Top judicial ethics stories of 2017
In 2017, as a result of state disciplinary proceedings, 6 judges were removed from office. In addition, 15 judges or former judges resigned or retired in lieu of discipline pursuant to public agreements with conduct commissions; 1 judge was ordered retired based on a finding of mental inability to perform duties; 1 judge’s permanent resignation was ordered based on compromised cognitive and physical abilities; and 1 judge was suspended without pay until the end of his term.
17 judges were suspended without pay as a final sanction; the length of the suspensions ranged from 2 years (plus a $15,000 fine) to 3 weeks (plus a public censure). 6 of the other suspensions also included reprimands, censures, and/or fines.
64 judges (or former judges in 4 cases) were publicly censured, reprimanded, admonished, or warned. There were:
- 12 censures. 1 censure was severe, 1 was based on the judge’s agreement to tender his irrevocable resignation and not seek or hold judicial office in the state, 1 was based on a former judge’s agreement not to hold judicial office, and 1 included a retired judge’s agreement to resign his commission as an emergency judge.
- 31 reprimands. 2 of the reprimands barred former judges from judicial office, and 7 also ordered additional education.
- 18 public admonishments. In 1 case, the judge also agreed to additional training.
- 3 public warnings, all of which also ordered additional education.
Complaints against 9 additional judges or former judges received other public dispositions.
- 1 judge was placed on probation for 3 years with conditions
- 1 judge was ordered to reimburse the court $10,002.58 for unauthorized benefit payments
- 1 judge received a public caution with a dismissal without prejudice of multiple complaints
- 1 judge received a public letter of counsel
- 1 former judge was ordered to cease and desist from using misleading campaign material
- 1 former judge was found to have committed misconduct but no sanction was imposed because the judge was no longer in office
- 3 former judges were suspended from the practice of law for misconduct while judges
As noted, In 2017, there were 6 removals.
- Based on the judge’s voluntary resignation and agreement to be permanently ineligible to serve as a judge, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission removed from office a judge who had been charged by the Commission and in a criminal information with failing to file state or federal income tax returns for many years before and after becoming a judge. Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission v. McCallister, Resignation and removal from office by agreement (Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission December 15, 2017).
- Accepting the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the Judicial Standards Commission and granting its recommendation, the New Mexico Supreme Court permanently removed a magistrate for (1) continuing to have ex parte communications with litigants after being told multiple times to stop; (2) refusing to accept a prosecutor’s nolle prosequi; (3) abandoning her docket 1 day; and (4) arresting an innocent court clerk for criminal contempt. In the Matter of Johnston, Order (New Mexico Supreme Court October 23, 2017).
- On plenary review of the record, the New York Court of Appeals sustained the findings of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct and concluded that the removal of a non-lawyer judge was warranted for (1) multiple efforts to influence the disposition of a traffic ticket received by his daughter and being discourteous to the prosecutor in the case and (2) in connection with the appeal of his order of restitution in a case, sending 8 letters to the county court that contained factual and legal arguments and biased and discourteous statements about the defendant and his attorney. In the Matter of Ayres, 85 N.E.3d 1011 (New York 2017).
- Affirming the Court of Judicial Discipline, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the removal of a judge for seeking the advice of another judge about her son’s case and acquiescing in his offer to communicate ex parte with the judge who was handling the case. In re Roca, 173 A.3d 1176 (Pennsylvania 2017). Click here for a longer post about the case.
- Affirming the Court of Judicial Discipline, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a judge’s removal for listening to another judge’s requests for favorable treatment for parties in 3 In re Segal, 173 A.3d 603 (Pennsylvania 2017). Click here for a longer post about the case.
- The Virginia Supreme Court removed a judge from office for contacting 2 potential witnesses prior to his wife’s trial on federal corruption charges. Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission v. Pomrenke, 806 S.E.2d 749 (Virginia 2017).