Beginning last week and continuing through the end of the year, this blog will summarize the top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2014. Last week’s post was “Commit the oldest sins the newest kind of ways”
Sex in chambers
It should go without saying that a judge’s chambers should not be treated like the back seat of a car or a motel room. But it had to be said at least four times in 2014. As the California Commission on Judicial Performance explained (twice): “Engaging in sexual intercourse in the courthouse is the height of irresponsible and improper behavior by a judge. It reflects an utter disrespect for the dignity and decorum of the court and is seriously at odds with a judge’s duty to avoid conduct that tarnishes the esteem of the judicial office in the public’s eye.” The Commission also noted that judges who engage in sexual intercourse in the courthouse may expose court staff to a hostile work environment.
Thus, in unrelated cases, the Commission censured two judges for engaging in sexual activity in the courthouse and related misconduct. The Commission censured one judge for engaging in sexual activity in his chambers on multiple occasions with two women; initiating contact with the district attorney’s office about the employment application of one of the women; and re-assigning cases to other judges after disqualifying himself when the second woman appeared. The Commission censured the second judge for engaging in sexual intercourse in the courthouse with a courtroom clerk, exchanging communications of a sexual nature with her during court proceedings, and misleading court administration and his superior judicial officers in an effort to prevent the clerk’s re-assignment.
In the other two cases, it was not only where the judge was engaging in sexual intercourse but with whom that constituted the misconduct.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals suspended Judge Jaymie Wilfong without pay until the end of her term and censured her for her extra-marital affair with the director of the community corrections program while he and/or his subordinate staff were appearing in cases before her and related misconduct. The judge conceded that she performed sexual acts with William Carter in her judicial chambers. At times when the judge and Carter were alone in chambers, court personnel found it necessary to knock on the door and interrupt so the judge could continue with court proceedings.
The Court acknowledged that the judge “probably, initially, intended her conduct with Mr. Carter to be nothing more than a private relationship between consenting adults,” but that she “carelessly and deliberately intertwined her affair with her judicial office, and in so doing seriously damaged public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
The Michigan Supreme Court removed Judge Wade McCree for engaging in a sexual relationship with a complaining witness in a case pending before him without recusing himself for several months from her case; engaging in numerous ex parte communications with her about the case; having sexual intercourse with her in his chambers; in violation of courthouse policies, permitting his mistress to enter the facility through an employee entrance without going through security, allowing her to remain alone in his chambers while he was on the bench, arranging for her to park her vehicle in an area reserved for judges, and sneaking her cell phone into the courthouse for her; and other misconduct.
Judge McCree has been a very popular subject of media reports since 2012, and most stories about him include a picture of him shirtless that had been sent to a reporter by the husband of the bailiff to whom the judge had sent it via cell phone. During an interview with the reporter, the judge stated, “There is no shame in my game.” In 2012, with his consent, the Michigan Supreme Court censured Judge McCree for bringing “shame and obloquy” to the judiciary by his flippant manner in the interview.