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Speak slowly for Yale Law grads?

A Harvard-educated judge's jocular remarks about Yale and gun-toting women turned into cause for concern about bias on the bench—but the trial's outcome was right on target, says the Yale-trained lawyer who sounded the alarm.

Rachel Baird ’92JD, a sole practitioner in Torrington, Connecticut, was representing a client on disorderly conduct and firearms charges in Connecticut Superior Court. During jury selection on July 11, Baird says, Superior Court Judge Edward Mullarkey joked that he would speak slowly, since Baird is a graduate of Yale Law School.

Baird—an Air Force veteran and ex-prosecutor who has been cited in recent newspaper articles as a "prominent firearms-rights lawyer"—says Mullarkey also asked whether she would be "Annie Oakley" or "Bonnie Parker."

"As lawyers, we all become used to banter back and forth," Baird says in a phone interview. "But clients are not apprised of that—especially a client on trial in a criminal trial, who is nervous. All he knows is, the judge is almost making fun of his attorney.”

Baird's concern grew stronger when, she says, Mullarkey told the court reporter to turn off the recording device and then asked Baird whether she had read a law review article called "The Hidden History of the Second Amendment," which contends that the Bill of Rights protected gun ownership so that Southern militias could put down slave rebellions.

Anyone who supports the Second Amendment should be "ashamed," Baird quotes the judge as saying.

"That’s what caused the true concern," she says, "because the case involved some firearms.”

Asked whether she thought Mullarkey was joking or serious, she pauses for a long time.

"I’m hesitant to get into his head,” Baird says finally. But “it did sound serious to me. I have to tell you.” 

So she filed a motion—the first in her 20-year legal career, she says—to disqualify Mullarkey from presiding over the trial, saying his Second Amendment remark showed a "lack of fairness and impartiality."

But the next morning, the judge "was very respectful of the motion,” giving Baird and her client the choice of sticking with Mullarkey or getting a different judge. She and the client reasoned that Mullarkey "didn’t have such strong bias, or he would have been obligated to recuse himself," Baird explains. They withdrew the motion, Mullarkey heard the case, and the jury acquitted the defendant on all but one charge, that of making a false statement.

"It was a fair trial," Baird says, and she's satisfied with its conduct and outcome.

But, she says, there's a larger problem. Among other Connecticut judges, especially since the gun massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown last year, she has heard "a hesitancy to follow the law" on firearms, with off-the-record comments like: "You know what, I don’t care what the law says; I’m not giving your guns back. Let the appellate court sort it out.”

"There’s an undertow of judges who feel the way Judge Mullarkey does," Baird contends. "That has to be dealt with.”

Mullarkey and court administrators have declined to comment.

Filed under Rachel Baird, Second Amendment
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