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12/23/2010

Controversial British judge James Pickles dies at 85

December 23, 2010 | 11:20 am

James Pickles, an outspoken and controversial judge who didn't shy from insulting Britain's legal establishment, has died. He was 85.

Pickles, who had been ill for some time, died Saturday at his home in Halifax, northern England, his family said Wednesday.

Pickles, who was appointed a circuit judge in 1976, survived on the bench despite describing the lord chancellor, England's top law officer, of being a "brooding quixotic dictator" and calling another senior jurist a "dinosaur."

"I am the human face of the judiciary, unlike the majority who adopt a Trappist-like silence," said Pickles, who after retiring vented his opinions as a newspaper columnist and wrote a raunchy novel.

He once famously asked in court, "Who are the Beatles?"

In 1985, Pickles accused the lord chancellor, England's senior judge, of being a "brooding quixotic dictator" born with a golden spoon in his mouth. Pickles survived demands for his resignation, and the episode led to a relaxation of rules which had forbidden judges from making comments on public issues.

Pickles was embroiled in controversy in 1990 when he sentenced a young mother to prison with her child, saying he wanted to discourage women from becoming pregnant to avoid jail.

"I don't say you deliberately became pregnant to avoid prison. But I have to consider that others might," he said, sentencing the woman to six months in prison.

She was released by an appeals court after two weeks.

Pickles responded by calling a news conference in a pub, where he described the senior appeals judge, Lord Lane, as "a dinosaur living in the wrong age."

The woman, a supermarket checkout clerk, had allowed friends to go through without paying. Pickles did not sentence the friends to jail.

Pickles retired in 1991, and became a columnist for the Sun, Britain's biggest mass-market daily tabloid. He later moved to the Daily Sport, a paper featuring soft porn and fanciful headlines such as "Hitler Was a Woman," "Aliens Turned Our Son into a Fish Finger" and "Donkey Robs Bank."

While still a judge in 1987, Pickles authored "Straight From the Bench," a book in which he advocated legalized prostitution and described pornography as something "most men have some interest in."

"Judge for Yourself," published in 1992, was a further defense of his legal career. The following year he turned to sexy fiction in "Off the Record."

Pickles' wife, Sheila, died in 1995. He is survived by two sons and daughters Carolyn Pickles, a British-based actress, and Christina Pickles, based in the United States, who appeared as the mother of Ross and Monica Geller in "Friends."

-- Associated Press

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