A new spotlight has glaringly illuminated the case of the accused drunken double-parking defendant of Freemansburg — and this time it is not the defendant who reminds everybody of Nick Nolte's infamous 2002 bad-hair-day mug shot.
On Tuesday, Northampton County Judge Michael Koury Jr., in effect, told members of a jury to drop dead in the case of Jessica Trump, on trial for drunken driving.
He did not care for their verdict of not guilty, so he came up with a verdict of his own, based on evidence that was invisible to others.
For a little over 220 years, it has been considered essential that juries have the last word when they render a verdict of not guilty. Until now, any attempt to subvert that precious American principle would be considered tyranny, if not treason.
Last week, I wrote that Leonard Zito, another Northampton County judge, had been "100 percent" correct to yank Trump's license as a condition of bail after she was charged with drunken driving. That was based on the difference between rights, including due process, and privileges, which require licenses that must be regulated to protect the public. A driver's license is a privilege, not a right.
Support for that view was gratifying. Richard Pepper, an Easton lawyer, said it was "insightful, well-reasoned commentary accurately setting straight the focal consideration for authorities such as Judge Zito."
Even Trump's lawyer, Jason Jenkins, called to say, "I agree with 90 percent" of that column. As for the other 10 percent, he indicated there needed to be a shift in emphasis to due process when Trump finally got her day in court.
I have not changed my mind on the propriety of Zito's action to snatch Trump's license, but I certainly changed my focus.
As reported by The Morning Call on Wednesday, Trump's trial was before Judge Koury and the allegations against her took a sharp turn. The story said two witnesses, the only other passengers in the car involved, testified, as did Trump, that somebody else, not Trump, was the driver.
Trump, testimony revealed, was a passenger in the car when it was double-parked by the driver, presumed to be sober, and she (albeit looped) merely moved to the driver's seat for a moment to get something after the driver got out. Even more damning to the prosecution's case was testimony by the arresting officer, John Lakits, that he could not say he ever saw Trump driving.
That was the crux of the case. Not guilty, said the jury. Guilty, said the defiant judge.
I asked Koury if his verdict meant that he decided the jury's verdict was wrong.
"The rules of judicial conduct prohibit me from commenting," he replied.
So Trump was acquitted by a jury on a first-degree misdemeanor charge of DUI, which would have carried up to five years in prison, but she then was convicted by Koury on an "ungraded misdemeanor" charge of general impairment, which now carries a maximum sentence of six months.
She didn't do it, said the jury. Yes she did, proclaimed the judge, wadding up the Sixth Amendment and tossing it in his trash can.
All this raises another crucial question: If the jury was right, was Koury's guilty verdict nothing more than retribution against someone who defied the wishes of the judicial establishment, which tried to coerce Trump into copping a plea instead of insisting on her right to a trial by jury?
As I argued last week, judges have a strong motive to push plea deals, because trials would clog the court dockets. Jenkins, Trump's lawyer, pointed out that of the last 1,228 DUI cases in Northampton County, "only four went to trial."
That, I said, is "the stickiest part" of the Trump case, and if a judge gets tough on a defendant only for exercising rights, "it is a corruption of the judicial process."
I was referring to Zito's action in taking her license pending a trial, but that action would be eclipsed if there was an edict to scuttle a jury's decision for similar reasons.
Was Trump found guilty of a crime for doing something wrong in Freemansburg, or was it because of nothing other than judicial pique after she resisted courtroom bullying by standing up for her rights?
Until Koury is willing to tell us exactly what evidence justified his guilty verdict, notwithstanding the canons of judicial conduct, that verdict appears to be about as flattering as Nick Nolte's mug shot.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.