What they said that got them in trouble in the first half of 2017

  • “If you speak I’m going to put you in handcuffs and put you in jail.” Judge to assistant district attorney who had asked to speak when the judge indicated he was going to dismiss charges in a high profile murder case after a mistrial.  In the Matter of Piampiano, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 13, 2017) (censure for this and other misconduct).
  • “Give this to Judge Hawthorne and have him dismiss it for me.”  Judge to court clerk about traffic ticket received by an acquaintance.  In the Matter of Aluzzi, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct June 26, 2017) (censure).
  • “Un-cuff Zohra . . . . I think she’s learned a lesson.”  Judge who had ordered his bailiff to handcuff a deputy public defender to a chair when she continued to argue for leniency as he sentenced her client.  In the Matter of Hafen, Stipulation and order of consent (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline February 27, 2017) (censure).
  • “I’m not appointing them right now, I’m waiting 60 days to – so the public defender cannot disqualify me.” Judge to clerk while giving back form for appointment of counsel for a defendant during dispute with public defender.  In re Mennemeyer, 505 S.W.3d 282 (Missouri 2017) (6-month suspension without pay for this and other misconduct).
  • “IT IS ORDERED AND DIRECTED THAT: Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.”  Chief Justice in administrative order disregarding federal court injunction.  Moore v Judicial Inquiry Commission (Alabama Supreme Court April 19, 2017) (suspension until end of term).
  • “We have at least one magistrate who will do same-sex marriages, but I will not be able to.” Judge to reporter.  Inquiry Concerning Neely, 390 P.3d 728 (Wyoming 2017) (censure).
  • “I’m not sure, Cody, that I can recall, in recent times, somebody being that sympathetic a figure.” Judge to reporter about the defendant in 1 of 3 media interviews he gave shortly after declaring a mistrial in a high profile murder case.  In the Matter of Piampiano, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 13, 2017) (censure for this and other misconduct).
  • “Time for a tree and a rope . . .” Judge in comment on the sheriff’s Facebook post about the arrest of an African-American man for the killing of a police officer.  Amended Public Reprimand of Oakley and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct May 8, 2017).
  • “Colored.” Judge referring to black people but, he stated, “never in the courtroom or directed at one particular individual.”  Public Reprimand of DeLaPaz and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 17, 2017).
  • “Ok, I’m not gonna argue with you.  I will throw you out of this office, though.”  Judge before escorting out of his office a member of the public who had asked to see the case files on a particular defendant.  Public Warning of Alford and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 28, 2017).
  • “Barack Obama & Gary Johnson Party at the White House . . . .” False and misleading caption to photo-shopped picture in a campaign flyer attacking an incumbent judge.   In the Matter of Callaghan, 796 S.E.2d 604 (West Virginia 2017) (2-year suspension without pay and $15,000 fine).
  • “’Ms. Shepard has done well. She has kept her promises.  She has worked hard.  She has maintained her integrity.’ – The Orlando Sentinel.”  Judicial candidate’s mailer using an edited version of a newspaper endorsement for her 1994 legislative re-election campaign in her 2014 judicial campaign.  Inquiry Concerning Shepard, 217 So. 3d 71 (Florida 2017) (90-day suspension without pay).
  • “Karen Shatzle [sic] has sex with defense lawyer whike [sic] shw [sic] is a DA on his cases and nobody cares. Interesting politics.”  Judge about a judicial candidate on the bar association Facebook page with knowing or reckless disregard to the truth of the statement.   In the Matter Concerning Ferguson, Public admonishment (California Commission on Judicial Performance May 31, 2017) (public admonishment for this and other misconduct).



Top judicial ethics stories of 2017 – So far

  • In early 2017, several judicial ethics advisory committees answered inquiries from judges about whether they could participate in marches, contact their elected representatives, or engage in similar political activities as private citizens or respond as judges to other public officials’ misconceptions about the rule of law. Click here for a previous post about the opinions.
  • A special Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of the Judiciary suspending Chief Justice Roy Moore from office without pay for the remainder of his term for entering an administrative order that directed all probate judges to follow Alabama’s marriage laws in disregard of a federal court injunction. Click here for a previous post about the case.  Shortly after the decision, the Chief Justice resigned to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General of the U.S.
  • Following a de novo review, the Wyoming Supreme Court censured Judge Ruth Neely for her refusal to perform same-sex marriages and ordered that she either perform no marriage ceremonies or that she perform marriage ceremonies regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation. Inquiry Concerning Neely, 390 P.3d 728 (Wyoming 2017).  Click here for a previous post about the case.

Top stories still developing:

  • On June 16, the Oregon Supreme Court held oral arguments on the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability that Judge Vance Day be removed from office for a variety of misconduct. The Commission found that the judge had committed misconduct by (1) after the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was overturned, directing his staff to lie about his availability to same-sex couples asking to be married and direct them to another judge; (2) at 2 community college soccer games for his son’s team, trying to intimidate a referee by, for example, brandishing his judicial business card while threatening to complain to the referee’s employer about his job performance; (3) facilitating the handling of a firearm by a former Navy SEAL and convicted felon (identified as “BAS”) on active supervised probation in the veterans court over which the judge presided; (4) “enamored with BAS’s notoriety and his accomplishments in the military,” having unsolicited, often unwanted, personal, and completely inappropriate out-of-court contacts with him, including texting him, showing up at BAS’s home uninvited, taking him to a wedding, bringing BAS to his home, nurturing a relationship between BAS and his son, and facilitating favors for BAS such as rides and food; (5) securing funds for a “Hall of Heroes” (military art hung in his courtroom and in the surrounding public areas, including a donated portrait of Hitler) in part by soliciting financial support from attorneys who appeared before him and collecting the money, often in the courthouse and once during a status conference in his chambers; (6) making public statements to create the impression that the Commission proceeding was solely about his religious beliefs and refusal to conduct same-sex marriages to deflect attention away from his other misconduct; and (7) engaging in a pattern of dishonesty and untruthfulness during the Commission proceedings.
  • In May, the ACLU of Kentucky, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign, and a law professor filed a complaint with the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission against Judge Mitchell Nance after he announced he would no longer hear adoption cases involving “homosexual parties” because he “as a matter of conscience” believes that “under no circumstance” would “the best interest of the child be promoted by the adoption by a practicing homosexual”
  • On April 17, in an exercise of its general superintending control and to protect the integrity of the judicial system and “ensure that all are given a fair and impartial tribunal,” the Arkansas Supreme Court re-assigned all cases involving the death penalty or the state’s execution protocol, whether civil or criminal, that had been assigned to Judge Wendell Griffen and referred Judge Griffen to the Commission on Judicial Discipline & Disability.  Judge Griffen has also filed a complaint about the order against the justices with the Commission.  The Court’s order was prompted by Judge Griffen’s participation in 2 protests against the death penalty on Good Friday April 14 (he is also a pastor) and his entry of a temporary injunction that same day in a suit brought by a drug distributor against the use of its paralytic drug in 8 executions the state had scheduled in 10 days beginning Monday April 17 because its supply of the drug, which was one of the drugs used in executions, was about to expire.