A video of a proceeding in St. Joseph County District court went viral last week after a defendant with an extremely offensive zoom user name appeared before Judge Jeff Middleton.  Nathaniel Saxton’s Zoom handle was 'Buttf#@cker 3000.”  Judge Middleton asked Saxton  “What kind of idiot logs into court like that?”

Word got around to the Michigan Supreme Court administrator’s office who called the Judge.  He says they  “strongly suggested” that the live streams should come to an end.  Judge Middleton announced on Monday that it would be the final day of live streams from his courtroom.

"The Supreme Court are the ones who told us to start the YouTube live feed some year ago, and I thought about it and I thought 'If they're the ones that told me to start it, I guess I should listen to them when they tell me to stop it'," said Judge Middleton during the live-stream.

Judge Jeffery Middleton- YouTube
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But, according to Newsweek, Michigan Supreme Court communication's director John Nevin, says ending the stream was not their intention and is urging Judge Middleton to reconsider his decision in the name of transparency.  But the judge is worried that the video is being used more for entertainment than its intended purpose.  “I asked if other courts are having this issue and were told ‘No, it’s just you.’

In Monday’s video, Judge Middleton who has been on the bench for 18 years, said he’s received a lot of negative comments.   "I got an e-mail from someone outside of our county saying I was an embarrassment to the county and the court.  This morning I got a call, someone left a message on our answering machine that I was 'deplorable,' so I guess it's hard to please everyone."  During the video, a great many viewers voiced support for the Judge and thanked him for the work he has done.

Judge Middleton acknowledges the videos were an experiment in transparency during the pandemic and says all for transparency.  He says he’s not ashamed of anything he did in his courtroom.  “The inherent flaw of the process is that nobody asked the litigants what they thought about it.  Nobody asked the domestic violence victims or the young girl charged with shoplifting or somebody that got arrested for drunk driving.  Nobody asked them ‘What do you think about being broadcast on YouTube and having 1.5 million hits.’  The judge says the idea that YouTube is making money off these videos is troubling.

Calhoun County Chief Judge Michael Jaconette said there are definitely pros and cons to proceedings being live on YouTube.  He said is a court rule and some State statutes in place that give him and other judges discretion to turn off the cameras in some cases.  Examples are closed adoptions, guardianship and conservatorship matters, and mental health treatment orders and commitment hearings. “YouTube is a worldwide platform,” said Judge Jaconette.  “To me, that’s overly broad.  For many of these cases, I would not be closing the (traditional) courtroom, but one of the cons of this live streaming is how broad it is and how permanent it can be.”

Judge Middleton says the courts will be getting back to normal soon, negating the need for live streaming videos.   But Judge Jaconette says they’re still waiting to get direction from the State Supreme Court on whether or not the videos will continue post-pandemic.

 

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