Throwback Thursday

5 years ago this month:

  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a former judge for, in open court, telling an attorney, in part:  “I remember you . . . I recuse myself from your cases . . . you are the gentleman who yelled at the lady who is now my wife;” stating that the attorney was disrespectful to other women based on rumors he had heard in the community; stating that he was concerned the attorney was a “misogynist;” and brusquely ordering the attorney from his courtroom.  Castillo, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct February 5, 2016).
  • Based on a stipulation for discipline by consent, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a judge for (1)(a) failing to make pension payments to his ex-wife for nearly 2 years and deliberately failing to inform her that he was retired and receiving his military pension; (b) making false statements that impugned the integrity of his ex-wife’s former attorney; (c) directing which judge on his court would handle the stipulation and order settling the pension issue with his ex-wife; (2)(a) sending a disparaging, undignified, and discourteous e-mail response to the assistant presiding judge’s inquiry about his availability to help cover the court’s calendar; (b) responding intemperately to the rotation of a particular court reporter to his courtroom; and (3) failing to disqualify himself when a close personal friend appeared as an attorney in cases and failing to disclose the relationship.  Inquiry Concerning Trice (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 4, 2016).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for a pattern of failing to disclose the campaign contributions of attorneys who appeared before him after the election.  In the Matter Concerning Walsh, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 10, 2016).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for deliberately engaging a deputy district attorney in an ex parte communication about a case that was pending sentencing before him.  In the Matter of Scott, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 17, 2016).
  • Based on the judge’s stipulation and consent, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly reprimanded a judge for an ex parte telephone conversation with the deputy district attorney assigned to a criminal case regarding the contested issue of the release of the defendant from jail on his own recognizance and the judge’s disqualification; releasing the defendant on his own recognizance before receiving the deputy district attorney’s motion contesting the release and then disqualifying himself without sufficient reason; and failing to disqualify himself before ruling on the defendant’s release.  In the Matter of Fletcher, Stipulation and order of consent to public reprimand (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline February 12, 2016).
  • Adopting the findings and recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, which the judge accepted, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time judge for representing a woman in a divorce proceeding after taking action on mutual harassment complaints filed by her and her husband and while those actions were pending in his court and failing to immediately disqualify himself from harassment complaints after undertaking the representation.  In the Matter of Bowkley, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court February 3, 2016).
  • Granting a petition to accept a stipulation agreement and consent to discipline, the New Mexico Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for permitting and engaging in an impermissible ex parte phone conversation with the plaintiff’s attorney that involved substantive matters in a civil case.  In the Matter of Singleton, Order and public censure (New Mexico Supreme Court February 11, 2016).
  • Adopting findings of fact and misconduct, which the parties had stipulated, the Ohio Supreme Court permanently disbarred a former judge who was convicted in federal court of honest-services mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud related to his judicial duties.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Terry, 63 N.E.3d 88 (Ohio 2016).
  • Without an opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Court of Judicial Discipline removing a judge from office for not filing state and federal tax returns for 5 years, failing to remit approximately $130 in sales tax owed by a shoe store she owned, opening the shoe store without a license, and pleading guilty to 3 misdemeanors (for dismissing several of her own tickets) and 1 summary offense (the business license violation).  In re Ballentine, 132 A.3d 454 (Pennsylvania 2016), affirming In re Ballentine, Opinion and order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline August 4, 2015).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for (1) failing to take immediate steps to disqualify himself and/or transfer his own divorce case out of his court and filing motions in his own court in connection with the pending divorce action and (2) failing to timely rule on or refer the recusal motions filed by the attorney representing his wife in other matters, attempting to intervene in proceedings relating to his own recusal, and displaying a personal animus against the attorney representing his wife; the Commission also ordered the judge to complete 6 additional hours of instruction.  Public Reprimand of Herrera and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 24, 2016).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly warned a judge for entering judgments finding defendants guilty of illegal parking violations that were not supported by a proper complaint or probable cause and imposing fines for these offenses in excess of amounts allowed by law; the Commission also ordered the judge to obtain 10 hours of instruction with a mentor.  Public Warning of Jones and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 29, 2016).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a former justice of the peace for dismissing criminal cases without a motion from the prosecutor; frequent and extended absences from the court; delays and confusion caused by his handling of a case; and using court funds for his personal financial benefit.  Public Reprimand of Stringer (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 29, 2016).

More Facebook fails

Independent investigation

The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for discussing in a minute order a social medial post criticizing him, in addition to other misconduct.  Staggs, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct November 17, 2020).

B.W. was a defendant in a criminal case.  B.W.’s spouse criticized the judge in a post on social media, and the judge’s wife brought it to his attention.  In a minute order in B.W.’s case, the judge discussed the post, described its alleged inaccuracies, and requested that it be corrected.  The Commission found that the judge’s review of the post was an improper independent investigation and that “his choice to respond to social media criticism in an official public record did not inspire confidence in the judiciary.”

Public support

Accepting an agreed statement of facts and recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for publicly supporting the teachers at her daughter’s school in litigation with the board of education by making repeated public comments about issues and individuals in person, by email, and on social media platforms in which she was publicly identified as a judge; providing legal information and advice to parents at the school; signing advocacy letters; speaking with members of the board of education; joining teachers’ union counsel outside the courtroom prior to a case conference; and executing an affidavit that was filed in the litigation.  In the Matter of Panepinto, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 9, 2020).

The judge sits on the Eric County Supreme Court.  In March 9, 2017, confirming an arbitration award, a different judge on the same court directed the Buffalo City School District to immediately stop assigning supervisory, non-instructional duties to teachers at Buffalo City Honors School.  The judge’s daughter attended Buffalo City Honors School during the 2017-2018 school year.

In a contempt motion filed in September 2017, the Buffalo Teachers Federation alleged that the Board of Education was not complying with the order and judgment.  In a separate petition filed in February 2018, the teachers’ federation sought an injunction to prevent the transfer of 5.5 teachers from the school and to prevent 16 teachers’ aides from being hired to perform non-instructional duties.

In January 2018, the judge joined a Facebook group comprised of City Honors School parents who publicly supported the teachers’ opposition to the transfer of teachers.  The judge also communicated with parents in support of the teachers using email and Twitter.  The judge posted on Facebook:  “We can go to Court appearance.  I will find out when it is.”  Using email and social media platforms, the judge provided legal information and advice to parents who were sending letters to the board of education and the teachers’ federation.  On Facebook, the judge posted:  “FYI if letter hast [sic] gone yet – include phrase ‘irreparable harm’ and/or send separate [sic] letters as that is legal standard to stop teachers transfers at least in short term.”  By email, the judge stated:  “Has the letter been sent yet?  It needs to state there will be irreparable harm to justify Court ordering stay of lay offs set for February 27.  If already sent we can do second one and/or individual ones describing irreparable harm.”  On Twitter, the judge posted:  “Write short letters stating the ‘irreparable harm’ cutting teachers at CHS will cause to your children.  Students should write as well.  Post on Twitter & send to BPS & BTF!”

The judge publicly criticized City Honors School principal William Kresse on Facebook, posting:  “Let’s not kid ourselves our beloved IB school hired these aids [sic] To punish teachers who won at arbitration & in Court.  If Dr. Kresse didn’t hire these aids [sic], not a single teacher would be transferred.  100% Kresse decision.  Ask him Why?”  Also on Facebook, the judge characterized the proposed transfer of teachers as “pure retaliation” and stated, “We don’t need aides … napping in hallway.”

On or about February 1, in response to a Buffalo News editorial, the judge posted a Facebook comment that identified her as “Catherine Nugent Panepinto – Works at Elected New York Supreme Court Judge Nov, 2010.”  The judge stated that she did not know that Facebook settings would automatically identify her by her judicial title but conceded that she should have familiarized herself with Facebook protocols prior to posting the comments.

The judge posted on Facebook:  “FYI I met with Paulette Woods today.  She is the Central representative on School Board whose district includes City Honors …  I also had a similar positive conversation with [BBOE representatives] Hope Jay & Sharon Cottman & plan to talk w [BBOE representative] Jennifer M[ecozzi] tomorrow.  I think we’re making great progress & looking forward to meeting tomorrow.”

The Commission concluded that the judge violated the rules when she commented about cases in which she was not a litigant.  The Commission explained:

Rather than being circumspect and focusing narrowly on her direct personal interest in her daughter’s education, respondent generally advocated for and supported the CHS teachers.  She attended meetings and spoke critically of the school’s plan to transfer teachers.  In addition, respondent was publicly critical of the CHS principal and described the transfer of teachers as “pure retaliation” which detracted from the dignity of her judicial office.  Furthermore, respondent admittedly violated the Rule which prohibits a full-time judge from practicing law. . . .  In that regard, respondent improperly and repeatedly advised other CHS parents as to the specific language to include in letters in order to meet the legal standard for injunctive relief.

The stipulation stated that the judge invoked the prestige of her office “when her Facebook comment in response to an editorial regarding CHS identified her as a Supreme Court judge.” 

The Commission concluded that the judge’s conduct over these 3 months “was improper and went beyond appropriate action specifically concerning her personal interest in her daughter’s education.”  In mitigation, the Commission considered that the judge admitted that her conduct warrants public discipline and that her sole motivation was to protect the interests of her daughter.

* * *

A 2-part article analyzing the advisory opinions and discipline decisions on social media and judicial ethics was published in the spring and summer 2017 issues of the Judicial Conduct ReporterPart 1 was a general introduction to the topic and a discussion of issues related to judicial duties:  “friending” attorneys, disqualification and disclosure, ex parte communications and independent investigations, and comments on pending cases.  Part 2 covered off-bench conduct:  conduct that undermines public confidence in the judiciary, commenting on issues, abusing the prestige of office, providing legal advice, disclosing non-public information, charitable activities, political activities, and campaign conduct.  Summaries of advisory opinions and cases up-dating the 2-part article are available on the Center for Judicial Ethics website.

Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • Accepting a conditional agreement for discipline, the Indiana Supreme Court suspended a judge for 30 days without pay for (1) exhibiting impatience and frustration with a defendant and her attorney and making sarcastic remarks during a bench trial on traffic charges; (2) a practice of imposing substantially higher penalties on infraction litigants who exercised their trial rights; (3) routinely failing to consider the specific circumstances when imposing penalties in traffic cases; and (4) routinely giving general advisements to defendants that understated the state’s burden of proof and frequently speculating to indecisive defendants about what the state’s evidence might be.  In the Matter of Young, 943 N.E.2d 1276 (Indiana 2011).
  • Granting a joint motion for approval of the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for, to determine who was upset about his appointment of the youth public defender and who had released the information to the media, issuing subpoenas to county commissioners without complying with the law.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Buffington, 55 So. 3d 167 (Mississippi 2011).
  • Based on findings by the Judicial Conduct Board, the Vermont Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for failing to resign as assistant judge upon becoming a candidate for probate judge.  In re Hodgdon, 19 A.3d 598 (Vermont 2011).

“A one-second scream”

The Ohio Supreme Court suspended a former magistrate from the practice of law for 6 months for summarily holding a woman who screamed in the hallway outside his courtroom in contempt and, when she protested, increasing her jail sentence.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Bachman (Ohio Supreme Court December 18, 2020).  The Court adopted the findings of the Board of Professional Conduct, which were based on stipulations and evidence presented at a hearing.

On September 4, 2018, at approximately 7:45 a.m., K.J. arrived at the court to file a petition for a civil protection order.  After she completed the paperwork, a clerk’s office employee told her that she had missed the 8:10 a.m. filing deadline to be heard that day and that she would have to return the following day.

K.J. went to the magistrate’s courtroom, apparently hoping to have her case heard that day.  The magistrate was conducting an asset-forfeiture trial.  After speaking with the magistrate’s clerks in the hallway, K.J. turned away.

As she walked toward the exit, K.J. screamed so loudly that she was heard in the courtroom.  The magistrate immediately said, “Okay, time-out,” and stopped the trial.

The Court described the video footage of what followed as “revealing and disturbing.”

It shows Bachman exiting the courtroom in his robe and running down the hallway in pursuit of K.J.  He accosts her at the elevators and returns her to his courtroom.  Once there, Bachman walks her through the crowded courtroom with his hand on her shoulder, places her in a seat in his jury box, and orders her not to move just before summoning the sheriff.  Multiple sheriff’s deputies soon arrive, and Bachman orders them to take K.J. into custody and to jail her for three days for contempt, causing her to cry and attempt to leave the jury box.

The Court stated that “the next 20 minutes of the video are difficult to watch.”

While K.J. resists being arrested and pleads with Bachman to explain why she is being jailed for three days, she is physically subdued by two deputies, threatened with being tased, and ultimately dragged from the jury box by several deputies.  Bachman’s only response is to increase her jail sentence to ten days. . . .  Bachman then congratulates a deputy on an award the deputy had recently received and resumes the proceeding as if nothing out of the ordinary has just transpired.  Meanwhile, the video footage shows, while K.J. continues protesting her arrest, she is dragged, yanked, pinned to a wall, and handcuffed to a chair.  Before the video ends, over 20 deputies and members of the court staff are involved in jailing K.J.—all because of a scream of frustration in the hallway that lasted one second.

2 days later, the administrative judge watched the video of the incident and ordered that K.J. be released from custody.  Approximately 4 days later, the magistrate was told that the “general sentiment” of the judges on the court was that he should be let go.  He resigned because, as he testified at his disciplinary hearing, he had been told that if he did, “this would be quiet and that would be it.”

Noting that a judicial officer has authority to summarily punish a person whose misbehavior in or near the courtroom “obstruct[s] the administration of justice,” the Court emphasized that K.J.’s scream outside the magistrate’s courtroom was only “a distraction at best or a momentary interruption to the proceedings at worst.  The only obstruction to the administration of justice that day occurred due to Bachman’s misconduct.”

Noting that it considers injury caused by professional misconduct when determining a sanction, the Court stated that “the chain of events set in motion by Bachman’s misconduct” physically and emotionally harmed K.J.  It noted that the magistrate’s conduct also “exposed the sheriff’s deputies and other court personnel to harm from a violent and unnecessary arrest on full display in front of a courtroom full of people who have no other choice but to sit silently and witness such a disturbing sight.”

The Court noted the Board’s finding that the magistrate defended his action as an appropriate exercise of the contempt power and “demonstrated a lack of insight as to the inappropriateness of his actions,” showing no “remorse for the effects of the incident on [K.J.],” and focusing on the impact “on his career and his resulting financial loss,” and.  The Court found:

Bachman’s sentencing K.J. to ten days in jail for a one-second scream in the hallway as she was leaving his courtroom area and for questioning why she was being jailed is outrageous.  The spectacle his conduct created was even more appalling and demonstrates his utter indifference to the harm he caused K.J. and the integrity of the judiciary. . . .

Sending someone to jail is not the adult equivalent to sending a child to his or her room for a time-out.  Yet Bachman and other judicial officers who have been sanctioned for similar conduct seem to equate the two.  Not only was Bachman’s jailing of K.J. unauthorized under the contempt statute, but he exhibited a total disregard for the reason she was at the courthouse in the first place — to get a civil protection order.  He also showed a complete indifference to the circumstances of her life (e.g., whether she had children or other family members to care for, employment she might lose, or any other harm she could suffer), to the indignity she endured by being physically restrained in a crowded courtroom, and ultimately, to the loss of her liberty.

The Board had recommended that the 6-month suspension be stayed with conditions.  The Court stated that an actual suspension was warranted “when a judicial officer’s misconduct causes harm in the form of incarceration” and “to send a strong message to members of the judiciary, to deter similar violations in the future, and to make crystal clear to the public that this type of judicial misconduct will not be tolerated.”

Throwback Thursday

20 years ago this month:

  • Accepting a stipulation, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a former judge for intentionally altering a court record; the Commission also barred him from receiving any assignment or reference from any California state court.  Inquiry Concerning Judge Hermo, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 20, 2001).
  • Accepting the determination of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the public censure of a judge for “inappropriate and demeaning” conduct toward his secretary.  In the Matter of Shaw, 747 N.E.2d 1272 (New York 2001).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for (1) in 1 divorce case, finding both parties guilty of contempt and sentencing them to jail, based on the other party’s unsworn statements, without holding a hearing, and instructing the attorneys to submit ex parte affidavits concerning the exchange personal property at the marital residence; (2) in a second case, repeatedly violating the rights of a third-party defendant and conveying an appearance of bias; (3) in a third case, using “colorful” language and exerting pressure in an “injudicious and indiscriminate manner” to force a settlement; and (4) in a fourth case, while exerting pressure to achieve a settlement, stating that the parties were wasting the court’s time on matters that should have been settled, and disparaging the attorneys, in the presence of their clients.  In the Matter of Teresi, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 8, 2001).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for, while a candidate for nomination to the supreme court, making improper, inflammatory, taunting, and provocative comments to and about a defendant while presiding over his arraignment for a crime that had resulted in the death of a police officer that conveyed the impression that he was using the judicial proceeding as a political forum.  In the Matter of Brennan, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 8, 2001).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for retaining unexpended campaign funds after his unsuccessful campaigns for the nomination to another judicial office rather than returning them to his contributors pro rata.  In the Matter of Mullen, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 8, 2001).
  • The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for (1) soliciting and receiving ex parte information about the owner of a mobile home park and relying on the information to the owner’s detriment; and (2) writing a letter on judicial stationery notifying a property owner of code violations and writing to the codes enforcement officer suggesting that he issue an appearance ticket to the property owner’s tenants.  In the Matter of MacLaughlin, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 8, 2001).

Pandemic advice

Judicial ethics committees have responded to judges’ inquiries about the challenge of managing courts and hearing cases while coping with the threat of transmitting the virus.

Judges in a Nebraska district were asked to meet with a coalition of agencies “formed to provide low-income tenants in eviction cases with representation in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.”  The coalition wanted to discuss with the judges the public health risks in eviction proceedings, scheduling, modifications of the court’s calendaring procedure, and substantive procedural changes. 

The Nebraska judicial ethics committee advised the judges that they or their designee could meet with the coalition, noting that the proposed topics were “appropriate matters for discussion given that no advantage can be reasonably assumed to adhere to the coalition or its potential clients from the conversations.”  Nebraska Advisory Opinion 2020-1.  The committee added that, although the judges were not required to notify others who might be interested in the discussion, “it would be appropriate, efficient, and in keeping with the spirit of the Nebraska Revised Code of Judicial Conduct to encourage other attorneys or interested parties to participate in the meeting.”  The committee noted that the coalition’s request was not a prohibited ex parte communication about pending or impending cases that had to be disclosed to other counsel or parties or to disciplinary authorities. 

The coalition had also asked the judges to notify self-represented litigants about the coalition “from the bench.”  The committee advised that the judges could not “refer persons to a specific organization for legal assistance” but could inform “an unrepresented litigant that he or she has a general right to seek the assistance of counsel and that there are organizations which may be able to assist on a reduced or a no-fee basis.”  The committee also disapproved of the suggestion that information about legal services be included with the summons in eviction cases, concluding that “extraneous materials promoting one specific group of service providers” should not be included with the documents that statutes specify must be provided.  The opinion did add that the court could post information about the coalition’s services in “highly visible” locations near courtrooms and throughout the courthouse.

The coalition had also asked the judges to consider “liberally granting continuances,” but the judicial ethics committee warned that “any such promise or consideration by the court would be improper.  All continuances are subject to objection and controlled by rules of law.  It is inappropriate to have a blanket rule that all continuances should be either granted or denied in any type of case.”

The New York advisory committee addressed several inquiries from town and village justices who wanted to work with prosecutors to facilitate plea agreements in traffic cases to limit in-person court appearances due to public health concerns, particularly given significant staff reductions for prosecutorial agencies and courts.  Emphasizing the importance of maintaining judicial independence, the committee disapproved all four proposals, although it noted that it was “not unsympathetic to the challenges facing prosecutors and courts ….”

For example, in New York Advisory Opinion 2020-99, the committee stated that a town or village justice court must not “collaborate” with prosecutors to develop procedures to process pleas on paper and establish a mail-in plea bargain process for vehicle and traffic law infractions.  The opinion emphasized that a court must not promote or favor mail-in pleas and/or plea bargaining over other options even to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.  However, the committee did suggest that the court could meet with defense bar representatives and the prosecutor’s office together to discuss procedures for handling mail-in pleas on traffic infractions and authorized the court to distribute, as a convenience to defendants, a court-prepared form that impartially listed all options and included a link to the district attorney’s website and/or email address. 

The committee also disapproved of a proposed plea reduction form “designed to limit foot traffic in the courtroom” because it did not present all of a motorist’s options neutrally, it had the court’s name at the top, and it significantly downplayed the motorist’s rights.  New York Advisory Opinion 2020-206.  The opinion did suggest that “it may be helpful for court administrators, working with the Office of Justice Court Support, to develop and circulate a new form, consistent with applicable ethical and legal considerations, for use in these circumstances.  Such a form could help protect well-intentioned judges across the state from inadvertent missteps.  We note that other potential solutions might be technological in nature (e.g. if defendant motorists could interact directly with the prosecuting agency online to request plea reductions) or even legislative (e.g. if statutory changes could be made to facilitate plea bargaining in matters where defendants mail in “not guilty” pleas pursuant . . .).”

See also New York Advisory Opinion 2020-97 (courts must not distribute the district attorney’s “informational document” to defendant motorists or otherwise implement the DA’s procedure for facilitating defendants’ pleas to lesser charges in vehicle and traffic law matters); New York Advisory Opinion 2020-94 (judge may not permit the clerk to use the court’s database access or other digital platform to enter data in the village attorney’s plea bargain letters sent to defendant motorists).

Not all pandemic operation issues are ethical ones, of course.  The California Supreme Court advisory committee, for example, explained that it did not have the authority to decide whether judges may require a witness or a party who is afraid to remove a mask, as that is a question of law.  California Oral Advisory Summary 2020-32.  It also advised that whether judges must be allowed to continue to work remotely if they are concerned that their age or preexisting medical conditions would place them at great risk if they were required to be physically present in a courtroom was not an ethics issue, but a court management issue.  California Supreme Court Committee Advisory Opinion 2020-34.

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Accepting the recommendation of the Committee on Judicial Conduct, the New Hampshire Supreme Court suspended for 6 months without pay and publicly censured a judge for calling a police officer he knew personally after the officer had ticketed the judge’s brother; the Court conditioned the judge’s reinstatement on his completion of a comprehensive judicial ethics course.  In re Snow, 674 A.2d 573 (New Hampshire 1996).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for appearing on behalf of his sister-in-law at a motion hearing before a family law commissioner during regular court hours and at the courthouse in which he performed his judicial duties; the judge also agreed to attend a judicial ethics course.  In re Chow, Stipulation and Order of Admonishment (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 2, 1996).

What judges said that got them in trouble in the second half of 2020

What judges said that got them in trouble in the first half of 2020 was summarized in two previous posts:  Part 1 and Part 2.

To or about litigants

  • “[I could] split [you]r baby in half like Solomon and sleep like a baby that night;” and “And when I say communication, I don’t mean ‘and den da b**ch done dis, and den da b**ch done dat.’”  Judge to couple during custody dispute, affecting an Ebonics accent and dialect.  In re Tranquilli, Order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline November 19, 2020) (ordering that pay withheld from a former judge since his suspension be permanently withheld and that his pledge not to serve be irrevocable).
  • “Deadbeat.”  Judge referring to tenant in an eviction proceeding.  In the Matter of Knopf, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct September 23, 2020) (censure for this and related misconduct).
  • “Okay, time-out;” and “If you open your mouth one more time, you’re adding on to your misery ma’am.”  Judge jailing for contempt a woman who screamed in the hallway outside his courtroom.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Bachman (Ohio Supreme Court December 18, 2020) (6-month suspension from practice of law for former judge).
  • “Send him to jail.”  Judge to a bailiff about the defendant in a non-support case without conducting a hearing or making a written finding of contemptIn re Conley, Public reprimand (Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission September 9, 2020).
  • “B***h.”  Judge referring to school liaison officer who followed her employer’s instructions rather than the judge’s regarding the filing of truancy, dependency, neglect, and abuse cases.  Gentry v. Judicial Conduct Commission (Kentucky Supreme Court December 17, 2020) (removal for this and other misconduct).

To or about criminal defendants

  • “The Mormon’s [sic] the Court are [sic] associated with are good people that live up to their responsibilities.  The court knows because He is the Sunday School President at an LDS ward.”  Judge in minute order responding to defendant’s excuse that he was a full-time college student, an employee making minimum wage, and a Mormon.  Staggs, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct November 17, 2020) (reprimand for this and other misconduct).
  • “[I will] cast [the defendant] down among the [S]odomites . . . in state prison.”  Judge during sentencing.  In re Tranquilli, Order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline November 19, 2020) (ordering that pay withheld from a former judge since his suspension be permanently withheld and that his pledge not to serve be irrevocable).
  • “I think you’re a f***ing addict and maybe you need treatment.  I don’t think it’s got nothing to do with anger management.  You think I give you anger management and that’s gonna get you clean and sober?  What the hell are you talking about?  Have a seat, over here…  Percocet and alcohol…  I’m gonna relax a little bit and then figure out what to do with him. . . .”  Judge to defendant in drug court.  In re Wilson, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 20, 2020) (censure for this and similar misconduct).
  • “Then you can just leave.  And I’m going to order a bench warrant for your arrest when you do.”  Judge to defendant before ordering his arrest for contempt for “constructively” failing to appear and disruptive behavior.  In re Jurado, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 20, 2020) () (reprimand).
  • To “make a point.”  Judge explaining why he was proceeding with a probable cause hearing without the defendant’s counsel present at the time the judge had directed.  In re Inquiry Concerning Clontz (North Carolina Supreme Court December 18, 2020) (reprimand).

To or about attorneys in criminal cases

  • “You weren’t out of strikes when you decided to put Aunt Jemima on the jury,” and “[you] knew darn well that when she goes home to her baby daddy, he’s probably slinging heroin too.”  Judge to prosecutor about a Black female juror who wore her hair in a kerchief.  In re Tranquilli, Order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline November 19, 2020) (ordering that pay withheld from a former judge since his suspension be permanently withheld and that his pledge not to serve be irrevocable).
  • “This level of ‘service’ is far below what the citizens of this community expect and deserve.”  Judge in email to district attorney about handling of criminal case.  In the Matter Concerning Tamietti, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance October 14, 2020) (admonishment for this and other misconduct).
  • The district attorney’s office was “unprofessional,” “stupid,” and “superfluous.”  Judge in chambers conference with district attorney and others.  In the Matter Concerning Mason, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance December 9, 2020) (admonishment for this and other misconduct).
  • “So you’re going to hear that all the time, and you’re going to be sick of hearing it, just like I get sick of reading it, but it’s – it’s what I have to do.”  Judge about disclosing his relationship to an attorney.  In the Matter Concerning Mason, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance December 9, 2020) (admonishment for this and other misconduct).

To or about court staff

  • “I’ll talk to you the way I want.  If you weren’t so incompetent I wouldn’t talk to you like that.”  Judge to clerk.  In the Matter of Pineda-Kirwan, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020) (censure for this and similar misconduct).
  • “How can you do that?  I have more seniority than he does. . . .  You treat me like sh**.”  Judge to courthouse supervisor about giving a table loaned to her courtroom to another judge.  In the Matter of Pineda-Kirwan, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020) (censure for this and similar misconduct).
  • There was “no pan ocha [sic].”  Judge explaining to court staff why he left the priesthood, using term he believed meant “brown sugar,” but which is slang for the female anatomy.  Pollard, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct September 15, 2020) (reprimand).
  • “Gag Order, Esquire,” and, “Thinking of you, Billy.”  On patch depicting a man with a ball gag that judge gave to a female judge and 3 female staff members.  In the Matter of Potter, Stipulation and order of consent to public admonishment (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline September 30, 2020).
  • “[If I] knew [you] could also cook, [I] would have gone for [you];” and “[You] look[ed] really hot.”  Judge to chief clerk.  In the Matter of Miller, 158 N.E.3d 87 (New York 2020) (removal for this and other misconduct).
  • “Do not shake your head at me,” and “Do you want to be held in contempt?”  Judge to court staff member in lobby outside of courtroom while trying to get a group leaving an investiture to stop disrupting the trial over which he was presiding.  Inquiry Concerning Miller, 304 So.3d 1214 (Florida 2020).
  • “It was much easier in the old days when they used to call them all [English and Spanish derogatory slurs for undocumented immigrants from Mexico].”  Judge to court reporter in courtroom during recess about coverage of mass shooting in El Paso.  Public Admonition of Luitjen (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 4, 2020).
  • “Get to work woman!” and “Let’s go woman!”  Judge referring to female employees.  Staggs, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct November 17, 2020) (reprimand for this and other misconduct).

To police officers

  • “I’ve been vetted, take the cuffs off,” and “All I did was help this person.  He was my boyfriend.  There was never any incident before this.”  Judge to police officers who arrested her for hindering apprehension of her boyfriend.  In the Matter of Brady, 235, A.3d 175 (New Jersey 2020) (3-month suspension without pay).
  • “I’m a judge and I was trying to get home but I just got lost.”  Judge to officer responding to a report of an intoxicated driver.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Hawkins (Ohio Supreme Court August 12, 2020) (reprimand).
  • “None of them had driver[‘s] licenses, since they are Mexican.”  Judge requesting that law enforcement officers issue traffic citations to commercial vehicles with a solar farm project that was next to her family property.  Public Warning of Plaster and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020).

On social media

  • “WHAT DOES THE SHEEP SAY?  WE NEED COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL.”  Meme posted by judge on Facebook.  In the Matter of Schmidt, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 3, 2020) (admonishment for this and other posts).
  • “Sign of the time.”  Judge in Facebook post linking to newspaper article entitled, “Fatal DWI suspect bragged about bail reform:  ‘I’ll be out tomorrow.’”  In the Matter of Schmidt, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 3, 2020) (admonishment for this and other posts).
  • “This makes me so sad.  I wonder how Judge Johnson would feel if the woman that was pistol whipped was his daughter, wife, or sister?  He sounds like an activist judge trying to prove a point.  That doesn’t help the woman who was hurt.”  Judge in Facebook post about another judge’s bond determination.  Public Warning of Crow and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct October 28, 2020).
  • “Write short letters stating the ‘irreparable harm’ cutting teachers at CHS will cause to your children.  Students should write as well.  Post on Twitter & send to BBS & BTF!”  Judge on Twitter publicly supporting the teachers at her daughter’s school in litigation with the board of education.  In the Matter of Panepinto, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 9, 2020) (censure).

During election campaigns

  • “Re-elect Kelly Allen Gray!  Fort Worth City Council, – District 8.  #teamkelly.”  Judge on Facebook about friend’s campaign for city council.  Public Warning of Woodard and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct October 28, 2020).
  • “Now, we need you to watch our backs, we need you to vote for Cheryl Johnson.”  Judge at a fund-raising event for the county tax assessor-collector’s re-election campaign.  Public Warning of Cox (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 4, 2020).
  • “I haven’t knocked it down.  I have taken signs down prior that were placed illegally.”  Judge in interview in chambers about video on YouTube purportedly showing him removing from his neighbor’s property the campaign sign of a candidate for the Texas House of Representatives.  Public Admonition of Metzger (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 12, 2020).
  • “Her boyfriend went to prison for assaulting her several times.”  Judge about a woman who clapped for her opponent at a campaign forum.  Public Reprimand of Howard (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020) Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020).
  • “Bruce Staggs – Justice of the Peace, Benson JP Court.”  On nail files distributed by judge during court hours.  Staggs, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct November 17, 2020) (reprimand for this and other misconduct).

Off-the-bench

  • “Sit tight” and, “Do you have any questions?”  Judge on cell phone to boyfriend of friends’ daughter after arranging for his release on a recognizance bond before his scheduled arraignment.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Goulding (Ohio Supreme Court September 29, 2020) (6 month-suspension, stayed with conditions).
  • “Is this what you are talking about?”  Judge showing handgun to a man during a public confrontation.  Public Reprimand of Williams (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct September 8, 2020).
  • “Stay away.”  Judge warning friend after law enforcement requested a search warrant for a mutual friend as part of a drug trafficking investigation.  In the Matter of Kamada, 476 P.3d 1146 (Colorado 2020) (censure of former judge).
  • “I would not have made the choice to write and fax those orders, knowing I had a conflict, outside of the chaos, confusion and fear of the immediate circumstances I was inside of on September 18, 2017.”  Judge in self-report to commission about her intervention in her husband’s arrest.  Maze v. Judicial Conduct Commission (Kentucky Supreme Court December 17, 2020) (reprimand).

Throwback Thursday

5 years ago this month:

  • Based on an agreement and stipulation, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended a judge for 180 days without pay for her handling of her small claims docket.  In the Matter of Pettway, Final judgment (Alabama Court of the Judiciary January 21, 2016).
  • Based on an agreement and stipulation, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary publicly censured a judge for instructing criminal defendants to donate blood or go to jail when they owed court-ordered financial assessments but did not have any money.  In the Matter of Wiggins, Final judgment (Alabama Court of the Judiciary January 21, 2016).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for treating certain women at court inappropriately, despite having been warned by the court about his behavior.  Public Admonishment of Bergeron (California Commission on Judicial Performance January 25, 2016).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for, on 8 occasions, signing and submitting false salary affidavits that stated he had no submitted cases pending and undetermined over 90 days and, on 6 occasions, receiving his salary in violation of the law.  Public Admonishment of Wilson (California Commission on Judicial Performance January 23, 2016).
  • With the judge’s consent, the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure released its determination that a judge’s modification of a defendant’s sentence outside the presence of the parties violated the code of judicial conduct.  Re:  Williams, Determination and undertaking (D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure January 20, 2016).
  • Based on stipulated facts, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline removed a former judge from office and ordered him ineligible to hold judicial office in the future following his guilty plea in federal court to 1 count of mail fraud and 1 count of honest services wire fraud, both felonies.  In re Waters, Opinion and order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline January 12, 2016).
  • Pursuant to the judge’s agreement, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for disposing of numerous cases in which criminal and juvenile defendants were represented by his wife and entered a cease and desist order in which the judge agreed not to be involved in any cases in which his spouse represents a party.  Re Grimes (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct January 11, 2016).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for, after taking a case under advisement following a bench trial, entering a written judgment that was inconsistent with the amount of damages sought and presented at trial, failing to provide notice of the entry of the lower judgment amount to the parties, failing to afford the parties an opportunity to be heard on the legal issue that resulted in the lower judgment amount, and failing to announce the final judgment in open court as required by law.  Public Admonition of Contreras (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 28, 2016).

State judicial discipline in 2020: Top stories of 2020

In 2020, as a result of approximately 127 public state judicial discipline proceedings:

  • 11 judges were removed from office.
  • 5 former judges were barred from serving in office again.  1 of those former judges was also suspended from the practice of law for 1 year.  2 were also publicly censured, fined $1,000 each, and permanently barred from public office.  1 was also publicly censured and barred from public office for 10 years.
  • 13 judges or former judges resigned or retired in lieu of discipline pursuant to public agreements with conduct commissions.
  • 7 judges were suspended without pay as a final sanction for 14 days to 6 months, although the 6-month suspension was stayed conditioned on the judge completing 2 hours of education and engaging in no further misconduct.  There were 3 suspensions for 30 days (1 also included a reprimand; 1 included a reprimand and $1,000 fine).  1 judge was suspended for 3 months.  1 judge was suspended for 90 days, reprimanded, and fined $2,000.
  • Approximately 7 of the cases involved former judges.  In approximately 15 of those cases, the judge was also ordered to obtain additional education, training, mentoring, or counseling.
  • 1 former judge was disbarred and 2 former judges had their law licenses suspended in attorney discipline proceedings for conduct while they were judges.  The suspensions were for 6 months, although 1 of those suspensions was stayed conditioned on the former judge completing 4 hours of education and engaging in no further misconduct.
  • In 2 cases, the judicial conduct commission made public findings of misconduct but did not impose a sanction.
  • 1 judge was retired for disability.

This count does not include approximately 8 cases currently pending on review.  Approximately 1/3 of the sanctions were entered pursuant to an agreement.  “Judge” refers to any type of judicial officer, whether full-time or part-time, including supreme court and appellate court justices, justices of the peace, magistrates, court commissioners, and hearing officers.

See also State judicial discipline in 2019.