If whoever shot Judge Charles “Chuck” Weller Monday needed encouragement, he or she would have found plenty of it online. The Web is a snakepit of attacks on public officials. They range from the merely angry to the slanderously venomous, and Weller was not exempted.
In 2004 when Weller was first running for the judgeship he now holds, the candidates’ races became ensnarled in an ongoing dispute over the rights of mothers and fathers in family court disputes. Weller was perceived as sympathetic toward male litigants, in part because he questioned the rate of domestic battery of wives. He also was skeptical toward the role of the Committee to Aid Abused Women (CAAW) in operating the Temporary Protection Order Office in Reno (which aids people—women and men—in obtaining restraining orders telling spouses to keep away from each other or from children).
“Forcing an abused man to go to an organization named the Committee to Aid Abused Women adds additional stress to an already horrible situation,” Weller said in an email message to the RN&R (“Disorder in the family court,” Aug. 5, 2004), though, in fact, the CAAW name does not actually appear on the TPO Office sign.
But whatever promise men’s rights groups felt Weller showed during the campaign turned to disappointment once he was on the bench. On the other hand, women were not crazy about him, either. At one online site, LegalReader.com, two successive messages posted took exactly opposite views of Weller’s stance on the male/female divide:
• “I too have experience with this judge and his obvious bias against women.”
• “Family court Judge Chuck Weller of Reno, NV lied to everyone by saying he was going to defend father’s rights to get elected. Once on the bench, he has singlehandedly destroyed more GOOD fathers with his (shoot from the hip) punishing motions.”
In May, a classified ad was run on the RN&R Web site that asked critics of Weller to share their stories.
Online, meanwhile, at the site www.FathersUnited.com, a message is posted: “After his first year on the bench Weller has earned the reputation of the worst and most abusive judge in the history of Reno. He is a bully and abusive. He states his decision at the beginning of each hearing. That is right at the beginning of the hearing. The top family law attorneys are kicking Weller off their cases at the beginning of each case at a ‘epidemic level'. Check his record and reputation. They speak for themselves.”
At Legal Reader, nearly all the messages are unsigned, bearing either pseudonyms or first names. From behind that anonymity, messages call Weller corrupt, a liar, and a terrorist. In many cases, the writers are rearguing the cases they lost in Weller’s court, but because they are unidentified and the attacks appear online, the claims made—which include acceptance of bribes and ex parte communications—can’t be checked or verified by other readers:
• “While trying to get elected he had a go-to boy and mouthpiece … [who] just happens to be good friends with my daughter’s father. I believe [he]…was telling Chuck about our family court case throughout the whole election and after Weller took the bench. Yes. I think Weller is on the take. He has been very angry and aggressive towards me due to his previous one-sided knowledge of our case. Instead of doing the right thing and removing himself from the case he is staying on the case and favoring my Ex. Practically undoing everything the honorable Judge [Scott] Jordan (ret) did before Phuck Weller was elected. There has to be other cases [where] he in bed with one of the parties. Let it be know[n] and post it.”
• “The NEW TERRORISM! Judge Chuck Weller of Washoe County Family Court has people (both men & women) running from his courtroom in TERROR. He threatens to take your children, your freedom, your property! Weller uses whatever tactics to force you to submit to his imperial demands and tyrannical orders. Every story from each person that I have talked to in my investigation has similar experience. They are terrorized and don’t understand why he is being so aggressive when they’ve done nothing wrong. Does Weller ever rule on the law or does he just rule on his whims?”
• “Outside of the court room waiting was the governer-appointed head of teen sexual abuse, the director of CASA, a medical doctor and my daughter. They were there to expose the sexual abuse of my exwife with my eight year old son. Attorney [name deleted] was there to represent my ex who was not even present. Judge Weller, as he was sitting down at his bench, said he had made a decision. Mind you he had not heard a single word from a witness. My attorney said he needed to hear from the witnesses mentioned above, and he refused. When I objected, he threatened me with jail time if I did not hand my then 8-year-old son over. All witnesses had sworn affidavits that my son was being molested by my ex and yet Judge Weller released him into her custody.”
Again, these accounts are posted without the opposing side or Weller’s point of view represented. (Judges are restrained by professional canons in what they can say publicly. Attorneys say that, in some cases, a judge will rule from written filings, in which cases little or no testimony is taken.)
• “He takes all statements against fathers as true despite all evidence opposing them and then makes impossible orders which the fathers can never comply with. Then punishes the fathers for not following his impossible order. Everyone should [be] outraged at his bias[ed] behavior and do everything that can legally be done to get this HITLER off the bench.”
• “The first comment my mom made when we walked out of Judge Weller’s courtroom was ‘he had his mind made up before he even entered the room'. Afterward, I decided to search him on the net just to see if I would find anything. I never expected to come across so much negativity.”
At 12:01 on Monday, someone posted a new message on the Legal Reader site: “Judge Weller was shot today in Reno, NV. I think no matter how much this guy makes your life miserable nobody has the right to take his life. Forums like this are good to help people vent, but at times, it makes people feel justified to do horrible things like this.”
If the writer expected the news to be sobering to other writers, that was not the result. The tone of many succeeding messages has been, “He had it coming.”
This one, for instance, was signed “Dark Justice”: “When judges go beyond the law they set an example for the rest of us. Weller was shot because someone decided ‘he needed a little killin.’ Just like Weller always decides a case before he hears the evidence. … Weller owes big favors to all of those lawyers and their firms that paid tons of money into his campaign. … Those that made Weller ‘king’ want to be repaid in the form of patronage from their royal highness. In order for him to do that, he has to ‘gouge’ everyone else. … And because Judge Weller can screw innocent Nevadans and particularly Reno-ites coming before his high and mighty bench, HE DOES IT WITH IMPUNITY! So wake up folks! No one should kill another human being, even if it is this barely-resembles-human Weller. … But under these circumstances: heck, it’s water under the bridge, so don’t shed a tear for Weller. It isn’t right. It isn’t legal. It maybe isn’t fair either. But maybe he got what he deserved anyway. Or should I say, you live by the sword … you die by it. Weller broke the law countless times and it’s rather obvious at this point. If he’s a criminal why are we surprised that another criminal shot him?”
Another denounced “the reality of dirty judges like this. I am not even from Nevada, we have our own crooked judges here in Michigan. That judge should be in prison, he has no more regard for the law than any other felon.”
Another message reads, “Judges who disregard the law and just do what they want are worse than dirty cops. From what I have read about this guy he got what he deserved.”
An unsigned message: “Always comforting to hear about a judge being shot. The people are fed up. Family Courts do not serve families, they serve to oppress fathers.”
One writer compared the shooting of Weller to “a mother who shoots an individual for molesting her eight-year-old daughter. While some individuals may not openly condone her actions, in some circles it … certainly would be understood.”
These messages were too much even for the unbridled Web. Monday evening a backfire started, and messages like this started appearing:
• “People in family disputes usually blame everyone but themselves for their problems. The ex is always a demon or a criminal. The lawyers are liars and incompetent. The judge is a ‘Hitler.’ People don’t have their parental rights taken away for no reason. Trying to sort out all the accusations between bickering ex-spouses must be a really horrible job, especially now that it comes with the threat of being shot if you disappoint a crackpot who can’t handle the verdict and accept responsibility.”
• “There is no excuse for shooting a judicial officer. If you don’t like what he is doing, follow the rules regarding getting him removed. If that doesn’t work, find others that he has affected and have them try legally to get him removed. Continue until he is gone. … The problem with judges is that one side loves them and the other side hates them. It is a thousand times worse with a family court judge. You could not get me to do that job with all of the money in the world, plus thick bulletproof glass in my office windows. Life is too short to put up with a bunch of whiners and moaners, even if they are right at the end of the day, and that is a big if.”
• “If it hadn’t been for that man [Weller], my mom would still be beating up me and my brothers, getting drunk, having affairs, stealing all of our money, and beating my dad, while my dad couldn’t do a thing to her or she would go to court against him. You guys say that this man is a loser and a fake, but he saw the case and helped bring out the good that’s still left in my family. And if he had been a fake like you say, I don’t think that my father would have gotten custody. So I say, thank you Judge Weller and I am praying for you.”
Another indication of the antipathy that Weller, like other family court judges, must cope with was reported Tuesday by the Sparks Tribune. Someone purchased an ad in the Tribune’s “Big Nickel” classified advertising tabloid offering a motorcycle for starting bids of $1 and providing Weller’s home address, though Weller owned no such vehicle. The Tribune employee, who took the ad over the counter, after seeing photos of suspect Darren Mack, said “It wasn’t the guy they’re looking for. It was a sandy-haired guy.”
Courthouse shootings are rare everywhere, but they receive enormous publicity when they do happen. Nearly all cases of courthouse violence are associated with family court disputes. The most recent similar incident was a decade ago when a shot was fired at a car carrying Nevada Supreme Court Justice Charles Springer and his wife in a UNR parade, hitting the driver but not the Springers. It occurred at a time when the Supreme Court was ensnarled in angry infighting over the fate of a state district judge in Washoe County.
Editor’s note: Due to the anonymity of the Web and the impossibility of proving that the names listed on the Web sites actually belong to the people who posted, we deleted non-public-figure names listed in these postings.