A sampling of recent judicial ethics advisory opinions

  • A court may participate in a not-for-profit organization’s program that, following finalization of an adoption, provides a personalized backpack with the organization’s name and logo to adoptees and a tote bag with its name and logo to adoptive parents. New York Opinion 2022-175.
  • A judge may not sign a letter soliciting local businesses to donate items for use as program rewards and incentives for participants in a specialized docket court and may not direct a court employee to do so. Ohio Opinion 2023-1.
  • A judge who issued a bench warrant for failure to appear is not disqualified from the underlying matter or a separate, subsequent matter in which the defendant is charged with failure to appear. A judge who accepted a plea agreement is not disqualified from a subsequent case in which the crime that was the subject of the agreement is alleged as a prior strike, which the defendant intends to challenge. California Formal Opinion 2023-21.
  • A judge who filed an insurance claim following Hurricane Michael should disclose the claim to all parties or their attorneys with hurricane-related insurance claims in their division and recuse themselves from any cases involving the same insurance company. Florida Opinion 2023-1.
  • If a former magistrate appears in a case, other magistrates are not required to disqualify themselves, but a magistrate should disclose if they have a close friendship with the former magistrate. Florida Opinion 2023-2.
  • An appellate judge who successfully sought to vacate a vexatious lien filed by a disgruntled litigant against their property may preside over appeals from other decisions or orders by the judge who granted their petition. New York Opinion 2022-173.
  • A judicial officer may not permit a court employee to manage the city’s jail alternative programs but may allow a court employee to oversee management of courthouse security. Washington Opinion 2023-1.
  • A judge who serves as a mentor at a law school may not write a letter of recommendation in support of a mentee student’s application for permanent residence in the U.S. unless the request comes directly from the government agency. New York Opinion 2022-178.
  • A judge may not provide a recommendation in support of an individual nominated by the governor to be secretary of an executive branch agency. Maryland Opinion Request 2023-5.
  • A judge may speak without compensation on aspects of the judge’s life and career related to diversity and inclusion at a for-profit company’s employee-only event in recognition of Black History Month and International Women’s Day if the company’s interests are unlikely to come before the judge and the judge’s name and image would not be used for commercial purposes. New York Opinion 2022-158.
  • A judge may participate, without compensation, in an interview for a documentary about the life and career of a now-deceased judge who was their mentor. New York Opinion 2022-159.
  • A judge may sell copies of a bench book they independently wrote and published to the supervising judge of another court in the court system for distribution to judges in that court. New York Opinion 2022-163.
  • A judicial official may prepare a video testimonial for a personal friend and a former elected executive branch official who is receiving the 2023 Distinguished Public Service Award from the Connecticut Bar Association that will be shown at its “Celebrate with the Stars” annual fund-raising event if their remarks will focus on the recipient as a person and advocate for non-partisan civics education and engagement, rather than on legislative achievements; if they do not participate in fund-raising except as permitted; if their presence and role in the presentation are not advertised prior to the event, although their name, title, and biography may be included in materials distributed at the event; and if their testimonial is not made publicly available on the bar association’s YouTube channel or any other online media after the event. Connecticut Informal Opinion 2023-1.
  • A judge may purchase a sponsor-level ticket to a bar association’s fund-raising dinner and be listed as a “sponsor” of the event. New York Opinion 2022-161.
  • A judge in their capacity as a past president of the Oklahoma Bar Association may serve on a short­term search committee for a new executive director of the Association. Oklahoma Opinion 2022-1.
  • A judge may not serve on the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review. Virginia Opinion 2022-2.
  • A judge may serve on a scholarship committee through the local library. West Virginia Opinion 2023-2.
  • A judge who has authorized or knowingly permitted their name to appear on a publicly circulated nominating petition as a candidate for nonjudicial office must resign from judicial office. New York Opinion 2022-176.

Throwback Thursday

5 years ago this month:

  • Accepting the parties’ agreement with the masters’ proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommended sanction, the Indiana Supreme Court suspended a judge for 6 days without pay for barring the county clerk from the courthouse after a hearing at which the clerk was not present and for which she had not been given adequate notice; presiding over the hearing even though he had an interest in the matter; commanding 2 deputy clerks to appear for the hearing without prior written notice of its purpose; and impatient, undignified, or discourteous conduct during the hearing.  In the Matter of Young, 92 N.E.3d 628 (Indiana 2018).
  • Based on the judge’s approval and acceptance, the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications entered a cease-and-desist order after a judge denied a defendant the opportunity to present evidence within 21 days of the filing of a petition for protection from stalking and/or sexual abuse as required by statute.  Inquiry Concerning Lynch, Order (Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications March 19, 2018).
  • Based on the recommendation of the Judiciary Commission, the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended a judge for 6 months without pay for a pattern of stalking and harassing his ex-wife, in violation of protective orders.  In re Sachse, 240 So. 3d 170 (Louisiana 2018).
  • Based on a stipulation and agreement, the New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee publicly reprimanded a judge for her over-zealous cross-examination of a defendant in an assault case, polling the courtroom about whether the defendant’s need for a knee replacement constituted a disability, characterizing the defendant as “somebody with that knee dragging along,” and using her recall of a prior hearing involving the defendant to make conclusions about the defendant’s veracity.  In the Matter of DeVries, Reprimand (New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee March 8, 2018).
  • The Oregon Supreme Court suspended a judge for 3 years without pay for (1) making a false statement to the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability during its investigation of his conduct at a soccer game; and (2) having inappropriate out-of-court contacts with a probationer in the veterans treatment court; affirmatively permitting the probationer to twice handle a gun despite the prohibition on possession of firearms that was a condition of his probation; and making a false statement to the presiding judge in a meeting about the gun-handling incidents.  Inquiry Concerning Day, 413 P.3d 907 (Oregon 2018).

Recent cases

  • Approving a stipulation, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a judge for (1) using his title, court resources, and a report prepared for the court to promote a non-profit organization he had created, having board members who were affiliated with private companies that did business with his court and stood to profit from the non-profit organization’s success, misleading court employees to induce their participation in the organization’s launch, and prevaricating with the court’s presiding judges in discussions about the organization; (2) failing to fully apprise criminal defendants of their rights, which coerced the defendants into participating in treatment court; (3) making remarks to defendants that created the appearance of bias, failing to safeguard the right to counsel for an unrepresented defendant, and threatening a deputy public defender with contempt when she objected; (4) exhibiting poor demeanor to the district attorney; (5) engaging in ex parte communications about, and embroiling himself with, 2 parole re-entry court defendants, and engaging in another ex parte communication with court staff about a criminal defendant; and (6) discussing a represented defendant’s conduct, the defendant’s alleged refusal to participate in a program in good faith, and an appropriate response by the court, without including either defense counsel or the deputy district attorney.  In the Matter of Vlavianos, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 8, 2023).
  • Accepting a joint petition for consent discipline, the Louisiana Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for (1) mishandling a contempt proceeding against an attorney, filing an unsolicited per curiam in the appellate court regarding his contempt finding and sentence, and mishandling recusal procedures in other cases involving the attorney and (2) improper ex parte communications with a litigant and failing to expeditiously recuse himself from the matter.  In re Bradbury (Louisiana Supreme Court February 24, 2023).
  • Based on stipulated facts, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a judge without pay for 60 days, fined him $1,500, and publicly reprimanded him for summoning 2 police officers to his courtroom and publicly chastising and embarrassing them about a discussion about one of his clients several days earlier at his private law office.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Moore (Mississippi Supreme Court February 16, 2023).
  • Based on the magistrate’s resignation and agreement not to seek judicial office in the state, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonished a former magistrate for (1) his efforts to get dogs that had been seized from a hot vehicle immediately released to the owners without the required hearing; (2) his intemperate conduct toward a deputy magistrate court clerk; (3) unwanted hugging or touching people; (4) inappropriate use of his court cell phone; and (5) being routinely late for court.  Public Admonishment of Gaujot (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission February 28, 2023) ().

Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • Granting a joint motion to resolve charges, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary publicly reprimanded and censured a judge for making public comments about pending contempt proceedings against a lawyer on his Facebook page and in an email sent to all state court judges.  In the Matter of Allred, Reprimand and Censure (Alabama Court of the Judiciary March 22, 2013).
  • Approving the findings and recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for 4 incidents of intemperate courtroom behavior in criminal cases; the Court also ordered him to send letters of apology to individuals identified in the formal charges and to continue to obtain mental health treatment as recommended by his doctor and family therapist.  Inquiry Concerning Shea, 110 So. 3d 414 (Florida 2013).
  • The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge for making approximately 30 sensitive and demeaning remarks to the jury pool and court staff during jury selection in a criminal case.  In the Matter of Spicer, Public Reprimand (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards March 26, 2013).
  • Concurring with the findings and recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a judge from office for 30 days without pay and publicly reprimanded him for dismissing criminal charges in 38 cases in exchange for payments to a “drug fund” established by the city police chief.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Smith, 109 So. 3d 95 (Mississippi 2013).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a non-lawyer judge for issuing a warrant and judgment in an eviction proceeding that did not comply with statutory requirements, a month after being cautioned for issuing a judgment that was inconsistent with the same statute.  In the Matter of Temperato, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 20, 2013).
  • Based on the judge’s consent, the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission publicly reprimanded a judge for becoming embroiled in a public feud about his son’s detention with the police chief, the assistant town manager, and the district attorney and engaging in actions that fell outside the legitimate exercise of the powers of his office; the judge also agreed to corrective action and additional terms.  Public Reprimand of Tillett (North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission March 8, 2013).
  • After a trial de novo, a Texas Special Court of Review publicly reprimanded a court of appeals judge for contacting 3 individuals associated with the juvenile detention center, a district judge, and a county commissioner to try to secure the release of an acquaintance’s daughter, who was being held overnight after she was detained for shoplifting.  In re Sharp, 480 S.W.3d 829 (Texas Special Court of Review 2013).
  • Based on a stipulation, the Utah Supreme Court approved the implementation of the Judicial Conduct Commission’s public reprimand of a judge for ex parte communications with the parties in a small claims case after trial but before making his decision.  Inquiry Concerning Johnson, Order (Utah Supreme Court March 26, 2013).
  • Adopting the sanction recommended by the Judicial Hearing Board, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals suspended a judge without pay until the end of his term (December 2016) and publicly censured him for (1) refusing to promptly issue orders or hold hearings, even when ordered to do so by the circuit court and demonstrating contempt for the authority of the Court, the circuit court, the Administrative Director of the Courts, and the Judicial Investigation Commission; (2) being unable to properly manage his office and staff; failing to take corrective action when he and his staff repeatedly failed to conform to the statutes, rules, and regulations governing the family courts, and supporting the misconduct of his staff; and (3) demonstrating a lack of courtesy, civility, decorum, and judicial comportment in hearings; demonstrating intemperance in correspondence; using threats, intimidation, profanity, and shouting to deal with difficult litigants; and failing to control his anger and emotions.  In the Matter of Watkins, 757 S.E.2d 594 (West Virginia 2013).

Remote proceedings and judicial demeanor

Noting that March is National Ethics Awareness Month, the National Center for State Courts published on its “trending topics” page a short article entitled “’Hot mics’ and judicial ethics” about “three judicial discipline cases from the pandemic era [that] demonstrate how judges should always assume they can be overheard as courts continue using remote or hybrid hearings to make some proceedings more accessible and convenient.”

In addition, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct included in its annual report for 2022 a discussion of courtroom decorum for remote proceedings.  It explained:

The Covid pandemic put unusual and unexpected strains on judges, court personnel, litigants and attorneys, but the obligation to abide by the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct was not suspended, even as the court system adapted its operations by expanding its communications capabilities to conduct certain proceedings and official business electronically.

As the devastating impact of the pandemic’s early months receded, and the pace of court calendars picked up again, the Commission began receiving complaints about judges and lawyers who were dressed inappropriately casual for court proceedings, particularly those occurring virtually (i.e. by electronic video).  Complaints also came in alleging that some judges overreacted when confronted by what they regarded as an attorney’s inappropriate attire.  In one such situation, a judge took it out on the client by dismissing a lawsuit – rather than, say, calling a recess – because the plaintiff’s attorney appeared without a necktie for a proceeding conducted via video.

The Commission reminded “judges and lawyers to respect the solemnity of court proceedings in their attire as well as their manner” and also reminded judges to try “in maintaining the decorum of the actual or virtual court, . . . to match their response to the nature of the provocation and not punish a client for disrespect demonstrated by the lawyer.”

Throwback Thursday

20 years ago this month:

  • Pursuant to the judge’s consent, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications publicly censured a judge for granting an ex parte petition for change of custody without prior notice to the custodial parent or her counsel.  Public Admonition of Cox (Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications March 21, 2003).
  • The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge for driving an automobile while under the influence of alcohol, which the judge admitted.  Press Release (Murphy) (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards March 18, 2003).
  • The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge for, in violation of state law, initially refusing to submit to the standard booking procedure in the county when he was charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol.  Press Release (Murphy) (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards March 18, 2003).
  • The Nebraska Commission on Judicial Qualifications publicly reprimanded a judge for, without prior notice to either counsel, visiting a defendant in the county jail.  In the Matter of Coady, Reprimand (Nebraska Commission on Judicial Qualifications March 25, 2003).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a non-lawyer judge for beginning a hearing in a small claims case without the defendant before the scheduled time and failing to re-start the hearing when the defendant arrived; mistakenly awarding the claimant double the court costs and awarding attorneys’ fees; and failing to cooperate with the Commission during its investigation.  In the Matter of McCall, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 28, 2003).
  • Pursuant to the judge’s consent and the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former judge for (1) failing to promptly transmit a $400 bond payment to the clerk, instead submitting a check drawn on her magistrate’s account, in violation of a supreme court order regarding financial record keeping; (2) charging individuals a fee to withdraw warrants without statutory or administrative authority for such a fee; (3) a lack of accounting procedures; (4) failing to disqualify from cases involving her former employer; (5) preparing a court order and magistrate’s bill of sale stating that a 1975 Rolls-Royce 4-door sedan had been sold to herself at a public auction even though none of the statutory requirements for such a sale were met and falsely representing to the Department of Revenue that she had paid $30 for the vehicle; and (6) failing to disclose receipt of the Rolls Royce in her disclosure statements.  In re Leavell, 578 S.E.2d 724 (South Carolina 2003).

Criminal conduct

In 2022, there were 8 dispositions in discipline proceedings involving judges or former judges who had been convicted or charged with crimes.

  1. Adopting the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Discipline, which was based on a stipulation, the Colorado Supreme Court suspended a judge from office for 30 days without pay and publicly censured him for pointing an AR-15 style rifle at his adult stepson during a confrontation.  In the Matter of Thompson, 516 P.3d 28 (Colorado 2022).  The judge had been placed on paid administrative leave after criminal charges were filed based on the incident.  The judge pled guilty to disorderly conduct, specifically, recklessly displaying a deadly weapon or “any article used or fashioned in a manner to cause a person to reasonably believe [it was] a deadly weapon . . . in a public place, in a manner calculated to alarm,” a misdemeanor.  He was sentenced to 1 year of unsupervised probation with continued anger management treatment. 
  2. Based on the judge’s resignation and agreement not to seek, request, or accept any elected or appointed judicial office, the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission resolved its investigation of allegations that a former chief magistrate judge had committed the offenses of criminal trespass, terroristic threats, and violation of his oath of office by entering onto another’s property without permission, taking peas from the garden without the owner’s permission, and threatening to assault the owner when confronted.  In re Anderson, Report of disposition (Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission August 11, 2022).  According to a press release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, in July, the judge had been arrested and charged following the incident.  According to news reports, the judge said he had permission from a relative of the property owner to take the produce but acknowledged that, when the property owner called him, he told the man, “If you meet me out there in the middle of the road, I’ll kick your a**.”
  3. Based on a stipulation and agreement that included the judge’s resignation, affirmation that she will not seek office or accept judicial office or perform judicial duties in Indiana state courts, and relinquishment of her law license for 150 days, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications concluded its investigation of allegations that had also resulted in the judge being charged with domestic battery in the presence of a child.  In the Matter of Bell, Stipulation and agreement (Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications July 25, 2022).  The judge had been suspended with pay after the criminal charges were filed in May 2022. 
  4. Adopting the findings and recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, the New Jersey Supreme Court permanently disqualified a former judge from judicial service and publicly censured him for offensively touching a client’s representative in his private law office and “pervasive dishonesty” when testifying before the Committee.  In the Matter of Falcone, 278 A.3d 782 (New Jersey 2022).  In September 2019, the Court had suspended the judge without pay following his arrest on a charge of criminal sexual contact and referred the judge to the Committee, which, consistent with its standing policy, held the matter pending the conclusion of the criminal case.  In May 2021, the criminal charges were dismissed after the judge complied with the conditions of the pretrial intervention program. 
  5. Accepting a stipulation based on the judge’s affirmation that she has vacated her office and will not seek or accept judicial office, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded a matter against a former judge who had been convicted by a jury on federal charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to a federal agent.  In the Matter of Ash, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 17, 2022).  The stipulation notes that the Commission’s investigation had been held in abeyance pending resolution of the charges.  The judge had served as chair of the board of the Municipal Credit Union while also serving as a judge, and, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York following her conviction, the judge had attempted to protect the former chief executive officer of the credit union during a federal law enforcement investigation by signing a false and misleading memorandum purporting to justify millions of dollars the CEO had received from the credit union, wiping data from the iPhone and 2 iPads she had received from the credit union, falsely stating that she did not have any materials responsive to a subpoena, and making multiple false statements during an interview with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
  6. Accepting a stipulation based on the judge’s affirmation that she will not seek or accept judicial office in the future, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded its investigation of a former non-lawyer judge for failing to report to the State Comptroller moneys that she had received for the town court in connection with her duties as town justice.  In the Matter of Inman, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 16, 2022).  The stipulation noted that the subject of the Commission’s investigation was related to state grand larceny charges filed against the judge in March 2021.
  7. Based on a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a former judge for committing assault in the third degree with sexual motivation and assault in the fourth degree with sexual motivation against subordinate court staff.  In re Gallina, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct September 9, 2022).  In April 2019, the judge had been arrested on felony charges of rape, assault, and indecent liberties, went on administrative leave, and did not serve as a judge since that date.  The Commission received additional complaints following media accounts of the arrest and charges.  On April 4, 2022, the judge pled guilty to reduced charges. 
  8. Granting a petition for consensual license revocation, the Wisconsin Supreme Court revoked the license of a former judge after he pled guilty to 2 federal felony counts of distributing child pornography while he was serving as a judge in the children’s division of the circuit court.  In the Matter of Blomme, 982 N.W.2d 100 (Wisconsin 2022).

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Pursuant to the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Massachusetts Supreme Court publicly reprimanded an appellate court judge for statements he made during an oral argument that were critical of a union, its president, and the president’s family.  In the Matter of Brown, 691 N.E.2d 573 (Massachusetts 1998).
  • The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge for voting as a county commissioner before he became a judge to approve property tax abatements for one of his clients and for a corporation in which he owned a 50% interest.  Public Reprimand of Finley (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards March 13, 1998).
  • Based on a joint motion for approval of the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for attempting to limit a litigant’s rights to execute on a judgement, then vacating the judgement without notice or a hearing.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Fisher, 706 So. 2d 1107 (Mississippi 1998).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for failing to disclose that he had recently engaged in a business transaction with a plaintiff similar to that at issue in a case before him, ignoring a legal requirement that he swear in witnesses in small claims proceedings, and failing to re-try the matter once he learned of his error.  In the Matter of Barker, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 17, 1998).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for, before any proceeding had been filed, going to a recently purchased property, identifying himself to the residents as a town justice, stating that the new owner had called him several times about the residents vacating the property, and becoming embroiled in a heated discussion with their son, implying that the family would be evicted if a proceeding were commenced, and for then presiding over the eviction proceeding subsequently filed by the new owner.  In the Matter of Merrill, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 17, 1998).

Unnecessary and extrajudicial

In 2 recent cases, judges were sanctioned for addressing gratuitous, personal matters in court proceedings.

In In the Matter of Rosner (New Mexico Supreme Court January 30, 2023) (), a judge responded in an order to allegations in a newspaper article that she believed was written by and/or at the behest of the father’s counsel in a domestic matter.

In 2017, the judge had appointed Dr. Harold Smith as the parenting coordinator in the matter to reduce conflict between the parties and to assist with the parenting plan.

3 years later, the father retained new counsel.  The new counsel quickly filed a motion to remove Dr. Smith, alleging that he was not a qualified parenting coordinating, and also a motion to recuse the judge for cause, arguing that her recusal was necessary to compel her testimony about why she had appointed Dr. Smith.

A week after the motions were filed and before a hearing was held, an article in the Las Cruces Sun-News reported many of the allegations in the 2 motions.  The article criticized the court’s parenting program, the judge and her involvement in that program, and her appointment of Dr. Smith.

The judge admitted that she “felt personally attacked” and considered the article and the motions to be “personal criticisms, factually inaccurate, and misleading.”  Nevertheless, she continued to preside over the matter because she believed that “she could be impartial, set aside her personal feelings, and continue with her duty to sit.”

Following a hearing, the judge denied the 2 motions.  In paragraph 17 of the order denying the motions, the judge referred to the newspaper article:

Rather than bring to [the c]ourt her claims of alleged misconduct by Harold Smith and this [c]ourt, [Father’s counsel] took her motions to the Las Cruces Sun News, without input from anyone other than herself. . . .  The article, which appeared on the front page of the Las Cruces Sun News on July 21, 2020, sought to damage Harold Smith and this [c]ourt by implying an inappropriate relationship between Harold Smith and the undersigned judge, and bias by this [c]ourt and Harold Smith against [Father].

The judge said in the order that it was “noteworthy” that the motions failed to attack a “damaging” report by another doctor that had been sealed at the request of the father’s counsel.

Following that order, counsel for the father renewed the motion to recuse the judge.  3 days later, the judge recused herself.

Stating that the order cast “a negative light” on the father’s counsel, credibility, and reputation, the Court found that “none of the facts in paragraph 17 were necessary for the disposition of Father’s motions, and their unnecessary inclusion” raised questions about the judge’s impartiality, “notwithstanding any artifices or gamesmanship on the part of Father or his counsel.”  The Court held that the judge should have recused herself from the case because “she knew or should have known that she could no longer be fair and impartial following the publication of the Las Cruces Sun-News article which she believed was written by Father’s counsel.”  The Court emphasized that the accusations that the judge made in the order were “gratuitous” and that it was inappropriate for her to respond to criticism in an order, a tool that she was supposed to use only to carry out her official judicial duties.  In addition, the Court stated that the judge’s reference to the report was inappropriate, “not only because it was sealed, but also because it had no bearing on the disposition of Father’s motions.”

Censuring the judge, the Court explained that “while judges may respond to public or personal criticism, they may not do so in carrying out their official judicial duties.”

We recognize the challenges faced by district court judges, often presiding over emotionally charged cases involving litigants and lawyers who might challenge their authority, insult their integrity, impugn their good names, and even attempt to bait them into losing control.  In those instances, district court judges, no matter how egregious the behavior by counsel or clients, must remain above the fray in order to carry out their official duties.

* * *
In Commission on Judicial Performance v. Moore (Mississippi Supreme Court February 16, 2023), a judge “chose a courtroom where he was the presiding judge as the place to launch a verbal attack on two law enforcement officers for a grievance, unrelated to his judicial duties, that had arisen in his private law practice.”  Based on stipulated facts, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended the judge without pay for 60 days, fined him $1,500, and publicly reprimanded him.

One of the judge’s clients was the victim of a shooting in November 2020.  On December 4, the client was interviewed in the judge’s private office by Police Detective Sergeant Chris Brown with a Mississippi Bureau of Investigation officer and a district attorney’s investigator.  During the meeting, there was a disagreement about a search warrant that had been issued for the client’s telephone records.  After stating that he would evaluate whether the warrant was valid before advising his client whether to comply, the judge “kicked all three law enforcement officers out of his office,” as he stipulated.  Detective Sergeant Brown said to the judge, “I’ve got your number,” which the judge interpreted as a threat.  The judge called Brown’s superior, Police Chief George Douglas, to complain, but when he was told that the complaint had to be in writing, he chose not to file.

4 days later, the judge presided over the municipal court, which is in the same building as the police headquarters.  Before beginning the proceedings, the judge sent word to Police Chief Douglas and Detective Sergeant Brown to come to his courtroom.

When they arrived, the judge halted court proceedings, had both officers stand before him at the bench, and denied their request to have the discussion in chambers.  Then, he “publicly chastised and embarrassed the two officers in the presence of the entire courtroom.”

The Court stated that, “rather than allowing his anger to subside, the incident at his law office continued to be on Judge Moore’s mind over the next four days and became his first order of business when he convened” court and that “rather than following the appropriate and prescribed procedure for lodging a complaint, Judge Moore contrived a means of doing so publicly, in a crowded courtroom, that was populated in large part by people who were there because of charges brought against them by the local police.”

The Court found that the judge had used “the judicial office with which he had been entrusted as a weapon to secure the presence of an investigating officer before his bench;” publicly disrupted “the regular work of the court to use the courtroom to address a matter related to the judge’s private interest as a practicing attorney;” engaged in “irate criticism [that] . . . was devoid of the decorum judges are required to maintain, especially in court;” and risked interfering with “official duties of the police, as the exchange at the law office concerned their investigation of a violent crime.”  The Court added that “police officers should not have to anticipate or be subjected to retaliation from judges they must deal with in both judicial and extrajudicial capacities.”

New director for the Center for Judicial Ethics

Arkansas disciplinary counsel to lead judicial ethics effort at the National Center for State Courts

Williamsburg, Va. (Feb. 24, 2023) – The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has appointed David J. Sachar as the new director of its Center for Judicial Ethics.

Sachar, who has been the executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission since 2013, will begin the new position on April 3.  He will succeed the center’s longtime director, Cynthia Gray, who will continue to provide an important supporting role.

NCSC’s Center for Judicial Ethics is a national clearinghouse for information about judicial ethics and discipline.  Sachar’s appointment will build on the center’s existing work by expanding training opportunities for state judicial ethics staff and support for judges and court systems in other countries as part of NCSC’s rule of law work.

“We know David Sachar will provide dynamic leadership in this expanding area of our work, both here in the United States and internationally,” said Mary C. McQueen, president of NCSC.

Sachar is a frequent presenter on judicial ethics and an active member of the national and international judicial ethics community. He serves on the board of directors of the Association of Judicial Disciplinary Counsel and is a longtime advisory committee member for NCSC’s Center for Judicial Ethics.

“Keeping fundamental promises to citizens, promoting the rule of law, and providing equality in the court system are hallmarks of the governments of free people,” Sachar said.  “The work of the Center for Judicial Ethics can enhance our judiciary and others around the world.”

Sachar’s legal career includes work as a prosecutor, litigator and special circuit court judge.  He has also served as an adjunct law professor at the William Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Molly Justice
Director of Communications & Online Media
(757) 259-1564