Recent cases

  • A special Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of the Judiciary suspending the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from office without pay for the remainder of his term for entering an administrative order that directed all probate judges to follow the state’s marriage laws in disregard of a federal court injunction and for failing to disqualify himself from the state case on same-sex marriage after taking a position on the issue in the administrative order. Moore v Judicial Inquiry Commission (Alabama Supreme Court April 19, 2017).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for violations of the financial reporting laws during her campaign for office. In the Matter of Flanagan, Public admonishment (California Commission on Judicial Performance April 11, 2017).
  • Agreeing with a statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline, the Indiana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a non-lawyer judge who had been convicted of battery against a public safety official for shoving the police chief during a meeting and ordered that he be eligible for future judicial service and that he pay the costs of the proceeding; the reprimand was conditioned on the judge tendering his resignation effective April 28, 2017. In the Matter of Phillips (Indiana Supreme court April 28, 2017).
  • Agreeing with the findings of a hearing panel of the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, the Kansas Supreme Court found that a former judge made dishonest statements under oath in a prior discipline proceeding; however, it did not impose a sanction because the judge had resigned, and suspension or removal were, therefore, unavailable. In the Matter of Henderson (Kansas Supreme Court April 7, 2017).
  • Based on the judge’s agreement, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission publicly reprimanded a judge for, as a joke, holding an attorney in contempt for adding expungement cases to her docket contrary to a “no add-on” order for the day. In re Leibson, Agreed order of public reprimand (Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission April 13, 2017).
  • Adopting the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, based on a stipulation of agreed facts and proposed recommendation, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a judge from office for 30 days without pay, fined him $1,100, and publicly reprimanded him for threatening to use a weapon on a defendant, interrogating the same defendant concerning his drug use, which had no bearing on the charge before the court, and interrogating, demeaning, and intimidating the defendant’s mother about the defendant’s drug use and her parenting skills. Commission on Judicial Performance v. Vess (Mississippi Supreme Court April 20, 2017).
  • Based on the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge and fined him $3,000 for advising a plaintiff to orally move to amend her complaint and issuing a default judgment that ordered an immediate eviction even though the original complaint had not asked for it, and that awarded $3,000 more than the original complaint had demanded. Commission on Judicial Performance v. Roberts (Mississippi Supreme Court April 20, 2017).


Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly reproved a judge for (1) executing a detention, search, and warrant check of citizens lawfully present in his courtroom and subjecting them to unwarranted personal searches; (2) criticizing a jury for its verdict, improperly detaining the jurors after their verdict, and requiring them to sit through a hearing that appeared calculated to punish the jury and humiliate the defendant; and (3) granting a new trial on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct after the prosecution and defense refused his request to add, “It is further stipulated that Judge Steven Hintz committed no legal error or ethical breach in the trial” to their stipulation granting a new trial. Letter to Hintz (California Commission on Judicial Performance May 29, 1992).
  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a supreme court justice for providing an ex parte tip to a common pleas court judge about possible bankruptcy fraud in a case pending before the judge. In the Matter of Larsen, 616 A.2d 529 (Pennsylvania 1992).


A sampling of recent judicial ethics advisory opinions

  • A judge is disqualified from any cases in which his wife appears as a guardian ad litem. West Virginia Opinion 2017-1.
  • A family court judge may send a sympathy card to the family of a decedent who was formerly the subject of juvenile delinquency proceedings before the judge. New York Opinion 2017-15.  
  • A judge must self-report a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a question as to the judge’s own honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer. A judge should report misconduct by a lawyer or another judge within a reasonable time after becoming aware of the violation.  A judge who reports a lawyer’s misconduct is not presumptively disqualified from cases in which that lawyer appears.  A judge does not have a duty to report misconduct by those who are not judges or lawyers, but a judge should expose obvious and egregious illegal activity when the failure to do so could undermine confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.  Ohio Opinion 2017-2
  • A judge may accept an appointment to the Florida Impaired Driving Coalition, an advisory body to the state department of transportation, as long as it does not engage in matters that could reasonably be perceived as favoring the state in DUI prosecutions. Florida Opinion 2017-2.
  • A judge may not be a member of a “Justice Council” comprised of representatives of government agencies that is addressing the use of community-based programs and considering ways to reduce jail population. Nebraska Opinion 2017-1.  
  • A circuit’s chief judge may accept a copier donated by a group of professional guardians to be used in the probate and guardianship courtrooms only by probate and guardianship attorneys to make copies or certified copies of orders immediately following hearings. Florida Opinion 2017-6.
  • A judge may allow a personal injury firm, a legal aid group, a women lawyers association, and an African-American lawyers association to jointly host a free reception at the courthouse after a free diversity training seminar for judges and attorneys and may accept food/drink provided by the hosts at the event. Florida Opinion 2017-4.
  • To encourage others to pursue a legal career, a judge may speak to not-for-profit organizations affiliated with a certain religion, including domestic and foreign parochial schools and places of worship, about her background and experience in becoming a judge and accept standard speaking fees and reasonable travel expenses. New York Opinion 2017-12.
  • A judge may serve on the admissions committee of a country club if the club is non-profit, does not regularly engage in litigation, and does not invidiously discriminate. New York Opinion 2016-161.  
  • A judge is obligated to determine before joining a lay organization for men of a particular ethnicity and religion whether that organization engages in invidious discrimination. New York Opinion 2017-11.  
  • A judge may submit a letter to a municipality supporting the dedication of a little league baseball field in the name of her deceased former bailiff. Florida Advisory 2017-9.
  • A magistrate may participate in a dunk tank for a non-profit organization run by the judge’s spouse as long as he does not personally solicit funds and the prestige of judicial office is not used in advertising the fund-raiser. South Carolina Opinion 5-2017.
  • A judge may not give a videotaped interview that will be shown at a re-entry agency’s fund-raising event. New York Opinion 2016-152.
  • A judge may serve as a “judge” for preliminary Miss America pageant competitions. Florida Opinion 2017-8
  • A judge may run for a seat on a church parish council and serve on the finance committee. West Virginia Opinion 2017-7
  • A judge who presides over domestic violence cases may write a thesis for his master’s degree in social work on community response to domestic violence as long as he does not express any opinions on what he would do with any specific set of facts or on any pending or impending issues. West Virginia Opinion 2017-3.  
  • A judicial officer should not have an interest in an enterprise involved in the sale or manufacture of medical or recreational marijuana including a personal financial investment or private equity fund investment, shares in a corporation that invests in marijuana, an interest in property that is leased for marijuana growth or distribution, or an interest owned by a spouse or registered domestic partner. California Opinion 2017-10.  
  • A full-time magistrate who is a certified paramedic may work part-time for a service that transports non-emergency patients, for example, from hospital to hospital. South Carolina Opinion 4-2017.
  • A judge may serve as a referee at soccer games and accept reasonable compensation ($40-$80 per game). New York Opinion 2017-1.  
  • A judge may perform with a non-profit orchestra and other musical groups that are not business entities and accept reasonable compensation for her performances. A judge may publish her own musical compositions and receive royalties and performance rights fees for them.  New York Opinion 2017-11.  
  • A new judge may continue to serve as a receiver in a foreclosure provided his duties are ministerial and completed within 1 year, if possible. New York Opinion 2016-164.  
  • A new judge may complete her service as executor of a former client’s will by signing a deed necessary to transfer title to an heir. New York Opinion 2017-33.