by June Khaw
What should you do if the judge presiding over your case dozes off in the midst of your argument?
Meet Judge Ian Dodd, a New South Wales District Court judge who had a reputation for nodding off in court in the midst of trials.
In 2002, he dozed off in a corporate fraud case and during a hearing on a shooting. In 2003, he nodded off while a rape victim was testifying. In 2004, he managed to get some shut-eye at various points during the seven-month long trial of seven men accused of smuggling 383kg of cocaine into Australia (they were all convicted, by the way).
Court officials had to keep waking up Judge Dodd (a.k.a. “Judge Nodd”) by banging tables, dropping thick bundles of documents on the table, raising their voices and clearing their throats loudly. However, none of the lawyers who experienced the judge’s sleeping bouts were willing to speak to him about the problem.
In 2005, Judge Dodd presided over the trial of two men accused of smuggling drugs into Australia. Unsurprisingly, he managed to sleep through bits of the 17-day trial. His naps ranged from a few minutes to as long as 20 minutes. He dozed off more often after lunch breaks and when video and audio tapes were played in court.
At times, he snored so loudly that he woke himself up.
Some jurors laughed and mimicked him in court, some rolled their eyes, some just dozed off along with him.
The accused and their families were not amused though. However, when one of them tried to protest, his solicitor just said “Look mate, it doesn’t really matter. It happens with this judge”, and they pressed on with the trial. Hmm.
The two men were convicted and they appealed (of course).
However, their first appeal was rejected by the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, which felt that despite the frequent naps, there was no error in judgment. Judge Dodd, amazingly enough, missed none of the important evidence and even managed to sum up the case accurately and in a balanced manner to the jury. Shocking.
But could the jury have thought that the judge’s sleeping bouts meant that he felt the defense was not even worth staying awake for?
Apparently the Australian High Court thought so. The Court believed that the distraction caused by Judge Dodd’s constant sleeping resulted in a gross miscarriage of justice and ordered a retrial.
Judge Dodd was subsequently diagnosed with sleep apnoea, a medical condition where the sufferer stops breathing for short periods during sleep. These disturbed periods of sleep causes fatigue to the sufferer in the daytime, which explains Judge Dodd’s slumber in court.
Shortly after that drug-trafficking trial in 2005, Judge Dodd retired after eight years on the bench and received treatment for his sleep apnoea. He currently receives a yearly pension of A$152,000. We bet he’s not complaining.
So, are there other judges out there who sleep during trials? It appears so.
Other reported cases of judicial sleepiness include:
• Judge Roderick Meagher, another New South Wales judge who is known for his ability to fall asleep on the bench. He was said to have “brought colour to the Court of Appeal, but not…much movement.”
• A Nigerian judge on the International War Crimes Tribunal who had “regular sleep episodes” during a 2001 prosecution.
• A previous Ontario case where the judge had fallen asleep during the criminal defendant’s cross-examination (a new trial was subsequently ordered as a result).
• Another Ontario case where one of the judges, Justice Ginsberg, fell asleep during a 2006 redistricting case. The other two judges, Justices Souter and Alito reportedly “looked at her, but did not give her a nudge”.
• Yet another Ontario case, Leader Media Products v. Sentinel Hill Alliance, where the judge was reported to have fallen asleep several times during the trial.
Hmm, must be something in the Ontario air…