Since December 2, this blog has been summarizing the top judicial ethics stories of 2014. Previous posts are “Commit the oldest sins the newest kind of ways,” sex in chambers, and inappropriate relationships.
The other side of the bench
Every year, there are judges or former judges convicted of and/or disciplined for criminal conduct, both the types of crimes anyone can commit and the types of crimes unique to judges. See, e.g., Inquiry Concerning Sheehan (Florida 2014) (reprimand of a judge for driving under the influence); Ohio State Bar Association v. McCafferty (Ohio 2014) (indefinite suspension of a former judge’s law license based on her conviction on charges of lying to the FBI during an investigation of corruption among public officials and public employees); Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Ballentine (Pennsylvania 2014) (one-year suspension of a judge’s law license following her guilty plea to three misdemeanor charges of tampering with public records for dismissing her own parking tickets); In re Carney (Pennsylvania 2014) ) (reprimand of a judge for a road rage incident; the judge had pled guilty to disorderly conduct); In the Matter of Ferguson, 762 S.E.2d 385 (South Carolina 2014) (reprimand of a former judge convicted on charges that, in return for sexual contact, he gave two women money and/or other benefits for the handling and disposition of matters involving them).
But 2014 was the first year a former judge was convicted for murder and sentenced to death. The murder was committed while he was still a judge, albeit suspended following his indictment on other charges.
May – July 2011: Kaufman County, Texas Justice of the Peace Eric Williams is arrested and indicted on one count of burglary and one count of theft by a public servant for taking computer monitors from a county facility. The case is prosecuted by Chief Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse. The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspends Williams without pay.
March 2012: A jury convicts Williams. He is sentenced to probation and the loss of his office and law license. He appeals, and the sentence is stayed.
January 31, 2013: Hasse is shot and killed while walking from his car to the courthouse.
March 30, 2013: Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney Michael McClelland and his wife Cynthia are shot and killed in their home.
April – June 2013: Williams and his wife Kim are charged then indicted for capital murder in the deaths of Hasse and the McLellands. Kim Williams tells investigators that her husband shot the victims while she sat in the get-away car. The apparent motive is revenge for the theft and burglary prosecution of Williams by Hasse and McLelland.
July – October, 2013: An appellate court upholds Williams’ theft and burglary convictions, and the sentencing court permanently removes him from office.
December 2014: Williams is tried for the murder of Cynthia McLelland, convicted by a jury, and sentenced to death.
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Another major crime story involving judges continued in 2014 when a federal jury acquitted five former judges and one magisterial district judge of charges related to ticket-fixing on the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
November 2012: A report commissioned by the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme (and leaked to the Philadelphia Inquirer) finds that ticket-fixing on the Philadelphia Traffic Court is routine, with “two tracks of justice — one for the connected and another for the unwitting general public” (http://media.philly.com/documents/trafficcourtstudy.pdf). The report notes federal authorities had been investigating since at least 2011.
January 31, 2013: Six judges, a traffic court administrator, and two businessmen are indicted on federal wire fraud and mail fraud charges for ticket fixing and favoritism. Three other judges are charged separately by information and plead guilty in early 2013.
June 2013: Legislation is passed and signed transferring the duties of the traffic court to a new division of the Philadelphia Municipal Court, although a constitutional amendment is still required to eliminate the traffic court because it is created by the state constitution.
May 27-July 23, 2014: During their jury trial, the defendants do not deny fixing tickets but claim the practice was not a crime because no money changed hands. The jury apparently agrees and on July 23 acquits all defendants of the wire fraud and mail fraud charges, although it convicts most of them of perjury before the grand jury or lying to federal investigators.
December 2014: The first defendant to be sentenced, former judge Robert Mulgrew, is sentenced to 18 years in prison. During sentencing, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel states, “This case is about more than one lie before the grand jury,” and called it the “capstone on a . . . career marked by regular and willing participation in a pervasive system of corruption.” The second to be sentenced, former judge Thomasine Tynes, is sentenced to 24 months in prison and fined $5,000.
December 22, 2014: The Judicial Conduct Board files a complaint against Judge Michael Sullivan, one of the defendants in the federal criminal case, alleging that, based on ex parte communications, he gave special consideration in traffic court cases to defendants who were politically connected, family members and friends of traffic court judges, and family members and friends of court employees.