Judges remained sympathetic to white male defendants

Rape-excusing judges in history

In 1911 California voters passed a measure allowing the recall of judges and added an amendment to the state Constitution giving women the right to vote.

Two years later, newly enfranchised women in San Francisco flexed their political muscles by petitioning for the recall of a police court justice, Charles Weller.

Like his colleagues, Judge Weller heard sexual assault cases and typically set bail at under $500, low enough so that several defendants chose to flee rather than stand trial. Judge Weller sometimes dismissed rape charges on technical grounds — as when a 15-year-old, impregnated by the accused, missed court because she was giving birth.

Why that lazy slut.

No one complained until a year after women gained the vote, when Judge Weller reduced the $3,000 bail set for one Albert Hendricks, witnessed trying to assault two 17-year-olds, to $1,000; a former police commissioner had testified that Hendricks, as a substantial businessman, was unlikely to jump bail.

When Hendricks skipped town, women’s clubs in San Francisco took action. They had been instrumental in a recent campaign to expand statutory rape protection to girls under 18. A Women’s Political League gathered enough signatures to force a recall election. The group accused Judge Weller of abusing judicial power “by extending undue and unreasonable leniency to persons charged with the commission of heinous and vicious offenses.”

Voters agreed, and Weller was out.

But the recall did not make California courts more vigilant about sexual assault, and nationally, judges remained sympathetic to white defendants like Hendricks, while African-American men continued to be disproportionately prosecuted, convicted and executed for rape.

Of course. White men are just misunderstood, or a little impetuous, or temporarily and accidentally drunk. Non-white men on the other hand…

In the 60s Judge Archie Simonson in Madison, Wisconsin was recalled.

He had sentenced a 15-year-old to one year of home supervision after he pleaded no contest in the gang rape of a girl in their high school stairwell. More than the sentence, it was the comments made by Judge Simonson that led to the recall. He claimed that the boys had behaved “normally” in reaction to the revealing clothing worn by girls. When challenged by a female prosecutor who said she found his remark “sexist,” Judge Simonson replied: “You bet it is. I can’t go around walking exposing my genitals like they can the mammary glands.”

There was outrage. NOW got involved. Malvina Reynolds did a song about him.

Leaders of the recall focused on the judge’s remarks, and their effort succeeded. The one woman running to replace Judge Simonson was elected.

These judges gave the impression that they sympathized more with the accused or the convicted assailant than with the female victims. In Judge Persky’s case, considering alcohol consumption a mitigating factor imputed responsibility to the victim, while his desire to protect the assailant from prison invited comparisons to the routine sentencing of nonwhites for rape.

Progress is slow, isn’t it. So very slow.

2 Responses to “Judges remained sympathetic to white male defendants”