WATCH says Judge Jack Nordby compared them to a gang

A courtroom watchdog group has filed a complaint against Hennepin County Judge Jack Nordby for saying the red clipboards they use in court are intimidating. You know, kind of like gang colors.

That comment--and several others that the judge made about the group last year--offended the volunteers with the red clipboards enough that the group filed a complaint with the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards. The board agreed that the judge had misbehaved.

The Board's formal complaint against Nordby became public yesterday. Instead of accepting a public reprimand, Nordby is taking the issue all the way to the state Supreme Court.

WATCH volunteers sit in courtrooms with the express goal of keeping judges accountable. According to the group's website, they focus specifically on cases that involve violence against women and children, racial disparities, drunk driving, police brutality, teenage domestic violence, and how judges conduct themselves in court. They take notes and carry red clipboards.

Apparently, Nordby is tired of looking at those darn red clipboards.

In a sentencing hearing for convicted child molester last year, Nordby read a lengthy statement directed at the WATCH volunteers. He said that the red clipboards "represent strongly partisan communications of a threatening nature to judges."

Then he compared the red clipboards to gang signs.

"We have encountered in recent years an occasional problem with gang members allegedly
using gang signs and insignia to influence or intimidate witnesses," Nordby said. "The dynamic of the phenomenon is essentially the same."

WATCH complained to the Minnesota Board of Judicial Standards. This week, the Board made public a formal complaint listing the allegations, as well as a response from the judge. Both documents have been filed with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The judge's lawyers, Paul Engh and Joseph Friedberg, fought back vehemently, portraying Nordby as measured jurist who refuses to be intimidated and stands up for decorum in the court.

According to WATCH's complaint, Judge Nordby made several accusations against WATCH during his statement in the courtroom. (His response denies that he made these allegations.) Here is what WATCH is claiming Nordby said about the group:

  • WATCH has a sexist agenda
  • Judge Nordby knows of "no judges who have genuine respect or esteem for WATCH"
  • WATCH has improperly attempted to change judges' assignments, including Judge Nordby's
  • WATCH has an "intended nefarious influence on the justice system"; and WATCH is a "mixture of self‐righteousness, officiousness, arrogance, humorlessness, and ignorance"

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