Review and approve

The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge for failing to supervise her law clerk, approving her clerk’s inaccurate timesheets, and exchanging inappropriate emails with the clerk.  Public Reprimand of Leahy (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards March 19, 2020)

Based on several complaints about the judge’s law clerk, a judicial branch auditor performed a thorough review of the clerk’s timekeeping for December 12, 2018 through March 5, 2019.  According to the audit report, the clerk could not account for 50.5 hours claimed on timesheets during that period.  The audit report states:

Employee was paid for hours not worked during the scope of review.  Employee did not always take the appropriate leave time when necessary.  Employee was not appropriately coding and working the hours captured on the timesheet in accordance with MN Judicial Branch Payroll Policy . . . .

Judge did not properly review and approve employee timesheets to ensure hours recorded by employee were worked.  This is the responsibility of the judge as to the employee’s supervision in accordance with the MN Judicial Branch Payroll Policy . . . .

Employee did not have a teleworking agreement on file that provided hours of work and approval from the judge.

At the time, law clerks were not authorized to work outside of the courthouse or from home.

In a meeting with the Board, the judge stated that she had no basis to criticize the auditor’s report but noted that she was trying to assist the clerk by making work accommodations for the clerk who was going through a difficult time personally.

The Board stated:

A judge may set and communicate expectations for an employee’s work hours in accordance with Judicial Branch policies.  When a judge is not in the courthouse, the judge could look to other judges or court personnel to supervise employees, if necessary.  When an employee is dealing with personal or health issues, a judge may need to provide additional supervision to ensure the employee is fulfilling the employee’s duties.  Proper supervision of employees is critical to maintaining cordial relationships with court administration and to maintaining public confidence in the judiciary.

See also In the Matter of Groneman, 38 P.3d 735 (Kansas 2002) (public censure for allowing his administrative assistant to work a second job with the Kansas Turnpike Authority at times that conflicted with her judicial branch duties and signing timesheets that falsely claimed the assistant was working at her judicial branch employment when she was working at her second job); In re Johnson, 1 So. 3d 425 (Louisiana 2009) (public censure for allowing his full-time judicial assistant to also be employed full-time by the U.S. Small Business Administration, in addition to other misconduct); In the Matter of Walters, Public reprimand and conditions (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards April 22, 2014) (public reprimand for allowing his law clerk to take some pro bono bankruptcy cases, which he worked on during his regular work hours, and signing and approving the clerk’s timesheets even though he knew or should have known that the clerk did not work the hours reported on the timesheets, in addition to other misconduct).

During the auditor’s review of the clerk’s timekeeping, inappropriate use of judicial branch emails by the judge and the clerk was discovered, including “comments that could reasonably be considered harmful to the reputation and business of the Judicial Branch” and comments about matters before the court while court was in session.

The judge and the clerk disparaged attorneys and parties in emails.  For example, in an email with the subject line “[S]hoot me already,” the judge wrote of an attorney:  “He is an awful attorney.”  Of a party, the judge wrote:  “He is a most obnoxious mean man.”  In another matter, the judge wrote in an email to the clerk:  “Kill me,” in response to an email about the attorney appearing before her.

During a jury trial regarding a criminal sexual conduct charge, the clerk wrote:  “[Y]our last sexual experience;” the judge responded: “EEEEEEEEEEEkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk.”

Regarding another criminal jury trial, in an email with the subject, “[C]an you keep a secret?” the clerk wrote:  “This VD sucks.  Don’t tell anyone.” The judge responded:  “Deep sigh.”  “VD” stood for voir dire.

In another criminal jury trial, the clerk stated in an email:  “[J]ust accept the [jury] panel and put on [the] case!”  The judge responded:  “They won’t . . . the [S]tate will ask a million dumb questions about burden of proof, etc.”

In an email to the clerk, the judge referred to the sheriff’s department employees involved in a decision to change the warrant process as “stupid people.”

At the meeting with the Board, the judge admitted that her emails with the clerk were inappropriate and that she should have chosen her words more carefully.  The Board noted that, not only did the judge not advise the clerk that the emails were inappropriate, she personally engaged in the same inappropriate use of judicial branch emails.

The Board stated:

The duty to supervise court employees also extends to an employee’s use of electronic communications.  The Code and Judicial Branch policies prohibit a judge from sending disparaging and inappropriate emails.  Even when electronic messages are considered confidential, they may be forwarded outside the Judicial Branch or otherwise made public.  Emails that are disparaging to attorneys, litigants, and witnesses violate Rule 2.8(B).  Rule 2.8(B) requires a judge to “be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, court staff, . . . and others with whom the judge deals with in an official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of lawyers, court staff, . . . and other subject to the judge’s direction and control.”

 

 

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