DURHAM, N.C. — Superior Court Judge Abraham Jones, a Harvard graduate who has been on the bench for nine years, is known around the courthouse as a fair judge and one who pays close attention to the law. Some now question his judgement after his conduct in a recent trial.
School bus driver
faced a charge of misdemeanor death by vehicle after a crash last August. She pleaded not guilty to the charge. However, Jones abruptly ended the trial and found Skinner guilty.
"She wanted a jury trial. She wanted to exercise her constitutional right to a jury trial and that didn't happen," public defender Suzanne Alford said. "We did not give closing arguments. The jury was discharged and sent home."
"I thought it was very bizarre. I never heard of that in a criminal case before," Alford said.
Jones said, "To me, the facts of the case were not in dispute. It was a matter of law ... and the jury cannot overturn the law." Several lawyers though told WRAL the law does not appear to be on Jones' side.
However, Jones told WRAL that he scheduled a special hearing for Monday morning. At that time, he said he will reconsider his decision.
"I just keep coming back to the statute and our Constitution that guarantees a right to trial by jury," Alford said.
Skinner's attorney plans to appeal. Jones said she has every right to appeal, saying, "a judge makes decisions ... and sometimes mistakes. That's why there is a Court of Appeals."
It is not the first time Jones has been in the news about a decision. A few months ago, Jones summoned
to court, even threatening some of them with punishment.
Some lawyers claimed there is a possibility the court of appeals could overturn the conviction and that because of double jeopardy, Skinner might not be tried again. Jones' decision is not something the Judicial Standards Commission handles. That commission deals strictly with a judges conduct, not questions of law.