Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and proposed recommendation, the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for ordering that an attorney be incarcerated for criminal contempt after the attorney refused to recite the pledge of allegiance in open court.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Littlejohn, 62 So. 3d 968 (Mississippi 2011).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and proposed recommendation, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a judge for 30 days without pay and publicly reprimanded her for conditioning defendants’ release on bail on church attendance; ex parte communications; sua sponte reducing bonds and charges; presiding at her nephew’s initial appearance on domestic violence charges; and expressing her view on the sheriff’s handling of the county drug problem and inviting ex parte communications on the subject.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Dearman, 66 So.3d 112 (Mississippi 2011).
  • The Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a judge for 30 days without pay, fined him $500, and publicly reprimanded him for fixing 9 citations and intervening, or attempting to intervene, in 3 cases assigned to another judge.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. McKenzie, 63 So. 3d 1219 (Mississippi 2011).
  • Based on the presentment of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, which the judge had accepted,  the New Jersey Supreme Court reprimanded a judge for, in a loud, hostile, angry, and antagonistic manner, making extreme and excessive remarks to a mother after she questioned a visitation schedule.  In the Matter of Baker, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court June 16, 2011).
  • With the judge’s agreement, the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission publicly reprimanded a judge for escalating a personal disagreement with the public defender into an unauthorized, closed proceeding that did not comply with due process and embroiled court personnel and the sheriff’s department.  Public Reprimand of Scarlett (North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission June 15, 2011).
  • The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of the Judiciary suspending a judge for 90 days “without impairment of compensation” for a 9-month delay in deciding a case, failing to disqualify himself from a related case, and asking a party through an attorney to drop the judicial complaint while the party had a case pending before him.  In re Bell, 344 S.W.3d 304 (Tennessee 2011).
  • Based on the judge’s agreement, the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary publicly reprimanded a judge for appearing before the county commission to gain approval for a “Citizens Heritage Display” for the courtroom lobby of the Justice Center and becoming involved in fund-raising for the display.  In re Taylor, Agreed order (Tennessee Court of the Judiciary June 6, 2011).

Recent cases

  • Based on an agreement, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission publicly censured a judge for (1) leaving the bench while a public defender was questioning a witness during a hearing, refusing to let her make her record when she attempted to respond to an objection, and using a curt voice and displaying an alarming demeanor and (2) in a separate proceeding, making statements about the way a public defender was conducting voir dire, asking if her client had a defense, and stating that he would still accept a guilty plea.  Re Sims (Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission May 21, 2021).
  • Approving a stipulated disposition, the Colorado Supreme Court accepted the retirement of a judge and publicly censured her for 2 convictions for driving under the influence.  In the Matter of Gunkel (Colorado Supreme Court May 13, 2021).
  • Approving a stipulation, the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for (1) telling community members that he was supporting an incumbent judge’s opponent in a judicial election and asking some of them to support his favored candidate, and (2) failing to designate a campaign account and treasurer with the Division of Elections before receiving campaign contributions or issuing funds, as required by the state campaign financing statute.  Inquiry Concerning Cupp (Florida Supreme Court May 13, 2021).
  • Approving a stipulation, the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for attempting to dissuade a judicial candidate from running against an incumbent judge and to run against a different incumbent judge or not to run at all.  Inquiry Concerning Howard (Florida Supreme Court May 20, 2021).
  • Following a trial de novo, a Texas Special Court of Review affirmed the public admonition of a judge for approaching a legal assistant in his courtroom, touching her on the arm or shoulder, and admonishing her for sitting in a section of the courtroom reserved for attorneys; the Court also ordered the judge to complete 2 hours of instruction about decorum with a mentor.  In re Wilson (Texas Special Court of Review May 4, 2021).
  • Based on an agreement, which included the judge’s resignation, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonished a former magistrate for touching a court employee.  In the Matter of Cole, Public admonishment (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission April 29, 2021).

Throwback Thursday

20 years ago this month:

  • Agreeing with the recommendation of the Judiciary Commission based on a statement of stipulated facts, the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended a non-lawyer justice of the peace for 6 months without pay, followed by 2 years’ probation, for rendering a default judgment against a defendant in a small claims case without serving the defendant with notice of the suit and without convening a hearing or receiving relevant and competent evidence from the plaintiff to make a prima facie case.  In re Landry, 789 So. 2d 1271 (Louisiana 2001).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and recommendation, the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a justice court judge and fined him $100 for allowing 1 arraignment and 2 initial appearances to be photographed and electronically recorded by the news media, which broadcast the proceedings to the public.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Carr, 786 So. 2d 1055 (Mississippi 2001).
  • Adopting the findings of fact and recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court removed a justice court judge from office for (1) accepting payment or partial payment of fines payable to the justice court; (2) suspending fines for violations of the implied consent law; (3) dismissing a DUI charge on his own motion; (4) engaging in ex parte communications and improperly dismissing traffic citations for 4 defendants who did not appear in court; (5) improperly dismissing a DUI charge ex parte, on his own motion, without the defendant being present and without any testimony; (6) rendering a verdict of not guilty related to a hunting violation; (7) engaging in ex parte communications and conducting justice court business at his tire and pawn shop; (8) rendering a not-guilty verdict following ex parte communications; (9) conducting a hearing concerning an alleged violation of probation in which the defendant did not receive notice and was not advised of his due process rights, his right to an attorney, or his right to remain silent; (10) suspending a fine without the authority to do so and without knowledge of the underlying charges; (11) utilizing a criminal process to collect a civil debt; (12) dismissing a criminal conviction and canceling the ordered restitution; (13) dismissing a case ex parte; (14) contacting a law enforcement officer regarding a criminal case; (15) contacting law enforcement officials during a criminal trial, engaging in other ex parte communications, and dismissing criminal charges; (18) issuing an arrest warrant for someone who did not actually owe any fines; (19) reducing the interest rate in a contract that was the subject of a civil action; (20) dismissing a speeding charge in the absence of both the arresting officer and the defendant; (21) conducting ex parte communications with a defendant regarding citations for hunting violations; (24) conducting a contempt hearing when there had been no sworn affidavit or warrant issued; (25) issuing a citation for contempt of court without providing any notice or advising of rights; (28) convicting a defendant without creating a file and without notice or hearing; (29) sentencing the justice court clerk to contempt without notice and refusing her repeated requests for an attorney; and (30) refusing to allow the justice court clerk or deputy clerk to appear in court when the judge was conducting court.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Willard, 788 So. 2d 736 (Mississippi 2001).
  • Agreeing with the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, the Nebraska Supreme Court suspended a judge for 6 months without pay for, while serving as a county attorney in 1984, altering a copy of a police report in a criminal case, providing the altered report to defense counsel, and asking the police officer who made the report to either alter his original report or alter his testimony to conform to the changes.  In re Krepela, 628 N.W.2d 262 (Nebraska 2001).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a part-time judge for presiding over a small claims action brought by a client whom he had represented in a traffic case involving the same incident and whose father was the judge’s friend and court assistant.  In the Matter of Hayden, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 27, 2001).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a part-time lawyer judge who had angrily confronted his wife, waved a knife close to her throat, and threatened to run her through.  In the Matter of Roepe, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 27, 2001).
  • Pursuant to an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for (1) repeatedly violating the rights of 2 unrepresented 16-year old defendants, (2) refusing to accept a defendant’s not guilty plea to a charge of failure to license dogs and, without a trial, issuing an order to seize the dogs; (3) in 3 other cases, relying to the detriment of defendants on ex parte information from his daughter, the arresting officer, or the complaining witness; and (4) failing to correct the records of a case involving a mandatory youthful offender to reflect the correct disposition and to seal the records, as required by law.  In the Matter of the Rock, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 27, 2001).
  • Based on an agreement, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former magistrate for (1) communicating his personal interest in a case to the judge presiding over the case; (2) engaging in one or more communications with the arresting officers and other officers in the county sheriff’s department regarding traffic charges pending before him; and (3) negotiating the trade-in of his automobile for a new automobile with a defendant who was employed at a car dealership and later, while the charges were still pending, purchasing another vehicle from the dealership.  In the Matter of Looper, 548 S.E.2d 219 (South Carolina 2001).
  • Accepting an agreement, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended a magistrate for 9 months without pay for signing an order giving public notice of a judicial sale and issuing the bill of sale at the behest of another magistrate even though the magistrate knew the requirements of the statute were not met.  In the Matter of Lynah, 548 S.E.2d 218 (South Carolina 2001).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a part-time commissioner for serving as a lawyer and a judge in the same or a related proceeding.  In re Fuller, Stipulation, agreement, and order of admonishment (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 1, 2001).

Zoom problems

Based on a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for, in addition to other misconduct, declining to determine who was attempting to appear at the end of a calendar via Zoom.  In re Burchett, Stipulation, agreement, and order of reprimand (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 23, 2021).  The judge also agreed to continue to work with a mentor judge and to participate in at least 4 hours of ethics training.

At the conclusion of the afternoon calendar one day in February 2021, just after 3:15 p.m., the court clerk told the judge that there was 1 more person in the Zoom “waiting room” and asked if they should be “let in” so that the judge could speak with them.  Apparently tired, the judge said that she “just can’t.”  The clerk indicated that they needed to see who it was and set the case over.  The person in the Zoom waiting room had renamed themselves “Help I couldn’t log in at 2 p.m.,” and the clerk surmised that it could be the 1 person from the 2 p.m. docket who had failed to appear and for whom a warrant had been issued.  The judge said, “You almost hate to not talk to them if they can figure that out,” referring to the way the person had renamed themselves, but the judge again declined the clerk’s request to bring the person in from the waiting room and said that they “would have to do the bench warrant docket.”

The Commission found that the judge had displayed a “disregard for an individual attempting to navigate technology and appear in court” that violated the rules requiring a judge to “accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or that person’s lawyer, the right to be heard according to law;” to “comply with the law, including the Code of Judicial Conduct;” and to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and . . . avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”

The reprimand was also for the judge’s failure to advise defendants at probation review hearings of their rights; for conducting an ex parte investigation into whether a defendant had performed community service hours and stating on the record that she intended to recommend significant jail time and further charges; for asking 2 defendants when they were arraigned in traffic offense cases whether they had a valid driver’s license; for regularly recommending specific businesses to defendants for re-licensing and insurance purposes related to their charges; and for regularly presiding over cases in which a notice of disqualification had been filed against her.

The judge is the fourth judge to be publicly sanctioned for conduct related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  See also In the Matter Concerning Connolly, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance April 2, 2021) (admonishment for, in addition to other misconduct, displaying improper demeanor toward 2 criminal defense attorneys appearing by phone for an arraignment on the first day after the stay-at-home order); Ledsinger (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct September 28, 2020) (reprimand for stating, “the Grand Wizard of our Supreme Court said we have to wear these masks”); Hinson (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct December 15, 2020) (reprimand for failing to comply with the court’s COVID-19 plan on courtroom capacity and social distancing and commenting that he wished the chief justice “would win an award so that the COVID-19 mandates” would end).

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Adopting the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the California Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for making sexually suggestive remarks to and asking sexually explicit questions of female staff members, using crude and demeaning names and descriptions and an ethnic slur when referring to staff members, referring to a fellow jurist’s physical attributes in a demeaning manner, and mailing sexually suggestive postcards to staff members.  In re Gordon, 917 P.2d 627 (California 1996).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for (1) failing to disqualify himself in 4 cases in which the Walt Disney company was a litigant although he owned 1000 shares of Disney stock valued at approximately $45,000 and (2) writing 2 letters on court letterhead to a collection service regarding a claim against a member of his family.  Public Admonishment of Stoll (California Commission on Judicial Performance June 3, 1996).
  • Accepting the determination of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the New York Court of Appeals removed a judge from office for improperly jailing 2 individuals for their purported failure to pay fines and restitution obligations that he had imposed.  In the Matter of Hamel, 668 N.E.2d 390 (New York 1996).
  • Modifying the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline, the Rhode Island Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for (1) soliciting attorneys to purchase jewelry for the benefit of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in New Mexico; (2) permitting his chambers to be used for the sale of sweaters knit by a Russian immigrant nun for the benefit of an immigrant group; and (3) selling to several judges and approximately 40 attorneys who practiced in the court over $5,000 in raffle tickets for a spring weekend in Washington, D.C. that included a memorial regatta in honor of his deceased son.  In re Arrigan, 678 A.2d 446 (Rhode Island 1996).
  • The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonished a candidate for receiving 2 donations to his campaign prior to designating a financial agent or treasurer for his campaign committee and submitting the first campaign financial report in his name and not the committee’s name.  In the Matter of Robb, Public Admonishment (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission June 3, 1996).

Spring Judicial Conduct Reporter

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

  • Social media posts by judges on controversial issues
  • Private dispositions of judicial conduct complaints
  • Recent cases
    • Zoom problems:  In re Burchett (Washington Commission 2021)
    • Juror intimidation:  In the Matter of Scott (Nevada Commission 2021)
    • No excuses:  In the Matter Concerning Connolly (California Commission 2021); Public Admonishment of Roberts (California Commission 2021)

The Judicial Conduct Reporter is published electronically, and an index and current and past issues of the Reporter are available on-line.  Anyone can sign up to receive notice when a new issue is available.