Throwback Thursday

5 years ago this month:

  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for appearing in a photograph on his law firm’s web-site in a judicial robe and advertising himself on the web-site as an active part-time judge pro tem in the Arizona court system.  Watters, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct February 6, 2015).
  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for presiding over a criminal damage trial even though he was a leasing agent for the company that managed the property that had been damaged and had spoken with the resident of the property about the damage.  Wilson, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct February 6, 2015).
  • Based on the judge’s consent, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications publicly admonished a judge for (1) assuming the role of prosecutor by contacting an attorney to offer a deferral agreement to the attorney’s client, who had received a speeding ticket; (2) permitting deferral payments to be sent directly to the court, rather than to the prosecutor’s office; and (3) adopting a practice in which she or her court clerk would directly negotiate deferral agreements with defendants, rather than allowing the prosecutor to offer these agreements.  Public Admonition of Hagerty (Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications February 9, 2015). 
  • Accepting a statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline, the Indiana Supreme Court permanently banned a former judge from serving in any judicial capacity for (1) abusing her judicial powers in several cases; (2) failing to follow proper legal procedures in guilty plea and sentencing hearings; (3) injudicious behavior outside of the courtroom relating to her conflict with the father of her children; and (4) during the Commission’s investigation, providing incomplete answers to requests for information, failing to respond to Commission communications in a timely manner or at all, failing to respond to the Commission’s subpoena duces tecum, and failing to appear for depositions.  In the Matter of Bennington, 24 N.E.3d 958 (Indiana 2015).
  • Granting an application of the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, the Iowa Supreme Court reprimanded a part-time magistrate for signing a warrant to search the home of a client.  In the Matter of Krull, 860 N.W.2d 38 (Iowa 2015).
  • Based on the findings of the Commission on Judicial Qualifications and adopting its conclusions of law, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended a judge for 90 days without pay for (1) making offensive and demeaning comments of a sexual nature to female attorneys and staff members; (2) sending an ex parte e-mail to an attorney’s client that expressed bias or prejudice toward the attorney; and (3) trying to broker an employment opportunity for his wife.  In the Matter of Henderson, 343 P.3d 518 (Kansas 2015).
  • Adopting the findings and recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, based on stipulated facts , which the judge accepted, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time judge for (1) using his judicial stationery to attempt to intercede in a juvenile matter on behalf of a councilman’s daughter and (2) representing a Garwood Borough councilman in a personal matter while serving as judge on the Garwood municipal court.  In the Matter of Inacio, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court February 27, 2015).
  • Based on stipulations of facts and stipulated violations, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended a judge for 2 years for exhibiting a demeaning attitude toward counsel and litigants in 2 matters before him; the Court stayed the suspension on the condition that he commit no further misconduct and comply with a contract with the Ohio Lawyer Assistance Program.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Weithman, 34 N.E.3d 865 (Ohio 2015) .
  • Based on the judge’s agreement, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for his conduct in several hearings in a juvenile case, which the Court of Appeals had determined was a “procedural train wreck.”  Re Newell (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct February 25, 2015).
  • Based on a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for telling a defendant that his fedora would be removed if he did not provide support for his statement that wearing it was part of his Jewish faith.  In re Ladenburg, Stipulation, agreement, and reprimand (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 20, 2015).
  • With the judge’s consent, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board issued a letter of counsel to a judge for leaving the scene of an accident.  Letter to Rega (Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board February 10, 2015).

Winter issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter

The winter issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter has been published.  The issue has articles on:

  • State judicial discipline in 2019
  • Removal cases in 2019
  • Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2019
    Relationships, disqualification, and disclosure
    Political comments
    Sexual misconduct
  • What judges said that got them in trouble in 2019
    What they said to or about criminal defendants
    What they said to litigants in family court cases
    What they said to self-represented litigants
    What they said ex parte
    What they said to attorneys
    What they said to or about court staff
    What they said to or about other judges
    What they said in their personal lives
    What they said that abused the prestige of office

The article on “Relationships, disqualification, and disclosure” begins:  “Although judges are not automatically disqualified from cases involving someone they know, a judge’s duty to at least disclose a relationship is triggered  by ties far short of blood or marriage and far more often than judges may think, as several judicial discipline cases from 2019 illustrate.”  One of the first cases of 2020 also demonstrates that evident blind spot for some judges.

Adopting the findings of fact of a hearing panel, which were based on admissions, and agreeing with its conclusions, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time court commissioner for failing to recuse himself from a small claims case in which a close friend appeared as an attorney or to at least disclose the relationship and for making angry and sarcastic comments to the self-represented defendant in the trial of the case.  In the Matter of Gorski (Wisconsin Supreme Court January 30, 2020).

The commissioner and Timothy Gebert:

  • Had known each other for approximately 20 years,
  • Socialize at least once a month,
  • Went on 4 overseas vacation trips together with other individuals between 2015 and 2018, and
  • Frequently take overnight golfing trips together, locally and in other parts of the U.S.

In September 2015, during a pretrial conference the commissioner scheduled a trial in a small claims case for November 18.  Gebert represented the plaintiff; the defendant, a non-lawyer, represented himself.

In October, the commissioner, Gebert, the commissioner’s son, and a fourth person went on a week-long golfing trip to Ireland.  In November, the judge presided over the trial in the small claims case without disclosing the trip or his friendship with Gebert to the defendant.

During the trial, the commissioner lost his temper with the defendant.  He said, “Stop, now, just stop with that!  Jesus . . . .  Come on.  That’s getting old, that’s getting really old.”  Later in the trial, the commissioner audibly groaned at something the defendant said and then asked, “Why can’t you just be quiet when other people are talking?”

After the commissioner ruled, the defendant asserted that the verdict was an example of corruption.  The commissioner groaned again and then responded, “That’s my middle name . . . corruption.”  The commissioner admitted that his comments were angry and sarcastic.

After the Commission notified the commissioner that it was investigating his failure to recuse himself in the small claims case, the commissioner presided over a pretrial conference in another case in which Gebert represented a party and the other party was self-represented.  While that case was pending before him, the commissioner went with Gebert and others to Vietnam.  During the disciplinary investigation, the commissioner told the Commission that Gebert had appeared before him 6 or 7 times.

Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for speaking loudly to the complainant in a sharp, rude manner and threatening him with contempt and arrest during a hearing involving the complainant’s wife.  McCullar, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct February 2, 2010).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation for discipline by consent, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a former judge for revising a settlement agreement to provide that payment to the class representative and attorney would be made in gift certificates.  Inquiry Concerning Klein, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 2, 2010).
  • Approving a stipulation, the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for, during her 2008 campaign, using the term “re-elect” even though she had been appointed, not elected, and stating that she had 20 years of legal experience even though she had not been admitted to practice law until 1994.  Inquiry Concerning Dempsey, 29 So. 3d 1030 (Florida 2010).
  • Approving the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for (1) revoking a defendant’s bond and imposing a higher bond to punish the defendant for exercising his right to file a motion to recuse and (2) impeding the ability of pro se petitioners in domestic violence injunction proceedings to obtain relief by being unduly rigid and formulaic.  Inquiry Concerning Eriksson, 36 So. 3d 580 (Florida 2010).
  • The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge who had pled guilty to the gross misdemeanor for failing to file personal state tax returns for 5 years.  Public Reprimand of Venne (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards February 17, 2010).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for a campaign letter that conveyed bias and the appearance of bias in favor of pistol permit holders and that misrepresented his authority over pistol permits.  In re McGrath, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 5, 2010).
  • The Ohio Supreme Court suspended a judge’s license to practice for 1 year for 2 convictions of disorderly conduct because of physical altercations with his girlfriend; the Court stayed the suspension with conditions.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Russo, 923 N.E.2d 144 (Ohio 2010).
  • Based on agreement, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended a magistrate for 90 days without pay for failure to reconcile his accounts.  In the Matter Hudson, 690 S.E.2d 72 (South Carolina 2010).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former magistrate for ticket-fixing.  In the Matter of Woodham, 689 S.E.2d 605 (South Carolina 2010).

Recent cases

  • Following a hearing on a complaint, the Alabama Court on Judiciary publicly reprimanded a judge for securing an ex parte, oral deviation from an order in a child custody/visitation case involving his parents and obtaining the services of law enforcement to enforce the oral order.  In the Matter of Allred, Final judgment (Alabama Court on Judiciary January 31, 2020).
  • Based on the presentment of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for incarcerating a pro se litigant for 23 days in default of bail to ensure her appearance in court, committing the litigant for a psychiatric evaluation without following a civil commitment process, and abusing his contempt power.  In the Matter of Adames (New Jersey Supreme Court January 16, 2020).
  • Accepting a stipulation based on the judge’s resignation and agreement not to seek or accept judicial office in the future, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded a proceeding against a former judge who resigned after the Commission told him it was investigating allegations that, “from 2005 through 2019, he made improper and at times abusive personal demands of court staff, directly or indirectly conveying that continued employment required submitting to such demands, and creating a hostile  workplace environment.” In the Matter of Rosenbaum, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 23, 2020).
  • Accepting an agreed statement of facts and recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for operating his motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, causing him to lose control of his car and crash into 2 stop signs and 2 benches, twice falsely telling police officers at the scene that he had had only 2 alcoholic drinks prior to the accident, and telling state police officers at the scene that he would never again conduct an arraignment for the state police.  In the Matter of Miranda, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 30, 2020).
  • Accepting an agreed statements of fact and recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a non-lawyer judge for driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol, which caused him to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a building, and being uncooperative and belligerent to a police officer and paramedic at the scene.  In the Matter of Petucci, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 30, 2020).
  • Adopting the findings of fact of a hearing panel, which were based on the judge’s admissions, and agreeing with its conclusions, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time court commissioner for failing to recuse himself from a small claims case in which a close friend appeared as an attorney or to disclose the relationship and his angry and sarcastic comments to the self-represented defendant in the trial of the case.  In the Matter of Gorski (Wisconsin Supreme Court January 30, 2020).

 

 

Throwback Thursday

20 years ago this month:

  • Reviewing the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former appellate judge for (1) making a false or misleading statement during an attorney discipline proceeding and (2) failing to disclose that an attorney appearing before him was representing a member of his immediate family in highly contentious domestic litigation. Inquiry Concerning Frank, 753 So. 2d 1228 (Florida 2000).
  • Pursuant to consent, the Michigan Supreme Court suspended a judge for 10 days without pay and publicly censured him for (1) knowingly executing a judgment that falsely stated that the defendant had pled guilty to 3 misdemeanors, and (2) knowingly making false and misleading statements to the Judicial Tenure Commission during its investigation. In re Milhouse, 605 N.W.2d 15 (Michigan 2000).
  • Adopting a substantial portion of the findings of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge and fined her $1,500 for (1) improperly sentencing a defendant under the wrong statute, doing nothing to correct her error, and stating under oath in her answer to the Commission’s complaint that the defendant had not been sentenced for the crime for which she had sentenced him; and (2) having a reporter arrested for disobeying her order by publishing an article regarding a juvenile proceeding without following correct procedures. Commission on Judicial Performance v. Byers, 757 So. 2d 961 (Mississippi 2000).
  • The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline removed a former supreme court justice who had been found guilty of 2 felony counts of criminal conspiracy; the Court also ordered that the justice be ineligible to hold judicial office in the future. In re Larsen, 746 A.2d 108 (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline February 2000).
  • Reviewing the findings of fact and conclusions of law of a judicial conduct panel, the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended a judge for 6 months without pay for (1) recurring delay in deciding cases between 1991 and 1998, (2) filing certifications of status of pending cases that falsely represented that no cases were awaiting decision beyond the prescribed period, and (3) stating falsely to the Judicial Commission that he had no cases awaiting decision beyond the prescribed period. In the Matter of Waddick, 605 N.W.2d 861 (Wisconsin 2000).

State judicial discipline in 2019

In 2019, as a result of state disciplinary proceedings, 2 judges were removed from office.  (2 other judges were removed by conduct commissions, but those decisions were under review at the end of the year and, therefore, not included in the count for 2019.)  In addition, 15 judges or former judges resigned or retired in lieu of discipline pursuant to public agreements with conduct commissions; 1 of those former judges was also reprimanded.  2 judges were retired for disability.

16 judges were suspended without pay as a final sanction.  The suspensions ranged from 5 days to 1 year, although the 1-year suspension was stayed conditioned on the judge engaging in no further misconduct.  The other suspensions were for 7 days, 3 weeks, 28 days, 30 days (3 judges), 45 days (3 judges), 60 days (3 judges), 90 days, and 6 months (3 judges).  The 90-day suspension also included a $5,000 fine and public reprimand; one 45-day suspension also included a $5,000 fine; one 30-day suspension also included a $500 fine and public reprimand; the 28-day suspension also included a public censure.  The reinstatement of one of the judges suspended for 60 days was conditioned on her undergoing an emotional and behavioral assessment by a health care professional and completing a judicial ethics course.

86 judges (or former judges in 11 cases) received public censures, reprimands, admonishments, warnings, or letters of counsel.

  • There were 16 censures, 1 of which was severe. In addition to being censured, 1 former judge was barred from serving in judicial office in the state; 1 former judge was permanently barred from serving in judicial office in the state and ordered to pay restitution; 1 former judge’s law license was annulled, he was permanently enjoined from seeking public office in the state, fined $3,000, and reprimanded; 2 former judges were permanently enjoined from serving in public office and fined $1,000; and 1 judge was ordered to attend a course at the National Judicial College.
  • There were 36 reprimands. 1 reprimand included a $5,000 fine; 1 included a $1,683 fine; 2 included $500 fines; and 10 included requirements such as mentoring, training, stress management, probation, compliance with a lawyers assistance program agreement, or a psychological assessment.
  • There were 20 public admonishments. In several cases, the admonishments included conditions such as training.
  • There were 9 public warnings. 1 also ordered additional education.
  • 1 letter of counsel was made public with the judge’s consent.
  • 1 retired judge was suspended from eligibility as a reserve judge for 3 years
  • 3 former judges had their law licenses suspended in attorney discipline proceedings for conduct while they were judges. 1 suspension was indefinite; 1 was for 6 months; 1 was for 1 year with 6 months stayed.

“Judge” refers to any type of judicial officer including justices, magistrates, court commissioners, and hearing officers, whether full-time or part-time.  Approximately half of the sanctions were entered pursuant to an agreement with the judge or former judge.

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Agreeing with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Arizona Supreme Court removed from office a judge who had been convicted of soliciting prostitution; thrown a woman with whom he was living against a wall; after he was no longer living with her, verbally abused her friend, pushed the friend, and threatened his life, and pushed his ex-girlfriend with enough force to injure her; and yelled obscenities at another friend of his ex-girlfriend’s, pushed him backward, and threatened his life.  In re Koch, 890 P.2d 1137 (Arizona 1995).
  • Based on the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the California Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for a pattern of inappropriate and offensive comments to female members of court staff and inappropriate and non-consensual touching or attempted touching of women he supervised.  Fitch v. Commission on Judicial Performance, 887 P.2d 937 (California 1995).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly reproved a judge for a pattern of failing to dispose of judicial matters promptly and efficiently.  Letter to Breen (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 28, 1995).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly reproved a justice court judge who (before justice court judges were prohibited from practicing law) abandoned a client for whom he was attorney of record.  Letter to Kelly (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 28, 1995).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly reproved a judge for abuse of the contempt power, interference in an attorney-client relationship in a driving under the influence case, and refusing to consider traffic school as a possible disposition in traffic matters.  Letter to Vassie (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 28, 1995).
  • Based on the presentment of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, to which the judge consented, the New Jersey Supreme Court removed a former judge from office for managing the affairs of a corporation while serving as a judge; receiving compensation from the corporation; and pleading guilty to theft from the corporation.  In the Matter of Imbriani, 652 A.2d 1222 (New Jersey 1995).
  • Approving the recommendation of the Judicial Standards Commission, the North Carolina Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for his behavior while publicly intoxicated in Florida that resulted in his arrest and in a negotiated plea of nolo contendere to trespass after warning; his behavior while publicly intoxicated in North Carolina that resulted in his conviction for indecent exposure; and his continuing refusal, even after admitting psychological dependency, to abstain from consuming alcohol.  In re Leonard, 453 S.E.2d 521 (North Carolina 1995).
  • Agreeing with the recommendation of the Board of Commissioners on Judicial Standards and a panel of hearing masters, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for issuing a bench warrant against a process server who had served a summons and complaint on him after he was named as a defendant in a civil action.  In the Matter of Edwards, 459 S.E.2d 837 (South Carolina 1995).
  • Affirming an order of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, after a trial de novo, a Texas Special Court of Review publicly admonished a judge who held a litigant in direct contempt for criticizing the judge in the hallway of the courthouse and mischaracterized the events as taking place in open court in the contempt order.  In re Bell 894 S.W.2d 119 (Texas Special Court of Review 1995).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a former part-time judge for conducting a hearing in a case in which he had advised the defendant over the telephone regarding the implied consent law and, in a second case, representing a defendant who had been arrested pursuant to a bench warrant he had signed as a judge.  In re Monson, Order of admonishment (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 3, 1995).
  • The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for initiating and considering ex parte communications regarding a petition for a name change pending before him; used words and descriptions that humiliated the petitioners in the name change case; and acquired personal knowledge of evidentiary facts from ex parte communications that contributed to a personal bias and/or prejudice.  In re Hutchinson, Commission decision (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 3, 1995).