Too often, federal judges can appear all-powerful, arbitrary and arrogant. U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr.'s thoughtful handling of the case against Cortnee Brantley, whose boyfriend is charged with killing two Tampa police officers, broke those stereotypes.
Brantley was found guilty by a jury of failing to warn authorities that Dontae Morris — a passenger in her car on that terrible day in June 2010 — was a felon with a loaded gun. Authorities say Morris shot and killed Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab as they moved to arrest him after pulling Brantley over for a traffic stop.
The killings outraged the community, then kept it on edge for the four days it took police to capture Morris. With Morris' trial expected in November, Brantley's case was the opening round in the search for justice.
Throughout the case, Moody stood for fair play and the presumption of innocence. He initially threw out the obscure charge against Brantley. When an appeals court ordered it reinstated, Moody barred police from wearing their uniforms in court to avoid prejudicing the jury and later took weeks to analyze the jury's decision before entering a judgment. He applied the law and the jury's verdict in a deliberate fashion, and he avoided labeling Brantley either a scapegoat or a victim. The year and one day sentence he imposed this week holds Brantley appropriately accountable. Moody acknowledged the loss of the officers remains as emotional for him as for the rest of the city, yet he did not let those emotions affect his judicial reasoning.