Hennepin County District Judge Stephen Aldrich is in the crosshairs for making a joke. Near the completion of reviewing a domestic violence order for protection, he tried to cut through the tension with a self-deprecating quip.
"I've been married 45 years," he told to the couple before him. "We've never considered divorce, a few times murder, maybe."
Now a courtroom watchdog group called Watch is calling for Aldrich's resignation.
"This is a judge with a long history of inappropriate conduct and poor decorum," says the group's executive director Marna Anderson. "I think it's interesting that no one in the system has come to his defense, and I think that says something.
Anderson points to past remarks made by Aldrich to bolster her group's case. He once told a defendant, "I don't know if you're stupid or evil," and called a stable of prosecution witnesses "a bunch of drunkards." When a clerical error was brought to his attention, he deadpanned, "With all the women running for president, there's no one left to make things right."
Informal and borderline unprofessional, to be sure, but we couldn't help but wonder aloud if these collected zingers were, at bottom, wholly innocuous.
"Well, innocuous quips are his specialty," says Anderson. "And they're inappropriate."
Aldrich, for his part, is keeping mum, though he did release a written statement.
"I am sorry for the offense occasioned by my comment," he wrote. "It has been taken somewhat out of context. I tried to use my humor to lower the tension in the courtroom and in retrospect I chose the wrong words."