Judge Gets a Birthday Surprise

Should you look a gift horse in the mouth? Of course you should. It might need dental work and you don’t want to injure it with a hard carrot. On the other hand, if you find an unsigned birthday card with $10,000 in it, how concerned should you be about its origin?

I bring this up because the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee of the Florida Supreme Court has issued a ruling on “Whether the Code of Judicial Conduct provides guidance for how a judge should dispose of an anonymous cash gift.”

My favorite part of the opinion is the very next sentence: “ANSWER: No.”

Concise and to the point. They should have ended the ruling there.

But no, they had to go on.

It seems that a judge got an unsigned birthday card at home with $10,000 cash in it. For some reason, he or she didn’t think it was from a forgetful aunt or a guy who owed him or her money from their college days.

So the judge turned the money over to the local sheriff’s office and asked the commission what should be done.

Even though, as far as I can tell, there was no indication that the secret admirer wanted anything in return, the sheriff’s office concluded that it was “almost certainly” sent by someone with a case pending before the judge.

Almost certainly?

Then why didn’t they sign the thing or ask for anything?

It’s kind of hard to curry favor with someone who doesn’t know they’re being curried by you.

Still, I can understand why a judge wouldn’t want to be seen with a bag of cash that later turned out to be from a mob boss. It could look bad.

The Florida ethics committee, extremely predictably, advised against keeping the money. Imagine if they’d done the opposite and told the judge to throw a party or book a cruise. Politicians would have had so much fun with that.

But I can’t say I agree with their boring recommendations for what should be done with the money: i.e., let the sheriff deal with it, turn it over to the state’s Division of Unclaimed Property, or, weirdly, give it back to the guy the sheriff thought “almost certainly” sent it.

Imagine if that person didn’t really send it.

Imagine if that person really did send it: “Here you are, sir. We’re returning your attempted bribe. No harm done. Have a nice day.”

Or imagine if the money really did come from a forgetful aunt. She’d be angry.

My suggestions would have been different.

If you buy $10,000 in state lottery tickets, you’ve got a shot at solving the judiciary’s budget crisis. It’s house money – you’re not any worse off than before if you lose and the state still gets a cut.

Or spruce up the courthouse. You can’t be accused of bias if everyone in court benefits.

Or use it as the prize in a juror lottery. No one will try to get out of jury duty.


Call Guinness. I don’t know whether there are any official records for this sort of thing, but someone should tell the people at the Guinness Book of World of Records to check out a ruling from the Seventh Circuit that describes a shoplifting haul of $2.8 million.

Apparently, a couple and their daughter stole vanloads of stuff over a 10-year period and never managed to get caught until a Barnes & Noble investigator started looking into “reports of large quantities of missing retail items.”

How do you shoplift large quantities? Did these guys have enormous coats? Unfortunately, the ruling doesn’t say.

And it wasn’t just books. They also managed to cruise malls and lift “consumer retail goods such as American Girl dolls, Lego blocks, and bags of Starbucks coffee.”

It gets weirder. Once the cops got wind of this, they apparently were so fascinated that, instead of arresting the thieves, they continued watching in wonder.

“Police officers surveilled the Bogdanovs on their travels to stores in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and they conducted pretextual traffic stops accompanied by searches that revealed vans full of consumer goods for which the Bogdanovs had no receipts. Store surveillance cameras also showed the Bogdanovs stealing goods at various locations.”

The only explanation I can come up with is that they wanted to wait until the shoplifting record was broken.

It is impressive.

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