The shirt hits the fan

Jul 2, 2003 at 12:00 am

News Hits has decided Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Isidore B. Torres needs a nickname. We’re thinking “Over Easy” might be good, or maybe “Poached.” Whatever it is, the moniker needs an oviferous point of reference, because at the moment Torres has egg smeared across his juristic puss. The omelet dripping from his chin is courtesy of one Henry J. Dudzinski, a former Detroit cop who proved to have a better grasp of the Constitution than hizzoner.

In April 2001, during a civil proceeding brought against the aforementioned Officer Brown by the family of one of the three people he gunned down, Dudzinski, now 79, displayed his support for victims of police violence by sitting in court wearing a shirt with “Kourts Kops Krooks” emblazoned on it.

Torres ordered Dudzinski to remove the shirt or leave. The judge asserted that the shirt interfered with the fair administration of justice. The fact that there was no jury present meant that the only administrator of justice to be swayed was Torres himself, making his reasoning appear, uh, somewhat scrambled. Dudzinski declined to leave or remove said shirt, invoking his First Amendment right to free speech. Torres apparently played hooky the day they went over that in law school. The judge cited Dudzinski for contempt of court and ordered deputies to haul him away.

For his sartorial intransigence, Dudzinski, who is more of a hard-boiled type, spent 29 days in the cooler. He also went to court to prove that he had every right to wear that shirt to court. Last month the Michigan Court of Appeals, doing a little scrambling of its own, agreed with him.

Noting that judges are “supposed to be men of fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate,” the appellate court declared that a court “may not impede on the First Amendment rights of a courtroom observer based merely on an offense to its sensibilities ...”

So maybe “Soft Boiled” is the name we’re looking for to describe Torres.

The victory, however, was not total. Although Torres’ order was illegal, the appellate court ruled that Dudzinski was nonetheless compelled to obey it. Using that logic, the court found that Dudzinski was indeed in contempt for refusing to obey the illegal order. Is this some kind of a yolk? Some legal shell game?

Dudzinski says he’ll appeal the ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Though pleased with his “victory,” the experience has left Dudzinski a bit, well, fried. He confesses that, if a similar situation again arises, he will comply with the order to remove the offending shirt. “I don’t want to go to jail again,” says Dudzinski.

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