The city council of Littleton, Colorado, said Tuesday that although it was "disappointed and saddened" by the situation, it had decided to fire Municipal Judge James Kimmel after almost 30 years of service. Matters came to a head after a 19-year-old man was taken to jail based on a bench warrant Kimmel had issued, which ordered the man's arrest for failure to return a DVD to the library.
Aaron Henson admitted he had checked out "House of Flying Daggers" from the Bemis Public Library last year, but claimed that the DVD had gotten mixed in with other items while he was packing for a move. At some point, apparently, library officials discovered that the Oscar-nominated martial-arts drama, featuring Ziyi Zhang as the beautiful and fierce revolutionary who becomes part of a doomed love triangle in China during the T'ang Dynasty, had not been returned. It was not clear just how long Henson got away with his crime before the library called in the authorities, but eventually it did.
Arguably, Henson should have been on notice that he might be prosecuted for failing to return "House of Flying Daggers." The Bemis Public Library has a surprisingly long list of rules and regulations prohibiting a wide array of behavior, including: being disruptive, smoking, carrying weapons, making "disturbing noises," wearing "shoes or boots with wheels or riding a skateboard," drinking alcohol "except at authorized events," and engaging in "sustained inappropriate public displays of affection." (Sounds like the Bemis Public Library is the place to be, to tell you the truth. Or at least maybe it was before it lawyered up.) "Intentionally damaging, destroying, or stealing library property" is also on the list, and the page clearly states that "[f]ailure to comply with the library's established Rules and Regulations may result in exclusion from library property and/or, if a criminal act is involved, being subject to arrest and prosecution." (Emphasis added).
So, it sounds like after enough time had passed, the library classified the DVD as "stolen" and alerted police. On December 23, 2009, Kimmel ordered that Henson appear in court on January 14 to answer for his crime, but the summons never reached Henson, who had moved. Although Henson was never properly served, Kimmel issued a bench warrant for his arrest when he did not show on the 14th, and the warrant showed up when Henson was stopped for speeding two weeks later. Ironically, Henson was then wrongfully imprisoned just like Ziyi Zhang's character in "House of Flying Daggers." Unlike her, though, his dad bailed him out.
It turned out that Henson had actually returned the DVD on January 7, a week before the warrant was issued, and the library had sent a letter that same day notifying the court. But the warrant was issued anyway, despite the fact that Henson had never been served. And when the council looked into the matter, it found 71 prior similar incidents (similar because they all involved lack of notice, not "House of Flying Daggers"). Apparently for that reason, or those 72 reasons, anyway, the council felt it had no choice but to let Kimmel go, even though Henson had taken responsibility and asked that Kimmel not be punished. All in all, a tragedy of T'ang Dynasty proportions.
"House of Flying Daggers" is actually a great movie and you should see it when you have a chance. If you live near the Bemis Public Library, both copies are currently available. Have it back on time, though.