Judge Weller Shot and Criticized


It's relatively amazing that Judge Chuck Weller continues to be criticized. One would think that a judge who is shot by a crazed ex-husband might garner more sympathy than critique. But that hasn't really been the case for Judge Weller. In fact, it seems that those who support him are attorneys, many of whom may remain dependent on him to render decisions in their cases.

Martha Bellisle, writing for the Reno Gazette Journal on November 16, 2007, writes that in "the aftermath of Darren Mack's murder trial, supporters of Judge Weller are planning a newspaper ad that praises him while critics are proposing a class-action lawsuit accusing him of unethical abuse of power.

A group of local lawyers who practice in front of Weller in family court are gathering signatures for an advertisement that slams the media's coverage of Weller and states that his work on the bench is done with "integrity, professionalism and thoughtfulness."

"We think he's gotten a really bad deal," said Reno lawyer Marilyn York, one of the promoters of the Weller ad slated to be published in the form of a letter "to the citizens of Washoe County."

"He was being made out to be a monster," she said Thursday, referring to the harsh comments made about Weller by the jurors in the Mack trial. "He needs to know that he's got support out there because all he's hearing is negative."

Meanwhile, another group has posted plans for a class-action lawsuit against Weller on the Internet site Craigslist and have started a Web site looking for people who want to join, claiming he abused his position as a judge and caused "unnecessary emotional and financial stress."

"A number of people have come together and want to push forward with this lawsuit," said Laurel Armbrust, a former legislative staffer who is organizing the suit that seeks to unseat Weller and collect damages from the county and the state.

"They're frustrated with the unprofessional and unethical behavior of Judge Weller," she said. "It's unacceptable to have someone like that on the bench."

Weller said he had heard something about positive efforts by some lawyers, but did not know about any attempts to sue him.

"I appreciate their support," Weller said of the attorneys behind the proposed ad.

After viewing the Web site concerning the suit against him, Weller said: "Being supported by lawyers and being criticized by a murderer (Mack) is OK with me."

The public campaign by both sides followed Weller's testimony in the trial ended Nov. 5 with surprise guilty pleas just before the defense team was to begin its case.

Mack, 46, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the June 12, 2006, stabbing death of his estranged wife, Charla, 39.

Under the agreement with prosecutors, the judge will sentence Mack to life in prison with parole possible after 20 years. If the judge strays from that plan, Mack can drop his plea and go back to trial.

He also entered an "Alford" plea to one count of attempted murder with a deadly weapon in the sniper-style shooting of Weller, who was handling their contentious divorce. The special plea meant that Mack denied he was trying to kill Weller, but acknowledged that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him.

During the trial, Weller testified about what happened the day he was hit with shrapnel as he stood in his third-floor chambers, and about his decisions in the Mack's hard-fought divorce.

When pressed by Mack lawyer David Chesnoff, Weller also defended his work on the bench and denied claims that he favored lawyers who supported his campaign. At one point, Weller was admonished by Judge Douglas Herndon for making the unsolicited statement that he had never had his reputation attacked in this way.

That comment and others drew harsh criticism from 11 jurors who agreed to speak publicly after the trial ended. Several called Weller "a jerk" and most said that his demeanor on the stand was offensive.

York said the proposed ad states that the jurors' comments should not have been reported by the media without comments from some of the lawyers who practice in front of Weller, and who find him to be fair.

"The jurors have no idea how Judge Weller manages his courtroom or practices as a judicial officer," the letter ad states. "It is outrageous that Judge Weller is being victimized yet again after a shooting that nearly took his life while he was doing the job that he was elected to do."

Family court cases are some of the most violent in the legal system, York said. And Weller should be commended -- not criticized -- for taking on a difficult job, she said.

"The point is you don't shoot people, and when they are shot, you rally around them and say it's not OK," York said.

Armbrust disagrees that Weller has done a good job.

She said she has been contacted by about 20 people who have been in Weller's courtroom and found him to be unfair, to the point of violating their constitutional rights. She said she has never had a case with Weller, therefore feels safe to go public with the suit, while others wish to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.

"Some still have active cases with him," Armbrust said.

The Web site calls for people to participate in the proposed lawsuit if they feel they've been "mistreated by this judge." The suit's intent is to hold Weller, the county and state "accountable for unethical, illegal, and unprofessional conduct of family court matters in Judge Charles Weller's courtroom."

"The lawsuit will demonstrate where Judge Charles Weller willfully, intentionally, and with absolute malice violated parties constitutional rights to due process and further through the abuse of his position and power cost parties unnecessary emotional and financial stress," the site states.

It seeks to remove Weller from the bench and seeks "an undisclosed financial settlement."