Conditioned sanctions

The count of state judicial discipline sanctions in 2017 from last week’s post has been up-dated to add 1 public admonishment and 1 resignation in lieu of discipline that should have been included.

At least 18 of the discipline cases from 2017 imposed conditions on the judge in addition to another sanction such as reprimand or suspension.

For example, in addition to publicly censuring a judge for 8 instances of unjustified delay in deciding a variety of cases, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct ordered the judge to affirm in writing to the Commission every 3 months that she has no matters with decisions pending beyond 90 days.  The sanction was based on a stipulation and agreement, and the judge also agreed to exercise caution to avoid repeating the violations and to diligently maintain a list so that matters pending decision will be regularly brought to her attention.  In re Roberts, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct September 26, 2017).

In another case involving delay, the North Dakota Supreme Court ordered a judge to attend the course on decision-making at the National Judicial College and suspended him for 3 months.  This was the third time the judge had been sanctioned for delay, and the judge had also failed to respond to letters from the presiding judge about the timeliness of his decisions.  In the Matter of Hagar, 891 N.W.2d 735 (North Dakota 2017).

2 judges agreed to numerous conditions as part of a period of probation in lieu of or in addition to other sanctions.

In a deferred discipline agreement, a Tennessee judge agreed to be on probation for 3 years, conditioned on no meritorious complaints being filed against her.  During the probation period, she must consult with another judge about any questions she has on law, procedure, or ethics and attend at her own expense the general jurisdiction course at the National Judicial College.  In consideration of the judge’s agreement, the investigative panel of the Board of Judicial Conduct agreed not to pursue formal charges on 16 complaints against her.  In the Matter of Sammons, Deferred discipline agreement (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct January 23, 2017).

The New Mexico Supreme Court deferred a judge’s 3-week suspension without pay conditioned on his being under supervised probation and a formal mentorship for the remainder of his term and his completion of 2 National Judicial College web-cast courses, “Ethics and Judging:  Reaching Higher Ground” and “Special Considerations for the Rural Court Judge.”  The Court, granting a petition to accept a stipulation and consent to discipline, also publicly censured the judge for ex parte communications in numerous cases, misusing the contempt power, failing to cooperate with supervisory personnel from the administrative office of the courts, allowing his judicial decisions and conduct to be influenced by public opinion, fear of criticism, and/or political interests, and other misconduct.  In the Matter of Walton, Order (New Mexico Supreme Court December 18, 2017).

Training and course attendance, usually on topics specified by the commission, is a common condition imposed in judicial discipline proceedings.

  • Based on an agreement, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission ordered a judge to complete courses and training on substantive and procedural due process within 6 months in addition to suspending her without pay for 30 days for (1) granting permanent sole custody of a child without requiring the petitioner to provide evidence or giving the respondent an opportunity to obtain counsel, cross-examine witnesses, or introduce evidence and (2) ordering 2 minor children to be immediately placed in foster care without conducting a formal hearing, taking any sworn testimony, or affording the parents due process. In re Stein, Agreed order of suspension (Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission March 21, 2017).
  • Based on stipulations, the New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee ordered a judge to complete a seminar on enhancing judicial bench skills by the National Judicial College and publicly reprimanded the judge for revising a negotiated plea agreement sua sponte and refusing to allow the state to strike amendments to the complaint. In the Matter of DeVries (New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee April 7, 2017).
  • A judge agreed to complete at least 1 hour of training in judicial campaign ethics as part of a stipulation in which the Washington Commission publicly reprimanded the judge for soliciting written endorsements from court employees in support of his judicial campaign. In re Federspiel, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct May 12, 2017).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for his treatment of prospective jurors and his use of the contempt power against lawyers and ordered the judge to take 8 hours of additional education, including on the role of a judge, contempt, recusal and disqualification, listening, ethics, and case management. Public Reprimand of Aguilar and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 6, 2017).
  • The Florida Supreme Court suspended a judge for 30 days without pay and publicly reprimanded him for failing to disqualify himself from cases involving an attorney with whom he had an adversarial and contentious relationship; the Court also ordered the judge to complete a judicial ethics course within 1 year. Inquiry Concerning Yacucci, 228 So. 3d 523 (Florida 2017).

Commissions have required training to address inappropriate statements by judges.  A Washington judge who had stated “we don’t know whether he’s some white guy like me making a threat or somebody who’s, you know, more likely to be a gangster” during a hearing agreed to complete training in implicit or unintended bias as part of a stipulation that also included an admonishment.  In re North, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 8, 2017).

The Texas Commission required 2 judges to obtain instruction on racial sensitivity from mentors.  1 judge had posted, “Time for a tree and a rope . . .” on Facebook in response to the arrest of an African-American man for the killing of a police officer.  Amended Public Reprimand of Oakley and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct May 8, 2017).  The second judge had used the term “colored” when referring to black people.  Public Reprimand of DeLaPaz and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 17, 2017).  In the latter case, the judge was also reprimanded for his handling of a small claims case and required to complete stage I of the Texas Justice Court Training Center’s training for new judges.

The Texas Commission often orders mentorships for sanctioned judges.

  • A judge who was publicly warned about refusing to allow a member of the public to inspect and copy case files and escorting him out of his office was also ordered to obtain 2 hours of instruction with a mentor, particularly on judicial demeanor and public access to judicial case files. Public Warning of Alford and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 28, 2017).
  • A judge who was publicly reprimanded for setting a $4 billion bond for a murder suspect and magistrating her own son was also ordered to receive 2 hours of instruction with a mentor on magistration. Public Reprimand of Brown and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 19, 2017).
  • A judge who was publicly warned for injecting his judicial position into an exchange with an umpire at his son’s baseball game was also ordered to obtain 2 hours of instruction with a mentor. Public Warning of Warren and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 10, 2017).

The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline ordered that a judge be assigned a mentor when she returns from 1-year suspension and that she attend the state limited jurisdiction judges conference and take courses on special considerations for rural court judges, best practices in handling cases with self-represented litigants, and sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.  In the Matter of Haviland, Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and imposition of discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline August 29, 2017).  The judge had (1) sealed her then son-in-law’s criminal records relating to his arrests for domestic battery of her daughter; (2) ordered staff to conduct an illegal criminal records search regarding her friend’s boyfriend; (3) sentenced an unrepresented individual to 8 months in jail in violation of due process; (4) referred to men as “sperm donors;” (5) run a juvenile diversion program that did not comply with the law; and (6) issued orders in small claims cases regarding titles for abandoned vehicles.

In a hearing in another case before the Nevada Commission, a video was shown of a matter in which a judge failed to accord plaintiff’s counsel the right to be heard, repeatedly using intemperate language and yelling at her, directing that she be handcuffed, and holding her in contempt.  When asked by a member of the Commission to define a “bully,” the judge replied, “I think if you watch the video that you get a taste of it.”  The Commission ordered the judge to pay a $5,000 fine to and perform 10 hours of community service for an anti-bullying organization, to complete a judicial education course on dealing with difficult parties and attorneys, and to write letters of apology to 2 attorneys.  The Commission also suspended the judge for 60 days for the conduct reflected in the video as well as for making comments to a reporter about 2 pending cases, holding a hearing in a case in which a motion for recusal was pending, and advising a party to file a complaint against opposing counsel.  Finally, the Commission ordered the judge to submit to a psychiatric exam because the judge’s “visceral and emotional display of rage” in the discipline hearing “caused the Commission to seriously question Respondent’s mental stability and capacity to control his anger . . . .”  In the Matter of Potter, Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and imposition of discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline November 22, 2017).

The Michigan Supreme Court has held that it does not have the authority to order conditions such as training “because they are not judicial discipline as described” in the state constitution, which only provides that the Court “may censure, suspend with or without salary, retire or remove a judge . . . .”  However, in In re Iddings, 897 N.W.2d 169 (Michigan 2017), the Court stated that the Judicial Tenure Commission may recommend further discipline if the judge fails to comply with his agreement to continue counseling for a year at his own expense and to attend a course on maintaining proper boundaries sponsored by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Sante Institute of Professional Education and Research at his own expense.  The Court suspended the judge for 6 months without pay and publicly censured him for sexual harassment of his judicial secretary.


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