1The judge who spent a night in jail to help a veteran
Cumberland County, North Carolina District Court Judge Lou Olivera spent a night in jail with a veteran to help him get his life back on track.
Joseph Serna is a former Special Forces soldier who has been deployed four times. Since his retirement, he's had issues with alcohol. Serna has appeared before Olivera 25 times in his fight for sobriety while going through a treatment program. In his last appearance, he didn't tell the truth about his urinalysis test, and Olivera ordered him to spend 24-hours behind bars.
Olivera drove Serna to jail, and he was shocked by what happened next. “The judge comes in (Serna's cell), and so we're sitting there, and they lock the door, and I realized, 'Oh, we're going to stay the night. He's going to stay the night here with me.'"
The two men spent most of the time talking about their military service in what Serna said was a "father-son" conversation. Olivera, who served in the Gulf War, said he hopes the experience helps Serna get his life back on track.
2The federal judge who showed mercy on an elderly couple who was about to be deported
Valentina Laguto and her husband of 40-plus years, Juan Hernandez, faced deportation from Canada in 2012.
The couple arrived in the country from Cuba in 2010 and applied for refugee status. It was denied, and deportation proceedings began. Hernandez would have been allowed to remain in Canada, as Cuba would likely not have taken him back, but the outcome would have been much different for Laguto. She was born in the former U.S.S.R. and now possessed a Russian passport she acquired following the country's collapse.
Faced with deportation to Moscow, a city she has never seen, Federal Court Justice Danièle Tremblay-Lamer decided that it was time for mercy and granted her a stay in Canada, while immigration considered the couple's application for permanent residency, which they have since received.
3The judge who allowed an inmate to meet his son in court
Jefferson County, Kentucky District Judge Amber Wolf arranged for James Roeder, a 24-year-old burglary suspect, to meet his newborn baby in court.
Roeder's wife, Ashley, faces theft charges in the same incident as her husband. She was also in the courtroom. As she handed him the baby, they both cried. “You see his little shirt?” Wolf said, smiling at the couple. She later thanked Ashley Roeder for “letting me be a part of that.”
“If you all aren't teared up, then you're just heartless,” she added when the couple left.
4The judge who helped make an adoption official for a dying man and his stepdaughter
In 2015, when Rob Maines, a father battling leukemia, couldn't make it to court to adopt his stepdaughter, the judge decided to go to him.
When Butler County, Ohio Probate Judge Randy Rogers heard about Rob's illness, he had no problem going to the hospital. He and Rob's family gathered bedside at Jewish Hospital to make the adoption official. "I think it's part of what we do, and I think it's part of the service we want to provide. It makes me feel good that I can give to them, grant a wish," said Rogers. "I know why I'm here, and you can see it. I know you can see it in their eyes, and when you can see it in their eyes, especially the mom, it has its own reward."
5The judge who apologized to an inmate who was denied pants and feminine products
Amber Wolf strikes again! The judge was taken aback when a female inmate was brought to her courtroom without pants. "What the hell is going on?" Wolf asked Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton. "I'm holding her here until she is dressed appropriately to go back to jail. This is outrageous."
The woman's attorney told the judge the jail had "refused to give her pants and any hygiene products that she needed" and also claimed inmates at the jail were denied showers. The woman estimated she had been held for "two or three days," noting she was arrested in the clothes she was wearing.
A furious Wolf released the woman with a $100 fine, and apologized, saying, "This is not normal. I've never seen it happen ... This is completely inhumane and unacceptable. I'm sorry you had to go through this."
The jail is investigating the accusations that inmates are not being given necessary hygiene products.
6The judge who gave an inmate facing jail time a second chance
How did Michael T. Courter, 23, walk after being convicted of selling bogus heroin? By convincing a Bay County, Michigan judge he sincerely wants to change his life for the better.
When Courter appeared before Judge Harry P. Gill for sentencing in January 2016, he had already pleaded guilty to one count of distributing an imitation of a controlled substance. (The charge is punishable by up to two years incarceration.) Courter's attorney, Jeffrey M. Day, told the court his client was highly intelligent and genuinely desires to right the course of his life, having seen the error of his ways in jail. "I have come to the reality that I am an addict," Courter said. "I have a problem, and I need help." He said that if released, he would regularly attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings and said he would break off contact with his drug-using friends.
The judge took mercy on Courter. He ordered him to complete the Swift and Sure Sanctions Program, intensive probation supervision that targets high-risk felony offenders with a history of probation violations or failures. He also ordered Courter attend 90 Narcotics Anonymous meetings in 90 days. He gave him credit for 250 days already served in jail and deferred an additional 115 days. Upon his release from jail, he's to serve 180 days on an electronic tether.
"I hope you don't make me look bad," the judge told Courter. "I believe in redemption."
7The judge who recognized a classmate in the courtroom — and reunited with him when he got out of jail
This pair of middle school classmates met decades later — on opposite sides of a courtroom.
Miami-Dade Judge Mindy Glazer recognized old friend Arthur Booth after he was arrested for burglary charges and appeared before her in court. Her former schoolmate, now 49, burst into tears after she acknowledged how they knew each other.
Video of the encounter went viral. Ten months later, Booth was released from jail — and Glazer was waiting for him and encouraged him to stay on the right side of the law.
8The judge who postponed an inmate's sentencing so he could spend time with his family
In June 2016, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin let a 20-year-old member of a gun trafficking ring stay out of jail until July after his lawyer candidly said he hoped to be able to attend a birthday and family events.
Trayvon Smith was busted in October 2015 as part of a group that dealt illegal weapons in East Harlem. His attorney, Joanne Dwyer, called McLaughlin "compassionate, do-gooder judge" after he accepted Smith's explanation for his failure to be interviewed by probation officials. The judge drew laughs when he asked the court reporter to read back the gracious self-description. He then granted her request, saying to Smith, "Don't screw it up — it's a legal term."
Smith faces 3 ½ years in prison and five years of supervision when he's finally sentenced.