The year so far

In its first issue each year, the Judicial Conduct Reporter identifies the top stories in judicial ethics and discipline from the past year. With the year half over, it is a good time to look at what may be the top stories of 2014.

Some stories that began in 2013 or earlier wrapped up in the first part of 2014.

  • U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull first made headlines in 2012 when one of the six friends to whom he forwarded an anti-Obama e-mail disclosed it to a Montana newspaper. He resigned as chief judge and subsequently retired. In January 2014, the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability publicly reprimanded the now-former judge for not just for the e-mail originally disclosed, but for 100s of inappropriate e-mails sent from his court e-mail account making political statements and disparaging African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, certain religions, women, and homosexuals.  (According to news reports after this post, in a pre-complaint petition to preserve evidence, several Native American organizations have filed asked that the federal courts preserve the e-mails and other information uncovered in the investigation.)
  • Another judge in Montana, this time on the state level, came to the public’s attention in August 2013, when he suspended all but 31 days of a prison sentence for a teacher who had pled guilty to sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old student and stated that the victim was “a youth that was probably as much in control of the situation as [the teacher], one that was seemingly, though troubled, older than her chronological age.” The judge consented to a censure, but in June, the Montana Supreme Court also ordered a 31-day suspension without pay.  On June 27, the judge filed objections to the suspension but did not withdraw his consent to discipline.
  • Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew’s August 2013 order requiring that an eight-month-old boy’s name be charged from “Messiah” to Martin, even though neither of his parents had requested the change, was reported on in the international as well as national press. In April 2014, the Tennessee Board on Judicial Conduct censured the now-former child support magistrate for her order.
  • The media published the selfie of Judge Wade McCree without his shirt, which he had sent his bailiff, over and over when he told a reporter in 2012 “there is no shame in my game.” And the media reprinted it again and again a couple of months later when his mistress – the complaining witness in a child support case before him — went to the press with her story. And the photo was against featured when, in March 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court removed the judge for the relationship and related misconduct.

Several 2014 judicial ethics stories are still developing:

  • After a blog reported that a commenter (“geauxjudge”) who had made numerous injudicious comments on a university fan-site was Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, Judge Maggio withdrew from the race for the Arkansas Court of Appeals. The Commission on Judicial Discipline and Disability confirmed an investigation. Subsequently, the Commission, the Ethics Commission, and, reportedly, the FBI began investigating contributions to Judge Maggio’s campaign by a nursing home PAC and his ruling in favor of a nursing home defendant.
  • The video of Judge John Murphy telling a public defender in June, “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass,” went viral. The sheriff, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, and the Florida Bar are reportedly investigating a struggle between the two in a hallway outside the courtroom.
  • In February, the California Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the Code of Judicial Ethics invited public comment on its proposal to eliminate the exceptions for non-profit youth organizations from the prohibition on membership in organizations that practice invidious discrimination. Also in February, the Connecticut Committee on Judicial Ethics advised that a judicial officer may not serve in any adult volunteer leadership positions with the Boy Scouts that gay persons are barred from holding.