Archive for Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lawhorn’s Lawrence: Three decades of defending and judging those in Lawrence’s justice system

March 17, 2013


Lawrence city government news
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There was a time when Randy McGrath could tell you to tuck in your shirt, and you had darn well better do it.

Those were the days when McGrath had the best seat in the house at 1006 New Hampshire St., the city’s Municipal Court.

“If you are going to be in court, the best place to be is on the bench,” McGrath said.

For nearly 13 years, McGrath served as the city’s lone Municipal Court judge. From that seat at the bench, McGrath could control the dress code for the courtroom. With a strike of a gavel he could stop a man’s speech in mid-sentence. With another strike he could tell him his fate.

“You do have that element of control that you can’t really find anywhere else,” McGrath said.

McGrath retired from the bench in 2011, and he’s not embarrassed to admit that he missed the loss of having complete control.

Oh, he’s gotten over it, but there are some parts of the routine that he hasn’t abandoned. He still checks the Douglas County Jail log everyday.

“I see an awful lot of names of people who I dealt with on the bench or as an attorney,” McGrath said.

Think about that for a second. It is no surprise McGrath would still be seeing names from his time as a judge. After all, he retired just two years ago.

But he still sees the same names from when he was a criminal defense attorney for the indigent in Douglas County. McGrath hasn’t served in that role since near the turn of the decade.

“There are still some people having the same problems more than a decade later,” McGrath said. “I guess one thing I’ve learned in this job is that it really takes a lot to pull yourself up.”

McGrath learned a few other tidbits along the way, and he’s recently written a book about them, "Lessons Learned." The bulk of the book is about his 22-year career as a criminal defense attorney, most of it in Lawrence.

During that time, he dealt with a few cases you may not have heard of: Like the time a college student dressed up like Bam-Bam, the Flintstones character, for a Halloween party at a Lawrence bar. He spent the night playfully tapping people over the head with his inflatable club, until . . . whoops, that wasn’t a police officer costume. The handcuffs and the trip to the Douglas County Jail weren’t fake either.

Other cases got lots of headlines, but perhaps you have not thought of them for awhile. Do you remember the man who in 1990 was accused of using a bayoneted AK-47 rifle to bust into Magic Wok restaurant to steal the wallets and purses of the restaurant’s patrons? McGrath was his attorney, but to be fair, McGrath never really had much of a conversation with him. By the time he was returned to Lawrence for trail, he already had been in a gun battle with Wyoming law enforcement officers, and was left with a bullet in his brain and the mental capacity of an 8-year old.

Then there are some cases that have a personal story behind them. In 1991, McGrath was the attorney for Barry Rush, who was in the Douglas County Jail on multiple robbery counts. That case never got to trial either. Rush hung himself from a shower stall in the jail. The story behind the case? A note Rush had written the day before. McGrath found it in his courthouse mailbox the next morning. It simply said: “I need very badly to see you.”

Maybe you’re part of the group that thinks criminal defense attorneys are heartless. Somehow, I think the profession involves some matters of the heart.

It certainly can involve some matters of philosophy. Now that he’s off the bench, McGrath feels free to share that he thinks the legislature makes too many laws, several of which keep the judicial system mighty busy in a college town.

“These college kids are going to drink, they’re going to get a fake I.D., and they aren’t bad kids,” McGrath said. “I don’t think having a beer at 20 years old is that egregious.”

That’s maybe not too surprising of a view from a man who dealt with hundreds of minor in possession cases while he was on the bench. Perhaps more of a surprise is your former Municipal Court judge’s views on how to reduce crime in America: Sterilization.

“From what I have seen, crime is something that is generally inbred,” McGrath wrote in the book.

So, he proposes that some philanthropic organization sponsor a voluntary sterilization program. People who volunteer for the sterilization would receive a payment, and McGrath is guessing many who volunteer are the same people most at risk of raising children in an environment that promotes criminal activity.

“The voluntary sterilization program sounds harsh, but it beats the alternative of many, many people having children who are brought up in a poor, drug-infested and criminal environment,” McGrath writes.

The view from the bench must be unique indeed.

It certainly seems to be a perch that requires a certain type of emotional detachment.

“I never would lecture a defendant too much,” McGrath said. “It was what it was. I never thought any words from me would work wonders.”

No, McGrath figured that out early.

“The probation officer and I would talk about it all the time,” McGrath said. “There are so many people who would go to treatment and then relapse. You can order it all you want, but you have to want it very badly. That’s the only way it works.”

Maybe that’s the ultimate lesson: There are some things even a judge can’t control.

— Each Sunday, Lawhorn’s Lawrence focuses on the people, places or past of Lawrence and the surrounding area. If you have a story idea, send it to Chad at


Bob Forer 5 years, 1 month ago

A judge intoxicated by the "element of control" is a very dangerous person.

purplesage 5 years, 1 month ago

So is a humorless cop who thinks getting tapped with a plastic hammer by some idiot in a Bam-Bam costume is "assault on a police officer" - which I would imagine was the charge.

Alceste 5 years, 1 month ago

TheSychophant opines:

"A judge intoxicated by the "element of control" is a very dangerous person."

A very keen observation and clearly the person this article is about was "intoxicated" by same.

Even more disturbing, however, is his asserted belief: "“From what I have seen, crime is something that is generally inbred,” McGrath wrote in the book.

Going even further this guy dares to suggest sterilization?

Alceste wonders when we're finally going to realize that poverty is genetically based; has nothing to do with environmental factors; just as, too, wealth is genetically based and has nothing to do with the bulk of it being passed on from one generation to the next within specific families.

This article is amazing in that the guy is supposed to be somebody to look up to. spit

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 1 month ago

Alceste seems to know nothing of estate taxes.

Bob Forer 5 years, 1 month ago

"who wouldn't enjoy the control of being "Top Dog" at work?"

If you are enamoured by control, then me thinks you have some serious personality and emotional issues to deal with. .

LocalYocal 5 years, 1 month ago

So, I guess you like having no control? And that somehow makes you a better person? I'm just not following your argument on how enjoying control is a negative quality, or even further, being honest about enjoying it. You are just arguing for the sake of arguing, and YOU are "enamoured by controversy, and me thinks YOU have some serious personality and emotional issues to deal with...."

Bob Forer 5 years, 1 month ago

I enjoy having control over my own life. Controlling other people? Now that's a different issue. .

I am not arguing for the sake of argument.. As a college graduate with a major in psychology, I can assure you that enjoying control over others is not only a "undesirable" trait, but is also among the symptoms of several personality disorders recognized by the American Psychological Association.

BTW, the folks at Bert Nash might be able to help you.

Al Deathe 5 years, 1 month ago

Judge McGrath is a fine judge and a better human being. He is stating the obvious, over the years he has realized what most in the judicial system already know children have learned a lot of their beliefs at a very young age. Those beliefs are learned by the environment they live in and the people they are brought up around. It is sad, generation after generation you see the same families showing up in front of a judge displaying the same behaviors as the prior generation. Its sad and can't be ignored. I have been lucky to know Judge McGrath as a judge, and a friend for years you cant find a finer or fairer person around. He is entitled to his opinions, it just now he can say them ouloud!

cowboy 5 years, 1 month ago

McGrath was always fair and kept the drama to minimum. The new judge is a complete , well you know.

Alceste 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes, awdvkd....and these "....children (who) have learned a lot of their beliefs at a very young age....." have been reared in atrocious environmental conditions which have no business even existing in Lawrence, Kansas. Simply put, they're products of their environment and we, as a community, are, in the final analysis, responsible. However, we're in Kansas.....and in hard times, Kansans prefer to blame the impoverished. Let's blame the victim.

Yes, criminal acts must be dealt with.....but the quesiton how and in what manner? "Voluntary sterilization"?? Same solution was suggested for "inter generational public assistance recipients" back in the 1970's.

Many diseases are genetically based. Might our society also offer "voluntary sterilization" for money so that we might rid the gene pool of these horrible drains on our Public Welfare and Medical Economies? Or, is taking and leaving them on Mount Taygetus a better solution? Alceste prefers the way the Spartans handled it.....Yeah....right.....let's build a master race. Alceste suggests there there was a good ole' boy in Germany that went off on that tangent a few years back. Alceste may be mistaken, however.

Al Deathe 5 years, 1 month ago

Good kids come from poor families! Bad kids come from rich or middle class families also. I'm referring to criminal behaviors being passed on by family members. One opinion reference one topic doesnt make the judge a bad judge!

skinny 5 years, 1 month ago

Having gone up against Judge McGrath I can say he is a fair and honest man. He would in most cases always give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant. Good article! I am headed to to order McGraths book!

jhawk1998 5 years, 1 month ago

A fair judge. A good person. Perhaps some hard realities. I challenge you to read his book before commenting on his theories.

elliottaw 5 years, 1 month ago

hard judge offers his closed minded opinions. Seem to be good he is no longer in a position of authority

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 1 month ago

Not sterilization, affordable birth control. Or, we could raise your taxes to pay for the increased costs. Would you find that to be preferable?

Tim Quest 5 years, 1 month ago

Stick to traffic tickets and MIP charges - sociology clearly isn't your forte, Rand.

been_there 5 years, 1 month ago

Having been the victim of theft and watching this judge let them off scott free, I won't be going to Amazon to buy his book. Hell, they admitted to the police they took the stuff, but hey they were just borrowing it. It is not borrowing if you don't ask first and don't return the stuff until the police come. Some stuff we never got back, that's not borrowing, it's stealing. I bet the thieves sure thought they were treated fairly, I sure wasn't.

elliottaw 5 years, 1 month ago

Seems to be best for Lawrence that they are no long associated with this man. Maybe this article is just poorly written or maybe this guy is actually that big of a tool, either way he admits to being power hungry, was time for him to go.

Deb Engstrom 5 years, 1 month ago

Sterilization is a bit extreme, but his point is well taken. I do agree that it is a societal problem, but nonetheless a problem. In a community as small as Lawrence, when you hear a name, you automatically assume. Not fair, but reality. Bad kids do come from rich or middle class homes, but there are usually the financial and other resources available to stop the cycle.

elliottaw 5 years, 1 month ago

Lay off the Fox News because facts are not in your favor here. Doesn't matter how many times you tell the lie it is still not true. Has it ever occurred to you that the poorest neighborhoods also have the poorest schools, hard to pull your self up by the boot straps if you are starting your life in a dark deep whole because society doesn't want to give you a chance.

vuduchyld 5 years, 1 month ago

The number of welfare recipients in some states is MORE than the number of workers? Can you tell me which states or tell me where that data comes from? Frankly, I don't believe it.

Loretta James 5 years, 1 month ago

he was my husbands court appointed attorney at the time my husband shot our neighbor at 827 walnut (neighbor from hell had been evicted and police had been there 40 times in about 2 wks) after my husband and i talked to him i asked every one i knew for a long term loan to get my husband an attorney that knew something cause clearly this one didn't. So within 48 hours we hired stephen rhudy very good criminal attorney. he may of made a good judge for tickets but i wouldnt want him for anything serious.

sterilization come on now i know many that werent raised well that turned out to be great adults. who knows he may not of been here if that was the case.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 1 month ago

The judge wanted me to tuck in my shirt? Well, OK, but with my gut, it's first necessary to unbuckle my belt, unsnap my jeans, unzip my jeans, pull them down, and then I can tuck in my shirt. Then put everything back in order, and my shirt will stay tucked in until I've sat down and stood up a couple times.

Yes, your Honor. I am on a serious diet and trying to get over it, but it's difficult. Some people wear loose fitting clothes for a very good reason.

patkindle 5 years, 1 month ago

the problem is the scary artilce won't scare the losers it should be directed at, they dont care

elliottaw 5 years, 1 month ago

it should scare everyone in the city on lawrence, this man's job was protect all the people good and bad and he clearly states that he only enforced the rules that he felt like.

happyrearviewmirror 5 years, 1 month ago

Nothing is more anathema to liberal education than an authoritarian mindset. Southern justice and college towns don't go well together. When the KU HR and General Counsel are obviously so eager to press false charges before even according workers adequate internal due process, that doesn't say much for either the quality of education at KU or the criminal injustice system in Douglas County. Dishonesty and crooked justice leave a long-term bad taste.

Bob Bowles 5 years, 1 month ago

I've had the good fortune of knowing Randy for the past 10 years. I've found him to be intelligent, thoughtful and considerate. My guess is that most of the haters here are people who were on the opposite side of his decision. Face it, you either leave a courtroom happy and relieved or pissed and resentful. And generally fairness is in the eye of the beholder. And personally I prefer a judge who is and has things under control vs. one who doesn't.

Irenaku 5 years, 1 month ago

Never been on the opposite of his decisions, or ever met the man. Inbred? WTF? Sterilization? Seriously? What a monster. Frightening to think that this neo-Nazi was allowed to judge the fate, literally, of so many people when he holds to this kind of thinking.

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