in a classless society, and find it difficult to adjust to the necessary fact that judges are royalty in the courtroom... someone has to be – otherwise the rule of law doesn’t work. On the other hand certain judges misuse their authority and arbitrarily mistreat those who are forced to rely on them.
At one end of the judgeship spectrum in Cobb County is LaTain Kell. He is an incredible gentleman who is extremely dedicated to treating the people who appear before him with dignity, respect and fairness. Sitting in his courtroom and watching this man do his level best to ensure justice for those who depend on him is not only a wonderful experience, but might actually improve one’s faith in public service.
That’s the way that it was for me… at least until I sat in Judge Mary Staley’s courtroom.
This woman scares the living shit out of me. After watching her preside for two hours over a case last year, I literally didn’t sleep well for several nights. I sweated at the thought of ever being sued by anyone and having my entire life and life’s work rest in the hands of one arbitrary and condescending individual who is more interested in where she can buy children’s underwear than in hearing the facts of a matter that so seriously impacts the lives of real people.
In relating my opinion and experience, let me start by saying that I am not a former or current defendant or plaintiff with an axe to grind. I have never appeared before Judge Staley in any way, shape, or form, including as a witness. I have never been a plaintiff, a defendant, or a clerk in any civil or criminal courtroom, including hers, of course. I am not an attorney and I’ve never even served on a jury.
I should also point out that I have never posted any public comments about Mary Staley prior to this, and neither has anyone that I know. My opinion of this woman is only contained here, and when I put quotes around a remark, it means that it is coming from another source.
After the trial in which I sat as an observer, I was fortunate enough to interview the poor woman who tried to argue her case pro se before Judge Staley. She was the defendant and she was being sued by her ex-husband for contempt of court over visitation with their child.
The settlement agreement between the couple did not contain a visitation schedule for the father, but it did contain conditions of overnight visitation concerning the moral and social environment that he was to maintain as an inferred stipulation. Based on this, the ex-wife expected to be able to argue that she had been justified in denying overnight visitation at the ex-husband’s home, since he had failed to ensure that these conditions were met. She had made the child available to him at all other times.
The background for the case was that the ex-husband had been viewing hard-core pornography and soliciting prostitutes when the child - a young girl - was in his custody. In addition, the man’s new wife was allegedly in the habit of undermining the mother with derogatory comments and exposing her to pornographic references and sexual innuendo. The stepmother was also having the girl around her two teenage boys when they were semi-nude, even though both the girl and her mother were uncomfortable with this.
After they refused her request to amend these issues, the ex-wife decided to temporarily suspend overnight visits at the ex-husband’s residence. However, as even the ex-husband admitted under oath, he was allowed to visit with the child and speak with her whenever he wanted during this time. He even had her for an entire weekend at a camping event. [Postscript Note: I emphasized this point because Staley has since tried to justify her abysmal treatment of the mother by claiming that visitation was being denied].
Determined to have complete freedom in his own house (free of moral obligations previously stated), the ex-husband promptly sued the wife for contempt of court. Interestingly, he had not paid child support in many months prior to this, yet his ex-wife had declined to file a contempt charge against him.
Given that there was no visitation schedule, the ex-wife was confident that she could not be found in contempt of court and did not feel it necessary to hire an attorney to represent her. “How can you be found in contempt of something that isn’t specified in a contract,” she asked. She also expected the judge to take an interest in the environment at the ex-husband’s home, since this was specified as conditional to overnight visitation.
This was the first of several naďve expectations that this woman had about Judge Mary Staley. Another mistake was that she dressed professionally for the court, thinking that the judge might appreciate the fact that she was a working professional woman. In fact, Judge Staley has exhibited unmistakable contempt for other women, based on what others have said. Three years prior to 2009, someone noted that the judge “does not have respect for other women, whether it be lawyers, judges, or citizens.” A year later, another observer stated that Mary Staley is “not only evil, but bitter and jealous about other women.”
That is certainly the impression that I got from watching the defendant in this trial attempt to make her case in front of a judge who seemed to relish humiliating her. Mary Staley treated the mother with an astonishing level of condescension, even rolling her eyes at her on several occasions. She had no patience for the fact that the mother had no legal experience, and did not provide her with the slightest courtesy or direction. The poor woman tried two or three times to politely ask simple questions, such as whether it was OK to carry notes with her to the witness stand. Each time, she was met with unwarranted and visible hostility, which clearly had an unsettling effect.
It really isn’t necessary for any judge to treat a pro se defendant in this way. One of the other cases that I recall sitting in on was from Judge George Kreeger’s courtroom, in which a pro se was being sued by a plaintiff with a lawyer. Although Judge Kreeger was a bit gruffer than the younger Judge Kell, he still treated the pro se respectfully and made sure that he knew when to question a witness or present an argument.
The female defendant before Judge Mary Staley was far more sophisticated and considerate of the process than had been the pro se from Judge Kreeger’s courtroom. For example, she had a series of questions written out which were intended to support a prepared closing argument – all of which she had expected to present in the time for which she had asked. But, in fact, she never had the chance.
This woman was manhandled from start to finish. Judge Staley allowed the $350/hr attorney representing the father to use up approximately 75% of the two hours for which both parties had asked. Yet, she would not allow the mother to ask the majority of her prepared questions, and even cut off her closing statement. The woman was almost in tears – even before the judge found her guilty on all counts and ordered her to pay court costs.
Staley’s demeanor turned against the defendant immediately after she heard the opening remarks and testimony from the plaintiff, and she appeared merely to want to rush the trial along and move on to other things. It was obvious to me that she had her mind made up very early. If so, then I am hardly the only person to note this characteristic of hers. Three months prior to my sitting in her courtroom, another disgruntled observer raised this complaint about Judge Staley,
“She seems to rule based on whims and personal likes and dislikes. She seems to have made up her mind before she has even heard the facts. I once witnessed her blatantly ignoring a defendant's testimony by picking up a book and flipping thru the book while the defendant was testifying and actually turning her entire body away from the defendant, as if to indicate that the person was completely unimportant. A nightmare. I rarely use the term evil, but I believe she is actually evil.” 8-28-09
That was the very same disrespect with which the mother in this case was subjected to by Judge Staley. For example, the plaintiff’s attorney was allowed to ask as many questions as he wished (even over the mother’s objections) – many of which seemed irrelevant, such as whether the mother believed in the Bible and the Ten Commandments. Yet, the defendant was not allowed to pursue the questions she had prepared on the child’s exposure to pornography and anonymous sexual partners, and those relating to other elements of the visitation environment (including violence and stalking) which were pertinent to the only legal contract that existed in the case.
At one point, the mother tried to form an argument that she had been deliberately provoked into suspending overnight visitation, based on the plaintiff and his (unrepresented) wife having obtained an attorney’s advice prior to this. Yet, when she asked the third party about what the ex-husband’s attorney had said in the presence of a third party, the judge informed her that the meeting was protected by attorney-client privilege. The ex-wife argued against this, but was overruled without further explanation.
Amazingly, I discovered (n a conversation with Belinda Engelmann, a Georgia family law attorney) that the ex-wife was actually correct. I’m not sure how an inexperienced pro se knows this general rule and a supposedly qualified judge does not, but it seems to fit with the SCLC leader’s assertion that Staley has an “inability to interpret basic rules of the court” – or, as another critic put it a few years earlier, when speaking of her brief stint as Chief Justice, “When she was there, she didn't know what she was doing.” 2-5-07
Another troubling episode was when the pro se defendant was told that she could not respond to the opposing attorney’s interrogation of her at the end of the questioning, but would have a later “opportunity” to do so. Yet it wasn’t clear when this was supposed to be. In fact, I did not see that any such opportunity was ever presented to her. She was not even allowed to complete her closing remarks.
Judge Staley seemed to want to get the case over with as quickly as possible, and could barely contain her annoyance at the mother. At the time, I wondered if she was just in a hurry for lunch, but I later begin to wonder if she were an alcoholic. Once again, I am not alone in this speculation of her inappropriate behavior. Two months later, one of her critics posted a public message to her, asking simply, “Do you have a drinking or other substance abuse problem, judge?” 1-19-10
Yet, despite denying the defendant the time requested to make her case, at the end of the trial, the judge seemed to have plenty of “me-time” left over. She spent about 25 minutes talking about her own burdens in life, such as having to preside over an unrelated case involving a teenage boy who shaves his legs. (I’m told that this is part of her standard lecture to parents in a dispute over a child). Yet her lengthy sermon was delivered to a defendant whose closing argument had been cut off after four and a half minutes. The poor defendant was not only denied the opportunity to present a cohesive argument, but denied as well the right to ask over half the questions that she had prepared in support of her argument.
That Judge Staley treated this gentle woman so contemptuously is a scandal in and of itself, but there was something else that occurred which was positively bizarre. The only question that I can recall the judge asking a witness during this case was when the ex-husband’s new wife was being questioned about the fact that she has her teenage boys around a pre-teen girl in their underwear against her wishes. For no compelling reason, Judge Staley suddenly leaned over and asked the witness where she buys underwear for her boys!
I was flabbergasted. Even the witness appeared taken aback and replied somewhat hesitatingly that she buys her underwear at Kohl’s. The clerk, who resembles the ‘Kenneth’ character from 30 Rock and has probably seen this lunacy before, actually had to turn his head to hide a smirk and an eye roll. But the judge leaned right back and returned to her reading as if everything were normal.
Was this woman delusional, I wondered? How could she ask such a question after expressing no interest in violence and stalking? Did she think this was an appropriate venue for sharing shopping tips? Was she some sort of pervert, unconcerned about the fact that semi-naked teenage boys were being mixed with a young girl, yet planning to buy boy’s underwear on the way home to fantasize with?
That last part may seem far fetched, but, as it turns out, it isn’t. The year after I sat in her courtroom vaguely wondering if this extraordinarily arrogant woman was some sort of sexual deviant, news broke of Judge Mary Staley and the “chocolate penis.”
Although the rest of the nation apparently found it bizarre that a judge didn’t take her job seriously, even when it concerns capital murder, news of what Mary Staley did in 1993 came as no surprise to me – nor, apparently, to a lot of other people who know her, based on public comments. Unfortunately for her, the Supreme Court didn’t care for Judge Staley’s foolishness either.
You make up your own mind as to whether this woman is a few clowns short of a circus, but the facts are that 17 years ago, a man was on trial for his life when one of the jurors tried to give the judge a gift of candy in the form of a chocolate penis. The female bailiff (who apparently didn’t know Mary Staley very well) was appalled and promptly returned the box.
A few days later, the bailiff mentioned the incident to the judge and was surprised to find that Staley actually wanted to have the chocolate penis! The embarrassed bailiff then had to relay the message back to the juror. A few days later, Judge Mary Staley of the Cobb County Superior Court was presented with the candy penis that she had requested during the trial of a man accused of raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl.
Let’s pause on that for a moment. The rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl and Mary Staley is asking for a chocolate penis? What the hell is wrong with this woman? Small wonder that several months before this case was ruled on, a person who knew her wrote, “Staley playing with a full deck? First of all she needs to be in a hospital, make that a mental hospital” 9-2-09
Not only did Staley take the chocolate penis home to “show her husband” according to the court reporter, but she decided not to report this and other ex parte contacts with the jurors to the defense as she was supposed to do. This enabled defense attorneys to launch a series of appeals on the grounds of obvious misconduct.
While no one seems to have calculated Mary Staley’s cost to Georgia taxpayers, the scathing criticism of her courtroom antics from higher courts is a part of the public record. The district court in the chain could barely disguise its disgust for her, calling her conduct “inappropriate” and saying that it represented “an unusual display of poor taste in the context of a proceeding so grave as a capital trial.”
The U.S. Supreme Court not only ruled against Mary Staley, but also admonished her for failing to take her duties seriously:
“From beginning to end, judicial proceedings conducted for the purpose of deciding whether a defendant shall be put to death must be conducted with dignity and respect… The disturbing facts of this case raise serious questions concerning the conduct of the trial."
No kidding. I would say it also raises serious questions about her mental health as well.
This opinion came down in January of 2010, so why, in God’s name, is this woman still on the bench? After all, it isn’t just this case that speaks to the judge’s poor character and questionable ability. According to someone who has seen her application to the Georgia Supreme Court, it reads like a “rap sheet… a laundry list of ethics, judicial misconduct, and campaign violation complaints” 7-3-09
Do the people of Georgia not deserve to have judges who take their job seriously?
Only weeks after the highest court in the nation ruled that she had denied justice, either to a man on death row or to the family of his 15-year-old victim, which would now be forced to relive her rape and murder in a new trial, Mary Staley was full of compassion… for herself. In an astounding gush of self-pity to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the judge whined about how her name would now be linked to the word ‘penis.’
Staley then launched into a populist spiel worthy of Rob Blagojevich. While expressing no sympathy for those she hurt with her bawdy antics and judicial bungling (including Georgia taxpayers), the judge claimed that she had fallen victim to a group of “chardonnay drinkers” on the Supreme Court, while she was siding with the “ordinary man” and “people who run our society.”
However, I saw, up close and personal, how she really treats the “ordinary people who run society.” The caring mother in the short trial that I sat through was devastated not only by the outcome, but by how she had been unnecessarily brutalized in the process. Her expectations of fair treatment by the legal system died a painful death in Judge Mary Staley’s courtroom.
While her ex-husband, who had spent years mooching off of her, showed up with his $350/hr attorney in a pony-tail and open shirt, this working mother dressed properly in honor of the court. It was heartbreaking to see her nodding and speaking deferentially to the judge, trying to show respect to a person so determined to degrade her in return, even at the expense of a child’s innocence. It was almost as amazing that the mother managed to keep her dignity.
It was not until I was interviewing the defendant after the trial that this woman broke down, crying softly not for herself and her broken expectations, but for her daughter, who was sentenced to an environment free of moral or educational obligation. Staley even refused the mother’s simple request to order that the father be responsible for the child completing her school assignments during her weekends with him!
“She has no idea about what she is doing to my daughter,” said the young mother in the aftermath, clearly traumatized by Judge Staley’s casual disregard, and eager for a sympathetic ear. She was even forced to hand over the money that she had saved for her daughter’s college education to the plaintiff’s lawyer, who was given free reign to set his own fee and even allowed to write the judge’s court order for her, which neatly stripped away prior regard for the child’s best interest.
To this day, the defendant is convinced that she lost her case because the judge was afraid of an appeal from the attorney, one of Georgia’s most expensive and successful in the practice of family law. (Interestingly, the man’s prestige did not hinder him from making faces and acting as rudely as he could to the defendant behind the judge’s back). There were no subpoenas or special circumstances to this case. There wasn't even a counterclaim. Yet the plaintiff's attorney suggested getting $5000 for arguing against a pro se who had never been before a judge and was only allowed 30 minutes to make her case. What's worse - Staley actually gave it to him!
For my part, I am mystified as to how a party can be found in contempt of language which doesn’t exist in a legal contract, and how it can be said that visitation is denied, when it was clearly made available. It may indeed be that Mary Staley was intimidated by the attorney and did not want to risk bringing on more public relations problems for herself. If so, then she should at least recuse herself from pro se cases in the future.
Shortly after Judge Staley ruled entirely in favor of the deadbeat ex-husband, his new wife moved out of the house and a mystery male roommate was slated to move in - a new man who seemed to have taken a ‘special interest’ in the 13-year-old girl. Although her daughter is naive enough to be flattered by the attention of a grown adult, her mother is beside herself with anxiety. Yet, she is prohibited by Judge Staley’s explicit court order from even asking for the full name of a person sleeping in the room next to her child and spending time alone with her during the day when the father is away.
Cobb County is a conservative county in a conservative state. How is it that the safety and moral health of a young girl isn’t taken seriously by the one person tasked with protecting her? Why was her mother treated so disdainfully and not even allowed to ask questions to build the evidence that would have supported the closing argument that she was then not even allowed to present?
Count me as part of a growing number of Georgia citizens who are calling for Judge Mary Staley to step down from the bench. An immoral judge is not qualified to decide ethical matters. Given what I now know of her propensity for lewdness, it hardly surprises me that this pervert judge exhibited more interest in where she could buy children’s underwear than in whether a child was exposed to pornography and anonymous sex – and even gave carte blanche to those accused of doing the latter.
Aside from the many personal observations of this strange woman, doesn’t it make sense that anyone engaging in fraternity house pranks with jurors during a capital murder case isn’t to be trusted with presiding over criminal cases, much less deciding the fate of children and families? Judges such as Staley, who fail to treat people fairly or take their jobs seriously, need to be removed.
A former juror in an unrelated murder trial said of Mary Staley in October of 2008, that the jury was so appalled by her “theatrics” and “pathetic” conduct that they actually discussed during deliberations whether or not there was something for which they could find her guilty! There was total disbelief in the jury room that “this woman could have ever gotten into this role [that] no one felt her qualified [for] even remotely.” 10-21-08
The very fact that Judge Staley is developing a record of hostility and arrogance toward women and minorities should disqualify her from cases involving either. Her abysmal personal character denies the people of Cobb County any confidence that she is capable of rendering sound moral decisions, particularly where children are concerned. And the lack of seriousness with which she has been known to conduct herself on the job is disgraceful, as even the Supreme Court of the United States agrees. Is there a more esteemed opinion than that?
Given that she does not have the conscience or sense of shame to step down voluntarily, I do not know what it might take to oust this terribly banal and condescending woman from her job. Even if and when word finally comes of a child’s molestation due to her sloppiness, the judge will probably console herself with a candy phallus while the family and decent members of the community lament.
Judge Mary Staley is an embarrassment and a danger to the people of Georgia.
I have since found out that Mary Staley receives campaign donations from attorneys and other firms who represent clients. Justice for sale, it appears. One lawyer told me that when he was just starting out, the judge had ordered an opposing party to pay his expenses in a case that he had lost. He was confused about this up until a more experienced attorney told him that he was expected to "pay it back" in the form of financial contributions to the judge. (He did).
I could find no record of a pro se donating money to the judge.
Wondering if perhaps I had just caught Staley on a bad day, I visited her courtroom again two years later, intending to follow the fate of more "ordinary people" to see if she still treats so contemptuously the same "ordinary folk" that she praises to journalists.
I first had to sit through a cattle call, in which as many parties as possible are crammed into the courtroom while Staley calls the roll and schedules hearings. It is a painful time in which lawyers laugh obsequiously at her every attempt at humor (no matter how lame) while their clients join in nervously - perhaps wondering as I do if the judge is actually aware of how artificial is the "respect" shown to her.
As usual, Mary Staley's favorite subject is herself. In fact, she has now taken to lecturing each assembly about what a good person she is. In order to have their fate decided, taxpayers must sit through anecdotes from her personal life that supposedly prove this point, such as the time she purportedly ran across the street to give someone an umbrella. I noticed confused looks between the people around me at this obvious self-aggrandizing. For my part, I already know that what this woman tells others about herself is very different from who she is when she doesn't think she will be held accountable.
Judge Staley now includes as well a disclaimer to anyone trying to represent themselves before her, "God help you," which sounds like an astonishingly candid admission that objectivity does not rate very high on her list of priorities. The advice comes a bit late for the many pro se defendants who, to my knowledge, have never received her favor over a paid attorney - a remarkable record of misery for a group characterized largely by their utter confidence in the merits of their position
I tried to follow a hearing that Staley specifically scheduled for the following day, but when the parties appeared with their lawyers the next morning, they found that the judge had arbitrarily decided not to show up, effectively wasting their time away from work and hundreds of dollars in legal expenses. The clerk called it an "emergency", but I later found out that Staley simply wanted to spend time with her family.
I decided that I was no longer going to waste anymore of my own time on this selfish and pathetic woman who has such little regard for the people who depend on her.
As for the little girl in this article, matters quickly got worse in ways that were entirely predictable to those of us who were paying attention during the trial. Her mother, who previously requested that this page be suspended out of fear of retaliation, also asked that I not provide detail of her daughter's situation, although I will say that after what happened, even the father has since agreed not to force the child to be with him. In fact, only months after convincing a naive judge of just how necessary it was to have his his daughter at his house each weekend, he fled the state altogether.
Thanks to Judge Staley, the only winners are the lawyers.
What a pathetic person this judge is. Can the people of Georgia not do better?