In its 2021 annual report, the California Commission on Judicial Performance stated that it had issued an advisory letter to a judge who “posted remarks on social media, expressing points of view on controversial issues, that conveyed an appearance of bias against prosecutors and law enforcement.”
In 2022, based on the judge’s agreement, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission privately reprimanded a judge for, after consuming too much alcohol, sending a participant in a court program over which he was presiding a private message on social media that was flirtatious and expressed his desire to meet with the individual at the conclusion of their participation in the program.
In 2021, Louisiana Judiciary Commission privately cautioned a judge for social media activity that conveyed an appearance of partiality.
In its 2021 annual report, the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards stated that it had privately cautioned 2 judges that “‘liking’ the page of a candidate for public office could be construed as support or opposition of a candidate for public office” and “encouraged the judges to monitor and maintain strict privacy settings on their Facebook accounts.”
In 2021, the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct privately admonished a judge who had appeared in a social media video depicting the judge dancing in their courtroom to a song with explicit lyrics, as requested by a person who could use the video to promote their own social media.
In 2022, the Texas Commission ordered additional education for a judge who made a social media post promoting a conference in which the judge was participating and engaged in improper solicitation of funds for the conference.
In 2022, the Texas Commission privately warned and ordered additional education for a judge who, in addition to other misconduct, in Facebook posts, recommended a particular attorney and praised the work of particular lawyers appearing in their court.
COVID orders and memes
The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a justice of the peace for stating in a Facebook post that he would release anyone brought before him charged with violating stay-at-home orders issued during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Public Admonition of Black (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 28, 2022).
Just over a month later, the Texas Commissionpublicly warned the same justice of the peace for posting and reposting racial, ethnic, and religious comments and/or memes on social media, in addition to other misconduct. Public Warning of Black (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 7, 2022). For example, some posts contrasted “white folks” and “violent black behavior;” some asserted that “Muslims need to learn to be American;” some claimed, “You’re not Special” because “white slaves were sold for centuries;” and some displayed the Confederate battle flag with the caption, “If we had equal rights … my southern heritage would be just as important as your black history.”
Accepting an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for, during her campaign, posting an invitation to a fundraising event for the county Republican committee on Facebook, in addition to other misconduct. In the Matter of Coffinger, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 23, 2022).
4 times, the judge posted to her campaign’s Facebook page an invitation to the Hamilton County Republican picnic that read, “You are Invited 2019 Republican Picnic and Meet the Candidates Day!” The invitation offered food, drinks, “Music, Bingo, Door prizes and more.” Ticket prices ranged from $12 to $35. The invitation also read, “Tickets – See any Republican Committee Member.” All of the judge’s posts advertising the event were viewable by the public.
The event was a fundraiser and generated a profit of nearly $1,800 for the Hamilton County Republican Committee. The judge spoke at the event.
The judge acknowledged that, although she believed the event was a social occasion held to thank committee members and introduce the candidates, in retrospect, “she should have made inquiries and been aware that it was a fundraiser which would have precluded her from posting the invitation or otherwise advertising the event.”
Sexually charged content and the NRA
A judge has asked for review of the decision of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct removing him from office for (1) posting and disseminating sexually charged content on social media when he used his Facebook account to publicly promote and/or approvingly comment on posts and images that were demeaning toward women or otherwise offensive and (2) using his Facebook account to publicly engage in fundraising for the National Rifle Association. In the Matter of Stilson, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 7, 2022), review requested. The Commission also found that the judge exacerbated his misconduct by failing to respond to the Commission proceedings.
Ex parte communications
Reviewing the findings and recommendation of the Judiciary Commission, which were based on stipulations, the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended a judge from office for 4 months without pay for, while he was presiding over a child custody case, engaging in improper ex parte communications on Facebook Messenger with the children’s maternal grandmother for over a 6-month period and related misconduct. In re Denton (Louisiana Supreme Court March 25, 2022).
The case underlying the discipline proceeding involved 2 children. Their mother had a history of substance abuse and mental health issues. Their father was not involved in their lives for the first several years after they were born. As a result, the children were primarily cared for by their maternal grandmother, Stephanie Bardeau-Marse.
In September 2017, the Department of Children and Family Services received a report of erratic behavior and suspected drug use by the mother in the presence of one of the children. At the request of DCFS, the judge granted an order placing the 2 children in the temporary custody of DCFS. In October 2017, the State filed a petition to adjudicate the children in need of care.
In December 2017, Bardeau-Marse filed a petition to intervene in the proceeding and requested custody of the children. In January 2018, the judge denied the petition. Following a hearing, the judge granted custody of the children to the father with monitoring by DCFS; ordered visitation for the mother and the grandparents to be facilitated by a relative; and set a case review hearing for April 12, 2018.
Approximately 3 weeks before the case review hearing, in a private message on Facebook Instant Messenger, Bardeau-Marse mentioned a “small circle of friends that we share and both consider friends” to the judge and stated, “I’m begging for someone to listen to me . . . since my attorney was pretty much thrown out of the courtroom and my pleading petition was not heard. . . . I’m asking to please let me have a heart to heart conversation with you, again on a personal level, I want to explain my situation/self how those babies are loved how they are our heart . . . .” Bardeau-Marse also said that “anyone who knows me and my family know[s] what kind of people we are and how we live . . . including Ex-mayor Jimmy Durbin. . . . May I please have an hour of your private time at your convenience on that personal level?”
The judge did not know Bardeau-Marse and did not respond to her message.
In the case hearing On April 12, the judge denied Bardeau-Marse’s second petition to intervene and request for custody of the children and granted sole custody of the children to the father, with supervised visitation to the mother but no specific visitation rights for Bardeau-Marse. At the urging of the attorneys for the children and DCFS, the judge retained jurisdiction over the case.
At 7:49 p.m. that day, the judge called Bardeau-Marse; the call lasted for 100 minutes. In the call, the judge told Bardeau-Marse that he would keep his eyes on the children’s father and gave her the name and number of a private investigator.
The judge communicated frequently with Bardeau-Marse by Messenger for 6 months (March 2018 to August 2018).
For example, in a message to the judge on April 30, at 6:05 a.m., Bardeau-Marse discussed her difficulty in seeing her grandchildren. The judge replied at 6:32 a.m.: “I am so sorry for your continued pain. I don’t have the answer, but I am working on the entire situation. I assure you because I am not happy with the current exigencies as currently exist. Keep praying and I will do the same.”
On May 11, Mother’s Day weekend, at 11:43 p.m., Bardeau-Marse sent the judge a lengthy message about her grandchildren, her daughter, and their conflict with the father over visitation/custody, the father’s alleged drinking and drug abuse, and his alleged mental and emotional abuse of the mother and her side of the family. The judge responded with a “thumbs-up” emoji.
In July, Bardeau-Marse messaged the judge: “[The mother] received this letter today . . . does this mean [the father] has full custody now? And the case is over? The letter is incorrect . . . these kids were NEVER neglected or abused NEVER . . . .” At 6:31 p.m., the judge advised her: “No it does not necessarily mean that it’s over. . . . I do strenuously suggest you go hire the best lawyer you can afford[,] get legal advice and go to court where jurisdiction over custody can be fought over. I wish I could do more but I have a court of limited jurisdiction.” A few minutes later the judge messaged: “I wish I could do more to help[.] But as it currently sits my hands are tied. I wish you the very best! I will continue to pray for you and your family.” Then, Bardeau-Marse replied: “I understand . . . I just appreciate you listening . . . .”
Bardeau-Marse informed her attorney, Maria Finley, that she had been communicating with the judge by Messenger texts and telephone calls. She showed Finley the messages, including the judge’s advice to file a custody suit in another court. On August 10, Finley filed suit against the father on behalf of Bardeau-Marse, seeking custody or visitation. The suit was filed in family court and was assigned to Judge Lisa Woodruff-White.
Judge Denton called and then emailed Judge Woodruff-White and suggested that Finley was forum shopping and asked that he be allowed to retain jurisdiction as a “professional courtesy.” After briefing by the parties, Judge Woodruff-White dismissed the suit against the father, stating that Judge Denton’s court was the more appropriate forum.
The Commission found that the judge had “offered no satisfactory explanation for why he engaged in the conduct” except that he was “sympathetic to the plight of the grandmother,” which may have “impacted and overshadowed some of [his] judgment” and that he had been receptive to her initially because they both had a connection to the former mayor.
Discussing the appropriate sanction, the Court emphasized that the judge “adversely affected the integrity and the respect of the judiciary.” It explained:
The Commission succinctly summed up the impact of Judge Denton’s actions: “Judge Denton’s actions resulted in chaotic and contentious proceedings before Judge Woodruff-White and during the writ process that followed, which understandably caused Ms. Finley great distress, deprived or significantly delayed Ms. Bardeau-Marse her day in court, left her feeling confined, betrayed, and devastated.”