4 judges were recently sanctioned for misconduct related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 1 judge has asked for review of the admonishment he received from the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct for, during jury selection in a case, referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus;” stating, “yeah, I said it!” and “the attorneys would be upset I said that;” and calling some of the pre-requisite questions for jurors “stupid” and commenting “I don’t know why I have to ask this.” Public Admonition of Low and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 22, 2022). Some of the potential jurors whooped and clapped their hands after the judge’s comment about the virus, and he encouraged their behavior by laughing and nodding. A potential juror who was Asian American stated that she felt unsafe and uncomfortable after the judge’s comment, especially in light of recent hate crimes directed against Asian Americans. The judge testified that he was trying to expose the bias of the potential jurors and that he knew it could offend some of them, but he was doing it for a higher purpose.
- In an order issued at the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, a judge explained that he was cancelling a hearing scheduled to be held over Zoom “because that may require someone (staff person/IT person/lawyer who doesn’t have access to the technology?) to leave home and violate Gov. MeMaw’s order,” a reference to Governor Kay Ivey’s stay-at-home order. The judge’s order went “viral,” and the other judges in the state were concerned it would affect upcoming budget discussions. In a letter of apology to the Governor, the judge stated that “the idiotic comment in that order was mine alone, and a poor attempt at humor in the midst of this Covid-10 mess.” Pursuant to his agreement, he was suspended for 45 days without pay and censured for this and similar references to the Governor, other comments, using cuss words and profanity, and declaring laws regarding court fees unconstitutional and redirecting funds from the state to the circuit clerk’s office. In the Matter of Patterson, Final judgment (Alabama Court of the Judiciary October 27, 2022).
- A judge liked a LinkedIn post that shared a post stating, “Biden’s been in office 2 days and Democrat cities across the country are reducing Covid restrictions and opening indoor dining. YOU LITERALLY CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP! They ruined American businesses, livelihoods and lives for an election. This should repulse you.” In the Matter of Elia, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct September 28, 2022). Pursuant to his agreement, he was publicly censured for this and other misconduct).
Finally, a judge did not comply with an administrative order postponing hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic and then issued capias warrants to defendants who followed the administrative order and did not appear and lied about the warrants to the press and the presiding administrative judge. Disciplinary Counsel v. Carr (Ohio Supreme Court October 18, 2022). The Ohio Supreme Court suspended the judge without pay indefinitely for this and other misconduct.
On March 13, 2020, in an administrative order entered to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Judge Michelle Earley, the administrative and presiding judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court, ordered that all civil and criminal cases set for hearing between March 16 and April 3, 2020, be rescheduled for 3 weeks after the originally scheduled date.
However, Judge Carr did not reschedule cases, and, on Monday, March 16, she presided over her regular docket. In 8 criminal cases, the defendants did not appear, and the judge issued capias warrants for each of those defendants, setting bonds from $2,500 to $10,000. In contrast, for defendants who were “brave enough” to appear despite the potential for exposure to COVID-19, the judge waived fines and court costs. The judge informed the public defender assigned to her courtroom that defendants represented by that office should continue to appear in court, contrary to the administrative order.
On Tuesday, March 17, the judge presided over her regular docket as though the administrative order had never been issued. Only a few non-jailed defendants and their counsel appeared. The judge issued capias warrants and set bonds for 7 defendants who did not appear. When the public defender asked whether his clients should plan to be in court the following day, the judge stated that they should. When the public defender mentioned the administrative order and asked if there was any concern regarding COVID-19, the judge replied that not everyone watches the news and that she would be in court and the public defender should not tell people not to show up. After the public defender left the courtroom, the judge mocked him to her staff, calling him a “little idiot.”
Pursuant to the administrative order, Matthew Woyma, the person responsible for scheduling the court’s cases, cancelled the judge’s civil docket for March 26 and sent written notices to all parties. In open court, the judge instructed her bailiff to tell Woyma “to get his a** back on that phone and put all [her] civil cases back on.” As a result, Woyma had to notify every party to appear in court as originally scheduled.
On March 17, The Plain Dealer published an article on its website, Cleveland.com, with the headline “Cleveland judge flouts court’s postponements amid coronavirus pandemic, issues warrants for no-shows.”
Throughout the morning docket of March 18, the judge criticized Cleveland.com for the article. Between proceedings, in an interview with a reporter from a local TV station, she claimed that the article was “untrue” and “reckless” and denied issuing arrest warrants for defendants who had failed to appear for proceedings in her courtroom that week.
In a text exchange later that day, Judge Earley asked Judge Carr if she was issuing warrants for people who failed to appear, and Judge Carr responded, “Too late to ask that ridiculous question. My [journal entries] reflect corona day 1, 2, or 3. Time case was called and no defendant or [failed to appear] in which my journalizer notes NO WARRANT TO ISSUE.” The Court emphasized that that “statement was patently false because none of Carr’s journal entries included the phrase ‘no warrant to issue.’”
When Judge Earley learned that Judge Carr had, in fact, issued arrest warrants, Judge Earley had to review all of Judge Carr’s entries, recall the warrants, set bonds, and issue summonses for the next court appearances. She also had to reschedule the civil cases that Judge Carr had reset for March 26.
In response to a complaint and motion from the public defender, the court of appeals ordered the judge to comply with the administrative order and stayed all orders and capias warrants she had issued after March 13. In addition, the chief justice disqualified the judge from criminal and traffic cases of non-jailed defendants as long as Judge Earley’s administrative order was in effect.
The Board on Professional Conduct found that the judge had “very publicly flouted her disregard of a court order that was designed to ensure the safety of the public and the court’s personnel during the pandemic,” that she had punished members of the public who followed the administrative order and lied about it to the press and to the presiding judge, and that she had “created the very danger that the order sought to prevent—the spread of the coronavirus in open court.”
Conduct related to the pandemic has previously resulted in 15 public sanctions.
- A judge failed to grant a continuance requested by an attorney who had COVID-19 symptoms or to make arrangements to allow the attorney to appear telephonically and then granted a default judgment against the attorney’s client, a defendant in a civil traffic case. Sears, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct January 26, 2022) (admonishment).
- A judge spoke sharply to court staff when disconnected from a Zoom hearing and yelled at court staff when lawyers and parties were allowed into the courtroom prior to the scheduled time for a case. Quickle, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct June 11, 2021) (reprimand).
- A judge repeatedly failed to wear a face covering when interacting with the public and staff in court facilities as required by administrative orders, failed to require individuals in his courtroom to abide by administrative orders, and appeared “to publicly denigrate those orders.” Goodman, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct May 13, 2021) (reprimand).
- A judge displayed 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. In the Matter Concerning Connolly, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance April 2, 2021) (admonishment for this and other misconduct).
- A judge failed to wear a protective face covering at all times while on court premises as required by the New Mexico Supreme Court’s COVID-19 order and asked a clerk if they minded if he did not wear a mask, and, after the court began conducting telephonic hearings due to the pandemic, issued bench warrants when 11 defendants failed to call the court on their appearance date without determining if the defendants had been properly summoned. In the Matter of Guthrie, Order (New Mexico Supreme Court April 25, 2022) (permanent resignation pursuant to agreement for this and other misconduct).
- A judge failed to always wear a protective face covering while on court premises and told attorneys appearing before him for trial that they did not need to wear masks during proceedings, contrary to the New Mexico Supreme Court’s COVID-19 order. In the Matter of Ionta, Order (New Mexico Supreme Court August 1, 2022) (permanent retirement pursuant to agreement for this and other misconduct).
- A judge engaged in disruptive behavior during a meeting about the court’s COVID-19 safety plan, confronted another magistrate and the Chief Magistrate after the meeting, and made an inappropriate statement to a clerk about the Chief Magistrate’s complaint to Disciplinary Counsel. In the Matter of Rivers, 862 S.E.2d 449 (South Carolina 2021) (6-month suspension without pay).
- A judge stated in the courtroom: “The Grand Wizard of our Supreme Court said we have to wear these masks.” Ledsinger (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct September 28, 2020) (reprimand).
- A judge failed to comply with the court’s COVID-19 plan on courtroom capacity and social distancing and commented in the courtroom that he wished the chief justice “would win an award so that the COVID-19 mandates” would end. Hinson (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct December 15, 2020) (reprimand).
- A judge stated in a post on the county’s Facebook page 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).
- A judge issued peace bond warrants for President Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci alleging their COVID-19 health restrictions, immigration policies, and firearms policies constituted threats to commit offenses under Texas law against multiple anonymous complainants. Public Warning of Black (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 7, 2022).
- A judge declined 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) (reprimand for this and other misconduct).
- A judge criticized the prosecution of a case in comments that he thought could only be heard by the court employees in the courtroom but that were being broadcast through the court’s YouTube channel. In re Antush, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 19, 2021) (admonishment).
- A judge said, “kicked that mother f***er’s a**,” when he believed he was no longer on the line after a telephonic hearing had adjourned but, in fact, the attorneys could still hear him and the courtroom’s audio recording was still activated. In re Dixon, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 24, 2022) (admonishment).
- A judge significantly delayed issuing decisions after hearings in 3 small claims cases, which the judge attributed in part to the difficulty of maintaining court operations during the pandemic. In re Howson, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 24, 2022) (admonishment).