In several judicial discipline cases in 2017, although the sanctioned misconduct did not directly involve their campaigns, the judges’ concerns about their election chances were cited as a reason for their conduct.
An FBI agent testified that Judge Dawn Segal told him she was concerned about her forthcoming retention election and believed then-judge Joseph Waters to be politically influential when she listened to his requests for favorable treatment for parties in 3 cases to please him. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld her removal. In re Segal, 173 A.3d 603 (Pennsylvania 2017).
For example, Waters had called Judge Segal and told her that a petition for reconsideration had been filed from her previous refusal to open a default judgment in a code enforcement complaint against Judge Angeles Roca’s son for failing to pay Philadelphia’s business privilege tax for his barbershop. The same day as his call, Judge Segal reviewed the petition and issued a rule to show cause why the default judgment should not be opened. She and Waters then engaged in the following phone conversation, which was recorded by the FBI as part of its wiretap surveillance of Waters
Segal: Hi, I figured it out and I took care of it.
Waters: Oh, okay. Thank you.
Segal: I got it. Alright. It was on my um, queue, so I did it. So tell her it’s done.
Waters: Thank you very much ….
(Also in November, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Judge Roca’s removal for seeking Water’s advice about her son’s case and acquiescing in his offer to communicate ex parte with Judge Segal. In re Roca (Pennsylvania Supreme Court November 22, 2017). Waters was removed in 2016 following his guilty plea to federal mail fraud and honest services wire fraud charges. In re Waters, Opinion and order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline January 12, 2016).)
2 other discipline cases involved judge-candidates giving interviews about their cases in the midst of their campaigns.
The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline suspended a judge for 60 days without pay for making comments to a reporter about 2 pending cases to protect his re-election, in addition to other misconduct. In the Matter of Potter, Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and imposition of discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline November 22, 2017).
In October 2014, the judge held a temporary custody hearing and ruled that a child should reside with his father while his mother, Michelle Angeles, a lieutenant in the Air Force, was deployed in Cuba. After Angeles divorced Cardona in 2012, she had married a woman.
The Las Vegas Review Journal published an article in which Angeles’s attorney, David Mann, suggested that the judge had ruled against his client based on her sexual orientation. The judge contacted the reporter, and there was a follow-up article entitled “Judge Defends Custody Decision in Lesbian Mom Case.” In the article, the judge stated that he granted Angeles physical custody “knowing full well she was gay.” He also stated that “there’s no way” he could find it to be in the child’s best interest to stay with his stepmother, providing the paper “with profane text messages the stepmother had sent the father.” The judge also told the reporter that Mann “might have an axe to grind” as he had “handled Mann’s personal divorce this year, and Mann did not show up for trial.”
In the discipline proceeding, the judge explained that he felt that he had to respond to the article because the election was 12 days away, he had an opponent, the article was a lie, he was not anti-gay, and he wanted to protect his reputation and the integrity of the judiciary. The Commission found that the judge had put his desire to be re-elected ahead of the judicial canons.
Accepting an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for making public comments about a murder case pending before him in 3 media interviews, in addition to other misconduct. In the Matter of Piampiano, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 13, 2017). The Commission noted that the “fact that respondent made these statements in media interviews at a time when he was a candidate for election to Supreme Court raises a question as to whether his public comments were motivated by political concerns.”
In September 2015, the judge, then on the county court, was nominated for election to the supreme court, the general jurisdiction trial court in New York State.
On or about October 8, after approximately 8 days of jury deliberations, the judge granted a mistrial in a high profile murder case in which Charles Tan was charged with shooting his father at their family home. The defense moved for an order of dismissal; the assistant district attorney opposed the motion because they intended to retry Tan. The judge ordered the parties to appear before him on November 5.
The same day the mistrial was declared, the judge agreed to 1-on-1 interviews about the case in his chambers with reporters from 2 TV stations and a newspaper.
As the Commission explained:
While he often responded to the reporters’ questions about the Tan case with general statements about procedures and the legal system, he should have recognized that any statements he made in that context would be understood as pertaining to Tan and therefore were problematic. His statements, however, went well beyond general explanations of the law. He discussed legal issues in the case (including his denial of a request for an accomplice charge), and he provided a description of his interactions with the jury and his sense of the jury’s deliberations.
The Commission noted as “[e]specially troubling” the judge’s description of the defendant in an interview as a “sympathetic’ figure,” raising doubts about his impartiality and undermining public confidence in the impartial administration of justice.