Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
A Brooklyn judge who wrote a children’s book in which he appears to compare illegal immigrants to weeds choking the life out of society has come under fire from criminal defense attorneys concerned that immigrants might not be receiving a fair shake in his courtroom. “We are concerned about the judge’s capacity to act impartially,” said Steven Banks, chief attorney for the Legal Aid Society, yesterday. “We are requesting an inquiry by the [state Commission on Judicial Conduct] which is the proper body to address this matter.” The controversy raises the question of how far a judge can go in voicing his personal opinions without compromising his ability to act fairly in the courtroom. Judge John H. Wilson, who sits in Criminal Court, insisted that he is only exercising his First Amendment rights. “I have the right to free expression. I thought I was exercising that by writing a work of fiction,” he said in an interview. “I find it ironic that the Legal Aid Society, the guardian of freedoms, would express such concern. But it’s their right to do so.” He added, “some people are twisting this and wigging out. I don’t believe I’ve exhibited any bias.” Judge Wilson’s 24-page, self-published book is titled “Hot House Flowers.” He described it in an interview as an “allegory” about “the defense of home and country” with “a parallel to the problem of illegal immigration.” He said his book also contains an “underlying current” about the “image of God.” In promotional materials delivered to news media this week, Judge Wilson said the title refers to “people who are insulated and do not really appreciate the substantial dangers of the world.” The story concerns “flowers in a hot house who fail to stop the encroachment of plants that end up taking over all their resources.” Judge Wilson’s book, with illustrations by Marina Tsesarkaya, an immigrant from Ukraine, pits invasive dandelions “from the outside” – plants also described in the book as “weeds” and “alternative species” – that nearly choke the life out of hot house orchids and roses – described in the books as “beautiful flowers” – who are afraid of complaining about dandelions “for fear of being called disagreeable.” According to Section 100.4(A) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, a judge may engage in “avocational activities” that do not “cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially.” The court system’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics has stated that “a full-time judge may write and have published works of fiction but the promotion of such works should not exploit the judge’s judicial position” (Opinion 99-145, Oct. 21, 1999). The opinion was rendered at the request of a judge who asked if it was ethically allowed to author a commercial work of fiction. Judge Wilson is identified as a judge in the book and in his promotional materials. Stephen Gillers, who teaches legal ethics at New York University School of Law, said a judge “can write about anything he wants, as a general matter, but the closer the subject is to the work of his court, the more circumspect he has to be.” Mr. Gillers added, “Whatever the judge writes about, he has to take care not to say things that would cause a reasonable person to doubt his impartiality and judicial competence.” Judge Wilson, 45, is a registered Conservative who was elected to the Civil Court in 2004 on the Conservative, Democratic and Republican lines. Because of his background in criminal law – he was a prosecutor with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office from March 1987 through November 1988, after which he was a criminal defense lawyer for 11 years on the Bronx 18-B panel – Judge Wilson was assigned to the Brooklyn Criminal Court to hear early night-shift arraignments, a job that requires him to set bail for defendants. Immigrants, legal and illegal, often appear in the court. ‘Treading on thin ground’ Judge Wilson said that he knew that by writing the book he was “treading on thin ground” because “this is an era when the desire to instill patriotism in children is frowned on by some quarters of our society.” However, he said that he had vetted his plan with the proper authorities. “I know everything I’ve done is ethical,” he said. Judge Wilson said he had informed Judge William Miller (See Profile), supervising judge of Brooklyn Criminal Court, that he had written a book. Judge Miller, who has not read the book and was not asked for clearance, confirmed the conversation. Prior to publication, Judge Wilson said he also consulted a member of the advisory ethics committee, whom he declined to identify. He said that he had asked if he could identify himself as a judge in the book and in promotional material, if he could participate in public discussions of the book, and if he could answer questions truthfully about his occupation. “He told me that on all four of my questions, the answer was yes – and that I would get the written decision later. That was two months ago.” The judge has not received a written opinion. Book called ‘offensive’ Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, called the book “offensive.” She added, “I do think his feelings about immigration have affected his judgment. I would ask for his recusal in any case before him involving immigrants – legal or illegal. I think he should be disqualified.” Judge Wilson declined to give his personal opinion on the matter of illegal immigration, saying, “That’s a political question. As a judge, I believe in the rule of law – very strongly.” He added, “I do believe that there’s a wholesale violation of the law that’s occurring. What people should do is speak to their elected representatives. Because the solution is political, I’m not involved in the solution.” Judge Miller said there had been no bias complaints ever lodged against Judge Wilson. Judge Wilson said that no attorney had ever asked him to remove himself from a case because of any perceived bias toward illegal immigrants, and that any such request would be meritless now. However, he said he had recused himself on occasions when he knew the bail applicant before him from his earlier years as a prosecutor or defense lawyer. It appears unlikely that the book’s content alone would subject Judge Wilson to discipline. Robert H. Tembeckjian, administrator and counsel for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, declined to comment specifically on the controversy. Speaking generally, Mr. Tembeckjian said, “There have been cautions issued to some judges who appeared to have traded on their judicial office in promotional activities. But as for content, I don’t think we’ve ever disciplined anybody for a book, either fiction or nonfiction.” Scholarship fund Judge Wilson says in the book that a portion of the proceeds would be donated to a scholarship fund established in memory of Lance Corporal Michael Glover, a second-year Pace University Law School student on military leave killed in Iraq. Judge Wilson said he had never met Mr. Glover but had heard of his death in August from another student at Pace, the judge’s own alma mater. Prior to Mr. Glover’s death, Judge Wilson said he and his wife had sent the corporal a “care package,” and had received a letter in return. Judge Wilson said he had sent a copy of Mr. Glover’s letter to the Glover family, along with his condolences, and had received a thank-you note from Mr. Glover’s mother. According to a statement issued by Pace, the judge had not told the Glover family about his plans to donate to the scholarship fund. The statement said, “Pace Law School respects . . . freedom of expression and neither condones nor condemns the viewpoints of Judge Wilson.” Proceeds from the print-on-demand book could be slim. Judge Wilson said the book has cost him “about $16,000″ to date, money which he would have to recover from sales before realizing profit. Retail cost of the 24-page, illustrated book, available only at Amazon.com, is $15.99. Online customer reviews, including those from a self-described “patriot” and a number of outraged gardeners, have been mixed so far. Meanwhile, Judge Wilson said he is planning two more self-published children’s books – “Daisy,” which he described as a “kinder, gentler” sequel to “Hot House Flowers,” and an untitled story about women who “ignore their biological clocks, thinking that technology can solve their problems” regarding childbirth. Thomas Adcock can be reached at [email protected]

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.