Failing to comply with state court orders regarding proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic was the basis for recent confidential resolutions of complaints against 2 judges.
With the judge’s agreement, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission privately reprimanded a judge for actively discouraging attorneys from electing to appear remotely during the pandemic and suggesting that clients may be directly prejudiced by an attorney’s decision to appear remotely.
In a June 2020 order during the first attempt to re-open the courts during the pandemic, the Kentucky Supreme Court required judges to permit those who were high risk or who had been exposed to COVID-19 to appear remotely. “In contravention” of that directive, a judge “actively discouraged attorneys from appearing remotely.” The judge, in open court, “freely voiced frustrations with remote court appearances to litigants and attorneys . . . .” The judge also required attorneys who chose to appear remotely (1) to verify that they maintained malpractice insurance, which the judge did not require for attorneys appearing in-person, and (2) to sign an agreement that waived the right to request reconsideration of rulings based on technical difficulties or confusion, required attorneys to acknowledge that appearing remotely was solely that attorney’s choice, and warned that the choice to appear remotely may prejudice litigants. These measures were intended to deter attorneys from appearing remotely and penalized high-risk and possibly exposed attorneys.
In mitigation, the Commission noted that the judge had “attempted to rectify the issue with remote appearances” before being contacted by the Commission and fully cooperated in the investigation.
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The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct found that a judge had occasionally failed to wear a mask as required by COVID-19 safety protocols promulgated by the state supreme court and touched court papers after licking his fingers. The Commission also found that, when he learned that a complaint had been filed with the human resources department regarding his conduct, the judge spoke tersely to his staff, advised them that he would no longer socialize with them, and temporarily excluded staff from assisting him with weddings. Although it dismissed the complaint against the judge, in a warning letter, the Commission reminded the judge of his obligations to follow administrative orders and to be patient, dignified, and courteous with staff and that his “outburst . . . could be perceived as retaliation and have a chilling effect on staff’s right and duty to report misconduct.”
4 judges have been publicly sanctioned for conduct related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 was in effect); 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); In re Burchett, Stipulation, agreement, and order of reprimand (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 23, 2021) (reprimand for, in addition to other misconduct, declining to determine who was attempting to appear at the end of a calendar via Zoom).