May 2013 - Wanted Poster
by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
According to the Internet, my source of all wisdom true or not, the first wanted poster in history is unknown but the first American use is said to be for the apprehension of John Wilkes Booth distributed right after Lincoln’s assassination. Within a week, Booth was found and killed while trying to evade capture.
Wanted posters go hand in hand with the lore of the Wild West and no doubt spurred the cottage industry of bounty hunting. There seemed to be enough wanted posters in the 1870s to provide Steve McQueen a weekly capture for three seasons of Wanted Dead or Alive.
Post offices used to proximately display the Ten Most Wanted, all of whom looked vaguely alike—swarthy and a couple of hours past a five o’clock shadow. I don’t know if post offices still post posters, at least to the extent there are still post offices. The last time I visited the Newport Beach Post Office, I couldn’t help but notice a large FedEx pick up box right next to the front door. That seemed to say everything there is to say about the future of the post office, but I digress.
The FBI, I understand, now puts wanted posters on electronic billboards, which allows instant posting, and America’s Most Wanted is the longest running show of its kind.
For the last century and a half, wanted posters have been a unique way of identifying bad guys and soliciting their capture. For all I know, every cave in Afghanistan may have had Osama Bin Laden’s poster taped to the walls.
The question of today is, how many of you have ever seen a wanted poster posted in a courtroom? Let me pare down the question further: One posted by the judge? With a picture of a lawyer? With a bull’s eye on his face?
Didn’t think so.
You know that it happened, of course, because I am writing about it. According to a recusal motion, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Arthur Schack was unhappy, I guess you could say, with a lawyer named John McDonough of Cozen O’Connor who was trying a personal injury case in his courtroom. Justice Schack reportedly has a nationwide reputation for standing up for the little guy, so I’m guessing, mind you, that Mr. McDonough was not representing someone in that category.
According to the New York Daily News, the case was a $100 million dollar claim by a “badly maimed woman.” It ended in a mistrial. One day, Mr. McDonough arrived to find the courtroom “plastered with about twenty ‘Wanted’ posters” showing his face. When he asked who had posted them, the judge, allegedly I add, freely admitted that he had done it or, more accurately, them.
I don’t know Mr. McDonough, but he seems like a nice looking man if you can get past the word “Wanted” over his head and the large red circle target over his face with the bull’s eye about an inch below his right eye.
A couple of months after the “posting,” one of Mr. McDonough’s partners asked the judge to sign trial transcripts (and no, I don’t know why, unless that is something peculiar to New York), but the judge refused, reportedly stating, “Bull----, I am not signing it. Tell that piece of [same word that follows “bull”] McDonough he should not have made you do this.”
Mr. McDonough and his firm took this as an indication that keeping the same judge for the retrial would be like Dillinger or Pretty Boy Floyd deciding to patronize post offices, and moved to recuse Justice Schack.
All of that, in addition to the wanted posters, was set forth in the defendant’s recusal motion. Ultimately, Justice Schack agreed to step down while insisting that he was not biased against Mr. McDonough. According to reports, the court’s eight-page recusal decision made no mention of the wanted posters or the bull’s eye, but the motion was granted in the “exercise of discretion and good conscience.” Whatever.
It reminds me of an instance where I made a motion for a new trial on the grounds that the judge had slept through the earlier proceedings. Sensing, perspicacious as I am, that the motion might not be warmly received, I added a second ground, which I essentially made up for the sole purpose of providing the court with a choice. The judge took “Door # 2,” denying the narcoleptic grounds, but adopting the fictitious grounds. Sometimes you take what you can get.
I think that if judges get to use lawyers as poster art, the flip side should also be the case. There is a nice, glass-enclosed bulletin board in the central courthouse cafeteria where we could post their pictures.
That beats a 170.6 declaration anytime.
Richard W. Millar, Jr. is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.