All please rise: the Honorable Judge Nicholas Byrne is presiding…over the Mother Court on this episode of For the People — and our hearts. Judge Byrne has been relegated to the background for the first few episodes of For the People, but he’s front and center in “World’s Greatest Judge,” and it is about time.
Judge Byrne is having a great day. He wakes up in his lovely house, he comes downstairs to find his lunch packed for him, and then he’s off to interpret the law for the day. Unfortunately, the day doesn’t stay great for long. He reads about the death of a young man named Julian. Julian was serving a 10-year prison sentence on drug charges because he happened to be over at his neighbor’s house playing video games when that house got busted with a whole heap of cocaine hiding inside. He went to prison because he was playing video games, and now he’s dead. It is tragic and horrible and just plain sad. He doesn’t say so, but it’s pretty clear that Byrne is the one who sentenced Julian. Judge Byrne is rattled.
So, of course he is presiding over a very similar case today. Meet Rodrigo Puente. He was caught carrying 57 grams of meth. As Kate Littlejohn points out to Seth (now she simply waits for Seth in his office to cut down on the time wasted by having him interrupt her in her own office), 57 grams is about as big as the pack of sticky notes she’s holding. It is very minimal, but anything 50 grams or over carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years. Rodrigo is a good, family man, who was carrying the package to make a little extra money — he never asked what was in the package, because he didn’t want to know. Byrne knows the punishment does not fit the crime here, and he does not want to be forced to give Rodrigo that kind of sentence. And in a very un-judge like move, Byrne makes that known to the court. He basically tells Seth that the U.S. Attorney’s office needs to get itself together and come up with a new plan.
Seth relays the bold message to Roger who is still all “the law is the law and we enforce the law.” But when Roger hears the judge making such a scene, he’s taken aback. Still, he tells Seth to press on. They aren’t dropping this.
That’s not going to work for Byrne. He reminds Seth of his first week ethical violations and immediately Seth is much more amenable to Byrne’s request to talk to Roger Gunn. In a great little reveal, we learn that back in the day Byrne was Roger’s boss in the District Attorney’s office, and he instilled in his protegé the whole “uphold the law as it is, at all costs” mentality. Back then, Byrne had no desire to consider peoples’ feelings on the law — he wanted his lawyers to win their cases. Suffice it to say, Roger is not open to negotiations and reminds Judge Byrne that there could be consequences to his actions.
Jill Carlan, on the other hand, is definitely surprised, but happy, that Byrne is changing his hardline stance on the mandatory minimum, but it is good for her client. Unfortunately, if Roger won’t amend the charges and Rodrigo Puente doesn’t have anything like the name of someone else involved to offer the prosecution, there isn’t much anyone can do.
Byrne takes matters into his own hands. As the trial proceeds, Byrne begins questioning the witness. It gets heated and Roger’s repeated objections are ignored. The whole gang ends up in Byrne’s chambers. Yeah, he’s allowed to question people in his courtroom, but this is getting out of control. Byrne figures why not keep this train rolling: He’s going to inform the jury that if they convict Rodrigo Puente, Byrne will be forced to give him 10 years. Informing the jury of sentencing is a big ol’ no-no and Roger is livid. Jill’s all like, “yeah this is crazy, but I’m just going to hang out quietly over here.” Byrne isn’t budging.
Roger and Seth visit Delap to get his take on the matter. Roger suggests removing the quantity from the indictment, therefore removing Byrne’s conflict with the sentencing. That’s not how Delap, or the U.S. District Attorney’s office, rolls. Delap wants Roger to file a writ blocking Byrne. If Byrne doesn’t comply, his career will be over. This doesn’t sit well with Roger. But you know who will follow the boss’s orders? Seth Oliver. He’s all in on that “the law is the law is the law” thing and gladly files the writ. “Young and ruthless,” Delap calls him. This really is a new Seth Oliver! (Recap continues on next page)