On matters of perspective and toilets

As a district judge, and a senior district judge at that, I admit that my perspective on what is important is skewed.  That admitted, I find United States v. Strong, No. 12-1842 (1st Cir., July 19, 2013) utterly mystifying and amazing.

In Strong, the defendant was convicted of three misdemeanors, and received a sentence of seven days in jail, for literally messing up a bathroom in a federal court-house.  He claimed to have a problem with his bowels, but the government saw his conduct in a more malicious light.  This is the way the bathroom looked to the cleaning lady shortly after Strong left the bathroom:

The supervisor of the courthouse’s cleaning company,
Christina Mason, arrived to clean the restroom after receiving a call requesting that it be cleaned. She smelled feces from the hallway, and when she opened the door she could not enter the restroom because feces were on the floor where one would need to step to get inside. The restroom was unusable because it was so soiled. She saw that seventy-five percent of the floor was covered in feces, in chunks. She also saw feces smeared in spots on several walls in different areas. In fact, some of the feces were
smeared more than two feet up on the walls. Feces were smeared on the paper towel and toilet paper dispensers, on the toilet paper itself, and on part of the toilet seat and the left side of the toilet bowl. There was also urine in the toilet, which had not been flushed; no feces were inside the liquid in the bowl. Mason testified that the feces were not only all over the bathroom but were “smear[ed] in spots,” and not splattered. Strong’s plaid blue boxers, which were covered in feces, were found by Mason draped over the wastebasket where Strong admits he placed them because they were “destroyed.”

The state of the bathroom was so bad that Mason, who had
fourteen years’ experience at the courthouse and training in
cleaning up bodily substances, was initially at a loss for how to clean the restroom. She devised a plan and first used paper towels and disinfectant to remove the feces from the floor. She then cleaned the restroom three times with a bleach and water solution, and discarded the soiled underpants, the potentially soiled rug that had been outside the restroom, and the clothes she had been wearing using a biohazard bag.

Id. at slip op. pp. 5-6.

Strong appealed. If you include the dissent, and the photographs attached to the decision, the discussion on whether the defendant had been proven guilty goes on for 57 pages.  Two judges voted to affirm the conviction, and one judge voted to reverse.

I don’t know much.  But I do know this:  No misdemeanor case about a soiled toilet and a seven-day jail sentence is worth 57 pages of attention from a United States Court of Appeals. That’s true even if you, like me, are a freak about toilets.


PS.  Thanks to How Appealing (July 23, 2013).

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