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).

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