Handcuffed in the middle of a hallway, a rookie federal judge in a Santa Claus suit looked around at the jurors. There were dozens of them, and they’d heard arguments from both a prosecutor and a defense attorney that offered starkly different takes on the modern-day Saint Nick.
“All of you who are voting to free Santa say ‘yes,'” the presiding judge ordered. The crowd cheered, but another order followed: “All of you who are voting to keep Santa in jail say ‘yes.'”
The first round was much more thunderous than the second.
“On an almost unanimous vote, we’re going to free Santa,” said U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, summoning the U.S. Marshals Service.
With that, U.S. District Judge John Holcomb, a 2020 Donald Trump appointee, was freed from the handcuffs and hugged by his wife, ending another yearly tradition at Carter’s holiday pancake breakfast that began when the 78-year-old was a judge in the state of California’s Orange County Superior Court in the 1980s.
One of Santa’s attorneys referenced Carter’s current prominence as the judge who concluded Trump and his lawyer John Eastman “more likely than not” committed crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt.
A Central District deputy public defender, Andrea Jacobs warned the jury that “hundreds of working elves will lose their jobs and end up homeless.”
“Judge Carter, that will be even more people you need to order Eric Garcetti and now Mayor [Karen] Bass to find homes for,” Jacobs said, referencing another prominent Carter case regarding the Los Angeles homelessness crisis. “And, you know, Judge Carter doesn’t need any more press attention after the Jan. 6 Committee dropped his name.”
Erik Larsh, the Superior Court of Orange County’s current assistant presiding judge, opened the proceedings at Carter’s invitation, asking, “is there a charge against this man? Can I hear from the prosecutor?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Rabbani laid out the charges.
“You know, I’m not sure. I’m going to guess it’s related to trespassing. Breaking and entering. Child labor laws. Just being kind of creepy,” Rabbani said.
“Well, your honor, he’s got a long history of breaking into every home. Trespassing. Eating everybody’s cookies. He spends most of the year cooling his heels in the North Pole. It’s a lawless country. I don’t even know if it’s a country, but there’s no extradition treaty.” Rabbani said.
The prosecutor added that Santa “frequently employs children — or small people, not sure — in sweatshop conditions.”
“And on top of that, there’s some real concerns about espionage. He’s got aliases for very country, he’s got different disguises,” Rabbani said. “And again, he’s kind of creepy.”
Santa’s attorney Kate Corrigan addressed Rabbani as “ASUA Grinch.”
“Justice and the world’s happiness are at stake. Free Santa, like you have the in the past,” Corrigan told the jury. “Year after year, it’s the same old story. The government has arrested our client in an effort to bring an end to joy and happiness and the holiday spirit.”
Jacobs said the societal impacts of incarcerating Santa extend beyond increased homelessness by out-of-work elves to decreased accountability for bad acts by placing coal in stockings.
“How else will Kanye West, Elon Musk and Michael Avenatti know they were bad this year?” Jacobs said.
Corrigan also said Santa is not a danger to the community and he should be allowed to leave jail while he prepares for trial.
“Look at this twinkle in his eye. His broad smile. Listen to his life,” Corrigan said, prompting a hearty, “Ho Ho Ho” from Holcomb.
“Norad keeps an eye on him he entire evening as he leaves the North Pole and circles the globe,” Corrigan said, referring to the Santa-tracking website. “The government surveillance is high-tech, and the government encourages parents and children to monitor the journey on TV and the Internet.”
She also cited Santa’s “stable marriage” to Mrs. Claus, his “hundreds of years in his community.”
“Where is Mrs. Claus?” Carter said, finding Holcomb’s wife in the audience. A handcuffed Holcomb put his arms around her for a hug. Carter, a Bill Clinton appointee, removed Holcomb’s Santa beard a few minutes later before he called for the jury to deliberate via cheers.
The jury that freed Holcomb included his colleagues U.S. District Judge Fred Slaughter and Senior U.S. District Judge James V. Selna.
(Image: Photo by Meghann M. Cuniff/Law&Crime)
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