Loss of service a real blow for the community, says attorney to judge

WAILUKU – Some lawyers said that Maui Family Court had lost one of its best judges, as Mimi DesJardins was sentenced Thursday after pleading no contest to a charge of tampering with a government record to keep an arrested person in custody after the legally allowed time period had lapsed.

“Standing before you is a person with a long career of very valuable community service,” said Wailuku attorney Philip Lowenthal, who represented DesJardins in court Thursday. “The loss of her service as a family judge is a real blow to the community.”

Deputy Attorney General Christopher Young said that despite reports that DesJardins had served the community well as a Family Court judge, “when she took that oath and put on that black robe, she knew that her job was to do what was legally permissible.”

“In this case, for whatever reason, there was a huge lack of judgment, and that lack of judgment caused an individual to be detained past a legally permitted amount of time,” Young said. “She violated someone’s constitutional right to freedom.”

As part of her sentence Thursday, DesJardins was ordered to make a $2,000 contribution to the state general fund and to perform 300 hours of community service. She was given a chance to keep the conviction off her record as long as she follows court requirements and remains arrest and conviction-free for one year.

DesJardins resigned from her position as 2nd Circuit Family Court judge April 23, the same day the criminal complaint was filed against her in Wailuku District Court.

As part of a plea agreement, the prosecution didn’t seek a jail term for DesJardins and didn’t take a position on her request for the deferral, Young said. He said that the agreement also allowed DesJardins to plead no contest to the single count instead of 10 counts of tampering with a government record.

The incident occurred Feb. 17 during the three-day Presidents Day holiday weekend when DesJardins was assigned to be the on-call judge responsible for approving or denying judicial determination of probable cause documents, Young said. The government records, created by the Maui Police Department and county Department of Prosecuting Attorney, are required to detain an arrested person longer than 48 hours.

When DesJardins arrived at the Wailuku Police Station at 2:25 p.m. that day, she was informed by a deputy prosecutor that the 48-hour period had expired at 1 p.m. for one arrested person, Young said. He said that, after discussing the judicial determination of probable cause with the deputy, DesJardins completed the record by signing it and entering the time as 1 p.m., even though she hadn’t arrived at the police station until nearly an hour and a half later.

She signed nine other judicial determination of probable cause records, listing times ranging from 1 p.m. to 1:25 p.m., before she left the police station at 2:47 p.m., Young said.

He said that the time listed on the judicial determination of probable cause document affected one defendant, who was held about seven hours longer than he should have been.

In arguing for a deferral of conviction for DesJardins, Lowenthal questioned whether she should even have been presented with the document “because the police and the prosecutors should have released the detainee after the expiration of the 48 hours.”

Lowenthal also said that DesJardins had reviewed the affidavit the day before in connection with another matter and had made a finding of probable cause.

Young said it was the first time in his 22 years as a prosecutor that he had handled a case involving the sentencing of a former sitting judge.

He recommended the maximum $2,000 fine and community service “to impress upon this defendant the seriousness of her actions, that the judge who is given great power cannot have a lapse of judgment and create the situation we have before the court.”

Young also said the sentence would “impress upon the defendant as well as the community that no matter who you are, the law will apply to you.”

Lowenthal asked for no fine and no community service for DesJardins, saying it was “disconcerting” that the blame was put on DesJardins.

“The reality is the police, in conjunction with the prosecutor’s office, all of whom are sworn officers, held a person knowingly and intentionally beyond the 48 hours, which is a crime under our statutes, instead of just letting him go,” Lowenthal said. “They kept saying, ‘Wait for the judge, wait for the judge,’ as if the judge was supposed to magically fix that.

“At best, she joined with them in fixing it by signing a document she had already reviewed.”

“She has given up her job,” Lowenthal said. “What more punishment does the state need?”

DesJardins declined to speak in court. About 20 attorneys were in the courtroom gallery to show support for her.

In sentencing DesJardins, 1st Circuit District Judge David Lo acknowledged “the embarrassment and humiliation the defendant is experiencing by standing on the opposite side of the bench from which she once presided.”

“Nonetheless, a crime has been committed,” said Lo, who was assigned by the Judiciary to preside over matters in DesJardins’ case.

Speaking outside of court after the sentencing, Lowenthal and other attorneys questioned why only DesJardins was prosecuted in the investigation.

“It is not right not to prosecute the other people involved,” Lowenthal said. “It is not right to single out the one woman when a number of men, police officers and prosecutors, made a conscious decision to hold people longer than permitted.

“Maui has lost one of its best judges, and it’s unfortunate for the entire community.”

In her more than 30 years as an attorney, Diane Ho said, it was the “biggest travesty I have ever seen.”

“We lost the best Family Court judge in the last 15 years,” Ho said. “It’s a horrible loss.”

Attorney Anne Leete said DesJardins “was a diligent, hardworking, extremely ethical judge who always kept the best interests of Maui’s families and children in mind.”

“I think it’s notable she’s the only female Family Court judge, she the only female in this process, she’s the only one who was prosecuted here,” Leete said.

Added attorney Pam Shults: “I would say it’s more like persecution than prosecution in this case.”

Responding to the comments, Young said that the attorney general’s office “did a complete investigation in this case and the individual that could have been charged was charged.”

He called the argument that DesJardins was picked on “nonsensical and ludicrous.”

“The bottom line is she committed a crime, irrespective of what anyone else might have done,” Young said. “She had the final decision to do what was legally right under the law.

“All she needed to say was no, follow what the Constitution requires, and she wouldn’t be standing in front of this court.”

Although there may not be criminal charges, Young said, there could be civil consequences for others in the case.

“The fact that we brought this case shows that the system works,” Young said. “We aren’t giving special privileges to judges when they break the law.”

DesJardins, 51, was appointed to be a Family Court judge Feb. 28, 2012. She had been a per diem District Court judge since 2006. Before being appointed to the bench, she was in private practice, handling family law and criminal cases since 1997.