The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline recently found it necessary to state the obvious: a “court should not be used as an investigative dating service for [a judge’s] personal friends.” The judge at issue had had a bailiff run a criminal history on the boyfriend of the judge’s friend through the National Crime Information Center system. In her answer, the judge said she and her staff had done “a small favor” that may have saved her friend “tens of thousands of dollars and considerable grief and heartache.” (The friend had lost $65,000 in a previous relationship.) The Commission found that this was “neither the proper use of the NCIC system nor of the court’s judicial resources and staff,” noting the judge’s actions constituted a misdemeanor.
The Commission suspended the judge for 1 year without pay for, in addition to the inappropriate NCIC search, other actions demonstrating a “proclivity towards following her own moral compass in administering her version of justice irrespective of the law.” The Commission also found that the judge had sealed her then son-in-law’s criminal records relating to his arrests for domestic battery of her daughter; sentenced an unrepresented man to 8 months in jail in violation of due process; referred to men as “sperm donors;” run a juvenile diversion program that did not comply with the law; and issued orders in small claims cases regarding titles for abandoned vehicles. In the Matter of Haviland, Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and imposition of discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline August 29, 2017). In aggravation, the Commission noted that the judge was not new to the bench, had shown no remorse, and did not admit any wrongdoing. The judge is not a lawyer and sits as a justice of the peace in a community with a population of less than 250.
In a case involving a law-trained judge in San Diego County, the California Commission on Judicial Performance also had to emphasize the basics. For example:
- The Commission explained that the judge “should have realized that sharing a gratuitous personal anecdote about sleeping and showering with a friend, with a reference to sex, was likely to make people in the courtroom uncomfortable and diminish the dignity of the judicial office.” Telling someone in his courtroom that he took care of a friend with whom he traveled because the friend had seizures, the judge had shared that he showered and slept with the friend but added “[t]here was no sex involved. We were just — we were just friends. It was purely platonic.”
- The Commission explained that “it was disrespectful and undignified for a judge to suggest or imply that an attorney appearing before the court was a prostitute,” even in jest. When a deputy city attorney entered the courtroom, the judge had said, “Speaking of prostitution, here’s Miss Westfall,” while on the bench and with court staff and other attorneys present.
- The Commission explained that “the degree of informality permitted in small claims proceedings does not include the gratuitous creation of undignified and discourteous nicknames.” In a small claims case, the judge had repeatedly referred to a representative of the defendant’s insurance company as “Mr. Insurance Man.”
These were 3 of the 15 incidents of improper courtroom demeanor found by the Commission.
The Commission severely censured the judge for, in addition to his improper courtroom demeanor, misconduct during his campaign; after becoming a judge, remaining as counsel of record in a federal action and giving the impression of practicing law by using checks from his law firm account; improperly responding to a “blanket” challenge from the city attorney’s office; telling an African-American court employee that she should not say she did not win a Halloween costume contest “due to racism;” stating during a proceeding, “I had a Filipino teacher who always used to ask for a shit of paper;” improperly soliciting the legal opinion of attorneys who did not represent a party in the case before him; mishandling a small claims case; and repeatedly interjecting views based on his personal experience into a small claims case. Inquiry Concerning Kreep, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance August 7, 2017).