Still-life exhibit or political statement?
That’s a question on a lot of people’s minds about an orange Judge Elliot Daum is displaying on the wall of his Santa Rosa courtroom in the space once reserved for a portrait of the sitting U.S. president.
President Barack Obama’s picture came down after Donald Trump was elected and appears to have been replaced by the solitary piece of citrus, which sits alone on a small shelf near the state seal and U.S. and California flags.
It has drawn chortles from critics of the 45th president, whose skin often has an orange hue, and scorn from others who believe such a political gesture has no place in the Hall of Justice.
“Oranges have an unrefrigerated shelf life of about a week,” Santa Rosa attorney Peter Kuykendall quipped after noticing the fruit while watching a trial. “Hopefully, Trump’s shelf life won’t be much longer.”
Other lawyers weren’t amused. Santa Rosa attorney and Trump voter James Sansone said it isn’t right for a judge to express his political views in such a way. The orange is disrespectful of the office of the presidency, he said.
“I can’t stand Hillary Clinton, but I would have respected her office if she had won,” Sansone said.
Edelweiss Geary, head of the local Republican Party, said the orange isn’t funny.
“People need to remember that not everybody was thrilled with Barack Obama,” Geary said. “But this kind of treatment Barack Obama did not get.”
Daum, a former defense lawyer who was elected to the bench in 2000, did not return a call Friday seeking comment.
The California Code of Judicial Ethics says judges are entitled to personal views on political questions. They are not required to surrender their rights or opinions upon taking the bench. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made that clear this summer when she openly criticized Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate.
“There is a big difference between maintaining neutrality in a case, which a judge must do, and divorcing oneself from politics,” said Bruce Budner, a UC Berkeley School of Law professor.
At the same time, judges in California are not permitted to engage in political activity that may create the appearance of bias or impropriety.
Eric J. Williams, a Sonoma State University criminal justice professor, said Daum’s orange “pushes the limits of what we hope for from our judges in terms of their involvement in the politics of the day.”
“Although I also think it is pretty funny,” Williams said.
The orange appeared about a week ago, just as the judge began presiding over an ongoing sanity restoration trial for a defendant in a Rohnert Park double slaying.
It was unclear what, if any, reaction jurors had to it.
Attorneys who appeared before the well-liked judge, a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates and causes, had little doubt about what the orange means. Daum was the only Sonoma County Superior Court judge to display a picture of Obama.
“I’ve always respected Judge Daum’s taste in art,” attorney Richard Scott joked Friday after spotting the orange for the first time.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.