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White Collar Doesn’t Know Squat About Judges

White Collar is an enjoyable show about a con man (I’d say ex-con man, but he’s not really ex) who is conscripted by the FBI to uncover other con men and women. But their last show irked the heck out of me because it was about a judge gone bad.

The problem? Certainly not with the whole judge-gone-bad concept. Here in South Florida we have had enough judges tossed in prison to fill a wing.

No, my problem is that the unscrupulous judge was supposed to be a federal judge. And no, it’s not because I have any particular beliefs that federal judges are never corrupt. I’m sure there are some who are less than pristine (not any down here, of course, where the federal bench all have halos, so please don’t throw me in jail, Your Honor).

No, the problem was that the writers didn’t do their homework. The script called for a judge who did primarily probate. A federal judge who does primarily probate simply doesn’t exist. Probate is a state court matter. Federal judges are assigned criminal and civil matters. They don’t specialize unless they are in a special court such as bankruptcy, tax, or immigration. The judge in this show was also involved in mortgage foreclosures. Those are state court matters too.

Jurisdiction decides which court hears the case. A federal judge can’t hear state law matters, except under limited circumstances.

Could a probate or foreclosure occasionally land in the federal courts? Yes. If a federal law came up in the matter, or if the parties were from different states, then the federal court might have jurisdiction. But this plot depended on having the judge in a position to manipulate both probate and foreclosure matters on a regular basis. That’s not a federal judge.

I understand (I think) why the writers wanted the script to have a federal judge. The characters work for the FBI, so they figured they needed a federal judge for the FBI to get involved. But since mortgage fraud was involved, any banking fraud is within the FBI’s jurisdiction. They could have gotten the type of judge correct and not changed anything about the plot.

The only thing a state judge probably couldn’t have done for the plot was help a corrupt FBI agent with warrants. So maybe I have to forgive them, since they needed this in the story too. Or maybe not. The problem with this is that, let’s say there really is a Probate Division in some federal court. You wouldn’t go to the probate judge for a criminal warrant. You’d go to a criminal judge.

How could they have fixed this? Well, the judge didn’t need to issue any warrants in the show, so they didn’t really need that plotline. They needed the judge to do something for a bad-guy FBI agent (I won’t say what in case you haven’t seen it). So make her a state court judge who’s friends with the FBI agent. Or who’s being blackmailed (they actually sort of did this, but then why did the warrant issue come up at all?) to help the agent do dirty deeds. They didn’t need to make the plot laughable to lawyers.

I wonder how many viewers were turned off by such a major gaffe. It’s a new enough show that they can’t afford to lose viewers. I like the show overall, so I hope they do their research from now on.
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