Recent cases

  • Pursuant to a stipulation and the judge’s consent, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly reprimanded a judge for interfering and failing to cooperate with court officials in the administrative of court business with respect to personnel matters and using inappropriate language around court staff and court officials.  In the Matter of Chelini, Stipulation and order of consent (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline August 12, 2021).
  • Accepting a stipulation based on the judge’s affirmation that he has vacated his office and will not seek or accept judicial office in the future, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded a proceeding against a former non-lawyer judge it was investigating based on the judge’s arrest on criminal charges of harassment and endangering the welfare of a child, his invocation of his judicial office at the time of his arrest when he asked the investigator to recommend a less restrictive order of protection, and his failure for approximately 3 months to comply with a court order to surrender all of his firearms.  In the Matter of Duyssen, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 5, 2021).
  • Based on the report of the Board of Professional Conduct, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended a judge for 6 months without pay for regularly communicating on Facebook messenger and over the phone with a litigant about 4 cases over which the judge was presiding; the Court stayed the suspension conditioned on the judge completing at least 3 hours of continuing judicial education on ex parte communications or use of social media by judicial officers, refraining from further misconduct, and paying the costs of the proceedings.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Winters (Ohio Supreme Court August 18, 2021).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended a magistrate for 6 months for his disruptive behavior during a meeting about the court’s Covid-19 safety plan, his confrontations with another magistrate and the Chief Magistrate after the meeting, and his statement to a clerk about the Chief Magistrate’s complaint to Disciplinary Counsel; the suspension was made retroactive to July 10, 2020, the date of his interim suspension, and the Court also ordered him to complete at least 15 hours of anger management and to pay the costs of the investigation.  In the Matter of Rivers (South Carolina Supreme Court August 11, 2021).
  • Based on the judge’s resignation and agreement to be disqualified from judicial service in the state, the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct agreed not to pursue further disciplinary proceedings against a former justice of the peace and associate municipal court judge; in May 2019, the Commission had suspended the judge without pay after she was indicted on state charges of theft of more than $2,500, but less than $30,000, and abuse of official capacity.  Grigsby, Voluntary agreement to resign from judicial office in lieu of disciplinary action (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct July 12, 2021).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly warned a judge for her posts on her personal Facebook page that supported judicial candidates, opposed candidates for non-judicial offices, made a negative comment about Scientology, and included a meme about border crossings; the Commission also ordered the judge to obtain 2 hours of instruction on racial sensitivity with a mentor.  Public Warning of Baca Bennet and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 16, 2021).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for, after learning that the county attorney sought to dismiss a traffic matter, initiating an ex parte communication about the merits of the case with the officer who issued the citation and directing his clerk to tell the county attorney that the officer was opposed to the dismissal.  Public Admonition of Zander and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2021).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly warned a judge for ordering the activation of a criminal defendant’s stun cuff, which resulted in injury to the defendant and his absence from the remainder of the guilt/innocence phase of his trial.  Public Warning of Gallagher (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 19, 2021).
  • Based on agreements to resign and never to seek judicial office, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonished 2 former magistrates for dismissing criminal charges in exchange for donations to a charitable organization by granting motions to dismiss filed by the prosecution.  Public Admonishment of Nutter (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission August 27, 2021); Public Admonishment of Taylor (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission August 27, 2021).

Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for abusing his contempt power in response to a report that a member of the public was using her cell phone to take pictures or videos of people in the courthouse lobby involved in dependency court proceedings.  In the Matter Concerning Wagoner, Decision and Order (California Commission on Judicial Performance September 13, 2011).
  • Agreeing with the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Georgia Supreme Court removed a judge from office for (1) obtaining and consuming marijuana at least once a week from March to May of 2010; (2) showing up at the house of his sister-in-law’s estranged husband, identifying himself as a magistrate judge, and then kicking in 2 interior doors at the man’s home; (3) in the courthouse, pointing a firearm at himself and stating to another magistrate judge, “I am not scared.  Are you all scared?”; (4) while on a local cable television show called “Night Talk,” (a) making derogatory remarks about the Chief Magistrate Judge and calling him “spineless,” (b) publicly disclosing that he had filed a complaint with the Commission against the Chief Magistrate Judge, and (c) exposing the identity of a confidential informant and displaying a photograph of the informant; (5) making a phone call to “Night Talk,” and, after initially trying to disguise his voice with multiple foreign accents, told the sheriff (who was being interviewed on the show) that he had “crapped himself’ and was a “spineless jelly spine;” and (6) refusing to work hours that had been assigned to him by the Chief Magistrate Judge.  Inquiry Concerning Peters, 715 S.E.2d 56 (Georgia 2011).
  • Based on agreed findings of facts, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a part-time judge for 30-days without pay, publicly reprimanded her, and fined her $500 for executing a felony arrest warrant for a client’s ex-husband based upon an affidavit submitted by her client.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Bustin, 71 So. 3d 598 (Mississippi 2011).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for discussing a citation with the game warden who had issued it and unilaterally dismissing the case based on ex parte communications with the defendant and the fear of a potential lawsuit against the county.  Public Admonition of Cox (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct September 8, 2011).
  • The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonished a judge for delegating to his law clerk responsibility for presiding over 2 hearings on name change petitions.  In the Matter of Yoder, Public Admonishment (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission September 2011).

Virtual National College on Judicial Conduct and Ethics

Registration is now open for the virtual National College on Judicial Conduct and Ethics on Thursday and Friday, October 28 and 29, 2021, from 12 to 3:30 EDT/11 to 2:30 CDT/10 to 1:30 MDT/9 to 12:30 PDT & MST.  Held by the Center for Judicial Ethics of the National Center for State Courts, the College will have three one-hour sessions each day presented via Zoom, with 15-minute breaks in between. The topics to be covered:

  • Determining the appropriate sanction in judicial discipline cases
  • Crossing the line and training to prevent it:  #CourtsToo
  • Abuse of the criminal contempt power and judicial discipline
  • When judges speak up
  • Lessons learned:  A decade plus of judges on social media

The schedule is below. 

  • The registration fee is $95 total for both dates, all sessions.  The fee is non-fundable.
  • If you cannot be present for all or part of the College, you can still register to gain access to a recording of the sessions after the College is over.  Only those who pre-register will have access to the recording.
  • If you are registering multiple people, you must register each attendee individually under their name and email address.
  • Attendees will receive two links, one for each day.  Each attendee’s Zoom links will be unique to them.  Please do not share your links with others.
  • You may not receive the email confirming your registration for up to 24 hours.  The email will come from akim@ncsc.org.  Please check your junk or spam folders.  If you have not received it in after 24 hours, please contact akim@ncsc.org.
  • Attendees will need to apply for continuing legal education certification in their state.

An abridged, remote version of the biennial College, the virtual College will provide a forum for judicial conduct commission members and staff, judges, judicial ethics advisory committees, and others to learn about professional standards for judges and current issues in judicial discipline.

Schedule

Thursday October 28
Determining the appropriate sanction in judicial discipline cases
12:00-1:00 EDT/11:00-12:00 CDT/10:00-11:00 MDT/9:00-10:00 PDT & MST
1:15-2:15 EDT/12:15-1:15 CDT/11:15-12:15 MDT/10:15-11:15 PDT & MST
Examining recent cases, participants will “vote” on what sanctions they would have imposed in actual judicial discipline cases and then discuss what factors influenced their vote.  Moderators John Erlick, Former Superior Court Judge, King County, Washington; Former Member, Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct • David Sachar, Executive Director, Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability.

Crossing the line and training to prevent it:  #CourtsToo
2:30-3:30 EDT/1:30-2:30 CDT/12:30-1:30 MDT/11:30-12:30 PDT & MST
When does a joke in the courthouse cross the line into a violation of the code of judicial conduct?  When is a judge responsible for a hostile work environment?  This session will answer these questions and more.  The first part will examine real life examples of sexual harassment by judges, including how humor can be offensive and perceived as unwelcome advances, discrimination, and/or harassment.  Relevant canons will also be discussed.  The second part will address preventative measures and sexual harassment training tailored to judges and court staff.  ModeratorsKimberly Vanover Riley, Partner, Montgomery Jonson LLP, Cincinnati, Ohio  •  Judge Erica Yew, Judge, Superior Court of California; Member, California Supreme Court Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions  •  Konstantina Vagenas, Director/Chief Counsel, Access to Justice Initiatives, National Center for State Courts.

Friday October 29

Abuse of the criminal contempt power and judicial discipline
12:00-1:00 EDT/11:00-12:00 CDT/10:00-11:00 MDT/9:00-10:00 PDT & MST
Although courts and judicial conduct commissions are generally reluctant to second-guess a judge’s decision to control the courtroom through use of their criminal contempt power, given the liberty interests at stake, judges have been disciplined for over-reacting and for ignoring the procedures designed to ensure that citizens are not thrown in jail precipitously.  This session will consider when an appealable abuse of the contempt power may also constitute sanctionable judicial misconduct.  Participants will also discuss how judges can control the courtroom without using the contempt power.  Moderators:  Michelle Beaty, Special Counsel, Louisiana Judiciary Commission  •  Judge Louis Frank Dominguez, Presiding Judge, Surprise City Court; Chair, Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct.

When judges speak up
1:15-2:15 EDT/12:15-1:15 CDT/11:15-12:15 MDT/10:15-11:15 PDT & MST
This session will strive to illuminate the gray area where off-the-bench judicial speech, the code of judicial conduct, and the First Amendment overlap when judges want to criticize court decisions, urge changes in the law, publicly comment on cases, or express their personal views on controversial issues in extra-judicial settings such as social media, law review articles, op-eds, bar association speeches, yard signs, bumper stickers, or t-shirts.  (Campaign speech will not be covered.)  ModeratorsRaymond McKoski, Retired Judge, 19th Judicial Circuit Court; Member, Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee • Robert Tembeckjian, Administrator and Counsel, New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Lessons learned:  A decade plus of judges on social media
2:30-3:30 EDT/1:30-2:30 CDT/12:30-1:30 MDT/11:30-12:30 PDT & MST
The first judicial discipline case involving Facebook was in 2009.  The numerous cases since demonstrate that judges need more guidance on how the code of judicial conduct applies on-line.  This session will consider the ethical best practices for judges using social media.  ModeratorsJacqueline Habersham, Executive Director, Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct  •  Cynthia Gray, Director, Center for Judicial Ethics, National Center for State Courts.

Throwback Thursday

20 years ago this month:

  • The Arkansas Commission on Judicial Discipline & Disability publicly admonished a judge who (1) stated to a young female defendant in a crowded courtroom “Your behavior is that of a common crack whore;” and (2) stated to another female defendant charged with prostitution, “How is business?  Is business good these days?” and “There is no reason to be ashamed.  You were not ashamed jumping in and out of trucks having sex with men.  The men in this courtroom do not want to have sex with you.” Letter of Admonishment of Rainey (Arkansas Commission on Judicial Discipline & Disability September 21, 2001).
  • Approving a joint recommendation based on a stipulation of facts, the Illinois Courts Commission publicly reprimanded a judge who had pled guilty of reckless driving and whose drivers license had been suspended for refusing to take a breathalyzer test.  In re Racculgla, Order (Illinois Courts Commission September 7, 2001).
  • Approving a settlement, the Indiana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded and admonished a judge for a television campaign ad that stated he had kept his promise, “to send more child molesters to jail . . . burglars to jail . . . drug dealers to jail . . . .”  In the Matter of Spencer, 759 N.E.2d 1064 (Indiana 2001).
  • Approving a joint statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline, the Indiana Supreme Court suspended a judge without pay for 15 days for (1) permitting the practice of the clerk or her employees of affixing the judge’s signature stamp to protective orders when petitions were filed and before the judge reviewed them, which led to the appearance that the judge granted his father a protective order; (2) granting several citizens emergency protective orders against a utility despite the property interests of family members in the area; (3) after granting an automatic change of judge in one case and disqualifying himself in several others, sua sponte issuing orders of clarification extending the effectiveness of the emergency protective orders against the utility; and (4) entering orders in another case involving the utility, after having disqualified himself.  In the Matter of Funke, 757 N.E.2d 1013 (Indiana 2001).
  • Granting a joint motion, the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for finding a defendant guilty of disturbing the peace and simple assault based on affidavits without testimony and without giving the defendant an opportunity to defend herself.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Wells, 794 So. 2d 1030 (Mississippi 2001).

Throwback Thursday

5 years ago this month:

  • Based on an agreement, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended a judge for 6 months without pay for beginning a Facebook relationship with a woman whom he had met in his official capacity and exchanging sexually explicit messages and photos with her, often during office hours and from the court’s offices.  In the Matter of Archer, Final judgment (Alabama Court of the Judiciary August 8, 2016).  
  • Based on an agreement and stipulation, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary ordered a judge to retire immediately and never serve in judicial office again for failing to disqualify herself from the probate of her father’s estate in which she and her siblings were heirs; engaging in ex parte communications about the case with others, including her siblings; obtaining waivers outside the court and outside the presence of all parties or their attorneys; in a personal letter to a 3rd party, misusing her title to give extra weight to a request about a debt owned by an heir’s estate; notarizing documents that she knew or should have known would be filed in a proceeding before her; directing the administratrix (her sister) about who should and should not be included as heirs; directing her attorney to request that a settlement check in a class action case that was an asset in the estate be sent to the probate court office; inserting her personal knowledge of facts and family history into the case; misusing her status as a judge to preempt tasks normally reserved for an estate’s personal representative; and co-mingling her status as party and judge.  In the Matter of Isaac, Final judgment (Alabama Court of the Judiciary August 8, 2016).
  • Accepting the recommendation and findings of the Commission on Judicial Conduct based on the judge’s admission of culpability, the Alaska Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for 5 statements he made in the courtroom.  In the Matter Involving Dooley, 376 P.3d 1249 (Alaska 2016).
  • The Illinois Courts Commission publicly censured a judge for deceiving her mortgage lender by making several misrepresentations in her mortgage application that caused the lender to believe she occupied the property as her primary residence when, in fact, the judge resided at another property and had no intention of establishing residence at the property she was re-financing.  In re Santiago, Order (Illinois Courts Commission August 18, 2016).
  • Based on a statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline, the Indiana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge who had been arrested and convicted for operating while intoxicated, endangering a person; had asked a police officer to “just take [him] home and forget about the drinking and driving;” and told the officer that he was a senior judge for the Court of Appeals.  In the Matter of Garrard, 56 N.E.3d 24 (Indiana 2016).
  • Based on an agreement, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission suspended a judge for 90 days without pay for (1) criticizing the victims in a criminal case during a sentencing hearing and on Facebook while the defendant’s probation was still pending; (2) comments on Facebook and in a presentation to the Louisville Bar Association that criticized the county commonwealth attorney and accused him of advocating for all-white jury panels, that criticized the public defender and criminal defense attorneys for not publicly supporting him in his dispute with the commonwealth attorney, and that discussed the motion to certify the law filed on behalf of the commonwealth attorney; and (3) criticizing a court of appeals decision in a public statement.  In re Stevens, Agreed order of suspension (Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission August 8, 2016).
  • Based on a stipulation and the judge’s consent, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly reprimanded a judge for discussing his son’s criminal case with another judge; the judge also agreed to complete a course at the National Judicial College.  In the Matter of Kalleres, Stipulation and order of consent to public reprimand (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline August 23, 2016).
  • Based on a stipulation and consent, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly reprimanded a former hearing master for unprofessional conduct in a hearing about a bench warrant.  In the Matter of Beller, Stipulation and order of consent to public reprimand (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline August 23, 2016).
  • Based on a stipulation and consent to discipline, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly reprimanded a judge for (1) informing the other judge on his court that he would not abide by an agreement for her to become chief judge based in part on his belief that the mayor wanted him to continue as chief judge; (2) taking positions or making decisions regarding the administration of the court based on his perception of what the mayor or city administration wanted, not on the best interests of the court (or allowing it to appear that he has done so); (3) failing to cooperate with the other judge regarding administrative matters and refusing to meet or speak with her or to respond to her correspondence; and (4) failing to report to the Commission the other judge’s treatment of court staff and deputies from the city attorney’s office and her improper dismissal of valid warrants.  In the Matter of Hoeffgen, Stipulation and order of consent to public reprimand (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline August 23, 2016).
  • Based on a stipulation and consent to discipline, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline suspended a judge for 3 months without pay and ordered that she not seek re-election for (1) her treatment of court staff; (2) her handling of cases, including amending or dismissing charges sua sponte; and (3) her improper interactions with and comments about deputies from the city attorney’s office; the judge also agreed to write apologies to 3 of the complainants and to submit to a fitness for duty exam.  In the Matter of Ramsey, Stipulation and consent to discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline August 23, 2016).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for (1) making condescending and inappropriate remarks about a teenage sexual assault victim; (2) becoming angry and making loud and derogatory statements to the district attorney in another case for suggesting that the judge place a case ahead of another case that had been pending longer and challenging the judge’s observation about moving cases expeditiously; and (3) making disparaging and provocative comments in a third case regarding the family relationship between the county district attorney and a potential witness.  In the Matter of Hafner, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 29, 2016).
  • Based on an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a magistrate for hearing matters involving the sheriff’s department even though her husband was the elected sheriff. In the Matter of Underwood, 790 S.E.2d 761 (South Carolina 2016).

Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • Based on a stipulated resolution, the Arizona Supreme Court publicly censured a former judge for (1) hearing cases involving an attorney with whom he had an intimate relationship and (2) engaging in unwanted sexual conduct toward an assistant public defender and retaliating against her when she rejected his advances; the Court also permanently enjoined him from serving as a judicial officer in Arizona and suspended him from the practice of law in Arizona for 2 years.  In the Matter of Abrams, 257 P.3d 167 (Arizona 2011).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for revoking a criminal defendant’s pro per status, speaking harshly to the defendant, repeatedly stating that she did not believe him, grilling him on cases he had cited in his motion, and stating 3 times that he was lying.  Public Admonishment of Comparet-Cassani (California Commission on Judicial Performance August 16, 2011).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a judge for 270 days without pay and publicly reprimanded him for interfering with the prosecution of a defendant charged in a crime in which a relative of the judge was the victim and making statements in open court that encouraged others to engage in vigilante justice.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. McGee, 71 So. 3d 578 (Mississippi 2011).
  • Based on a stipulation, the New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee publicly reprimanded a part-time judge for angrily confronting a man who was putting up signs opposing his brother’s gubernatorial candidacy and contacting an attorney who was active in politics about the incident.  Stephen, Reprimand (New Hampshire Judicial Conduct Committee August 25, 2011).
  • Adopting in part the presentment of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, which the judge had accepted, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly censured a retired judge for failing to recuse from a case based on his relationship with a central witness and then appearing twice in the back of another judge’s courtroom during the trial after recusing himself.  In re Perskie, 24 A.3d 277 (New Jersey 2011).
  • With the judge’s consent, the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission publicly reprimanded a judge for entering orders striking 5 convictions at the ex parte request of an attorney who represented that the outgoing district attorney had approved the relief.  Public Reprimand of Ammons (North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission August 4, 2011).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended a judge for 30 days without pay for receiving supplemental payments from the police department who prosecuted cases before her.  In the Matter of McKinney, 714 S.E.2d 284 (South Carolina 2011).

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Accepting the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance, the Mississippi Supreme Court removed a former judge from office for (1) in a dispute between a pastor and several members of his church, issuing an ex parte temporary restraining order against the pastor without notice, having the pastor arrested on several occasions, going to the church during a disturbance, and refusing to allow the pastor to press charges against church members as a result of a disturbance; (2) engaging in ex parte communications about tickets and dismissing cases without a hearing; (3) signing an execution of judgement without authority; (4) handling fine and bond money from litigants contrary to statute and loaning money to litigants; (5) without authority, allowing a defendant charged with driving while his license was suspended and driving under the influence to plead to lesser charges; and (6) circulating an order after being served with a formal complaint by the Commission to the constables and members of the justice staff demanding that they deliver official and unofficial notes and evidence relating to the allegations and threatening punishment for contempt for failure to abide by his orders.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Dodds, 680 So. 2d 180 (Mississippi 1996).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for stating to a woman who had appeared in court to pay a fine the judge had imposed on her son that he did not want “mom or dad” to pay the fine, and, without provocation, loudly and angrily called her a “god-dam, interfering, middle-aged b***h” and her son a “stupid s**t.”  In the Matter of Mahon, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 8, 1996).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for refusing to release a defendant because he had been required to get out of bed to conduct the arraignment, asking the deputy sheriff who was transporting the defendant whether he was being “black-balled” by the sheriff’s department inasmuch as he had not been contacted to conduct many arraignments recently, and referring to the county sheriff as a “f***ing a*****e.”  In the Matter of McKevitt, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 8, 1996).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for (1) after another judge with whom she had had a close, personal, and intimate relationship married another women, obtaining confidential records from the matrimonial proceedings of his new wife; (2) mailing approximately 60 anonymous, harassing, malicious, vituperative, and derisive statements about the other judge and his wife to newspapers, businesses, and individuals, including the judge and his wife, their relatives, friends, and neighbors; and (3) accepting a bargained guilty plea from a defendant without advising him or defense counsel that she had received a note from the jury.  In the Matter of Miller, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 14, 1996).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for his consensual sexual relationship with a judicial secretary for 1 or 2 months that affected the workplace “through distractions including social contacts, rumors, and work performance problems.”  In re Fritzler, Stipulation and Order of Censure (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 9, 1996).

What they said that got them in trouble so far in 2021

In court proceedings

  • “[I] just can’t.” Judge, apparently tired, in response to information that someone was attempting to appear in court via Zoom at the end of a calendar. In re Burchett, Stipulation, agreement, and order of reprimand (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 23, 2021).
  • “I know who you are. You’re the lady that likes to flim-flam people,” and “If you mess with my son, I’ll bust your a**. Do you hear me? I’ll bust your a**.” Judge during hearing to pro se traffic defendant who asked the judge to recuse because she was probably going to sue his son to obtain the name of the driver who had struck her vehicle in the parking lot of a Waffle House and left the scene. In the Matter of Price, Final judgment (Alabama Court of the Judiciary June 15, 2021) (3-month suspension without pay and censure).
  • “Don’t lie to me;” “That is a lie;” “Appalling;” “That’s baloney;” “Pathetic;” “Both of you are doing terribly, and there isn’t a chance in the world these children are coming home if you continue doing what you’re doing;” and “You’re clean? And you expect me to believe that?” Judge to parents during dependency hearings in multiple cases. Public Admonishment of Roberts (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 18, 2021).
  • What we’re not going to have in this jury is people coming in overnight and thinking up s*** and try to make s*** up now so they can get out of the jury. That’s not going to happen. All right. All right. Because if I find that someone said something yesterday under oath and changes it because they’re trying to fabricate something to get out of serving on this jury, there’s going to be repercussions.” Judge, during voir dire in a criminal case, berating a prospective juror for expressing her belief that she could not be impartial. In the Matter of Scotti, Stipulation and order of consent to public reprimand (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline March 15, 2021).
  • “Let me tell you, you’ve been given a gift from God because there’s no question in my mind that you’re guilty of this crime. . . . What you do with it is your choice. Fair enough?” Judge to defendant who had been acquitted by a jury. In the Matter Concerning Connolly, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance April 2, 2021) (admonishment for this and other misconduct).
  • “Okay. I’m going to stop you there. Because we’re done. All right. I am not releasing either of these people, with these charges. There are multiple charges. If you wished to present this evidence, you should have been here or had someone represent you.” Judge to 2 criminal defense attorneys who appeared by phone for an arraignment the day after the governor issued the statewide stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. In the Matter Concerning Connolly, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance April 2, 2021) (admonishment for this and other misconduct).
  • “Kansas boy” and “Can I take a wild guess? Did you have a felony record before [Independence Community College] gave you a scholarship?” Judge to young male African-American defendant college athlete at arraignment. In the Matter of Cullins, 481 P.3d 774 (Kansas 2021) (1-year stayed suspension).
  • “If I was in drug court, I would have stayed my a** in the car,” and “We’re your probation officer.” Judge “fashion[ing] a remedy outside of accepted statutory and ethical norms” for a defendant in an assault case. In the Matter of Rasul, 245 A.3d 535 (New Jersey 2021), adopting presentment (10-month suspension with pay for this and related misconduct).
  • “I would not believe his tongue if it were notarized.” Judge about social worker in family court proceeding. In re Younge, Opinion and order (December 1, 2021), Opinion and order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline June 2, 2021) (6-month suspension for this and other misconduct).
  • “Oh, we’re done here. Let me tell you something. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Call me crazy. I’m not paying caregivers to allow hookup here. . . . “I don’t care if she’s eighteen. Not on my watch. This is over. Over, over, over, over, over. That’s it. Not doing it. I mean like really? I’m done. Done, done, done. This is over. Discharged. Discharged.” Judge after learning that a male had spent nights at the foster home of his girlfriend, an 18-year-old female in extended foster care. In re Younge, Opinion and order (December 1, 2021), Opinion and order (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline June 2, 2021) (6-month suspension for this and other misconduct).

Around the courthouse

  • “Get off [my] f***ing back.” Judge to court administrator who told her there was no such thing as the “in house” probation the judge had imposed on a defendant and that the defendants may not make restitution payments to the victim directly at the courthouse as directed by the judge. In the Matter of Rasul, 245 A.3d 535 (New Jersey 2021), adopting presentment (10-month suspension with pay for this and related misconduct)
  • “This is ridiculous!”; “This isn’t working! This isn’t working!”; and “Fix it immediately!”. Judge yelling about internet outage in courthouse. Public Admonishment of Roberts (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 18, 2021) (admonishment for this and other misconduct).
  • “Thanks for the support.” Judge, derisively, to assistant presiding judge who told the judge that she was going to leave if the judge continued to yell. Public Admonishment of Roberts (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 18, 2021) (admonishment for this and other misconduct).
  • “N-word.” Judge using full word in conversation with court staff on why Black people can use the word but White people cannot. In the Matter of Chase, 485 P.3d 65 (Colorado 2021) (censure of former judge).
  • “F****** b****.” Judge referring to another judge in conversation with her clerk. In the Matter of Chase, 485 P.3d 65 (Colorado 2021) (censure of former judge).
  • “F**k” and its “derivatives. Judge frequently in the courthouse. In the Matter of Cullins, 481 P.3d 774 (Kansas 2021) (1-year suspension, stayed after 60 days with conditions).
  • “B**ch” and “c**t.” Judge describing women. In the Matter of Cullins, 481 P.3d 774 (Kansas 2021) (1-year suspension, stayed after 60 days with conditions).
  • “Hello I’m talking to you. This is your honor speaking.” Judge in text to member of the public who frequented the courthouse and had not responded to the judge’s sexual, homophobic, and racist texts and verbal comments. Public Admonishment of Poe (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission March 12, 2021).

On social media

  • “Trump will steam roll this election. Those who’s [sic] eyes are closed move their mouths more to make up for their insecurities. Stay strong; pray against evil.” Judge’s comment on Trump’s Facebook page. In the Matter of Quinn, Public reprimand (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards March 9, 2021).
  • “Here we are!” Judge commenting on Facebook about a photograph of himself in the Trump Boat Parade published in the St. Cloud Times. In the Matter of Quinn, Public reprimand (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards March 9, 2021).
  • “I always tell her that she and her brothers and sisters in blue are still appreciated in OUR community. Today’s event, and the overwhelming number of participants is a true example of that appreciation.” Judge in Facebook post about watching a Back the Blue event with his daughter, a police officer. In the Matter of Peck, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 19, 2021) (admonishment).
  • “It’s not sad!” Judge responding to Facebook friend’s comment about a former member of the House of Delegates charged with participating in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In the Matter of Jackson, Public admonishment (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission February 24, 2021).

Abuse of the prestige of office

  • “Do me a big favor;” “And we’ll clear this all up tomorrow, trust me. (Laughs) and you’ve never had Judge Smith call you and say something like that;” and “But you do know who I am don’t ya?” Judge to county sheriff’s dispatcher about throwing papers for a specific person’s divorce in a drawer so that they would not be served. Inquiry Concerning Smith, Order (Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct February 25, 2021) (cease and desist order).
  • “He and I are gonna lock up before this is all over. . . . I’m gonna f**k him up before this is all over. Trust me. Just stay calm. Because he used to beat his wife like a broom. And it never got turned in. Oh no. He’s a wife beater. I know all this s**t. So I’m gonna f**k him up before this is over.” . . . That smokey the bear hat I pretty sure I can shove that right up his a** but that’s for later. I’ve got to lay and wait – for all this. That’s gonna be a while;” and “I could make all kinds of s**t up. TV would love it. I’m not gonna do that. I’m not that kind of person.” Judge to undersheriff about the county sheriff. Inquiry Concerning Smith, Order (Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct February 25, 2021) (cease and desist order).
  • “No. I mean, it’s club soda;” “Can I tell you something else? I’m a judge of the Orphans’ Court. So please. I’m serious;” “Losing my whole f—ing life;” and “Because if I lose my job with the courts, I’ll lose my health insurance.” Judge in response to question, “Is there anything in that cup in the center console?” from county sheriff’s sergeant who stopped her for speeding and hitting a cone when turning a corner. In the Matter of Nickerson, 248 A.3d 298 (Maryland 2021).

National College on Judicial Conduct and Ethics

A virtual National College on Judicial Conduct and Ethics will be held via Zoom on Thursday and Friday, October 28 and 29, 2021, from 11 to 2:30 central.  There will be 3 one-hour long sessions each day, with breaks in between.  The registration fee will be $95 total for both dates.  More details will be posted in this blog and on-line as they are finalized.

The judge as author

In a recent opinion, the Massachusetts Committee on Judicial Ethics advised that a judge may write, publish, and promote a novel but also described the numerous precautions the judge should take to ensure that promotional activities did not improperly invoke the prestige of the judicial office or otherwise violate the code of judicial conduct.  Massachusetts Letter Opinion 2021-2.

The inquiring judge had written “a legal suspense novel set in both real and fictional Massachusetts locations.”  The commercial publishing company that wanted to publish the novel “requires its authors to maintain a website and to participate in other promotional activities, including building a mailing list, conducting virtual book club events or readings, attending book signings, and maintaining profiles on social media websites such as Amazon and Goodreads.”

The opinion noted that, “even in a work of fiction,” a judge should not “author materials that may give the impression that the judge is subject to political influence or favors the interests of a political organization or candidate;” “write about or discuss a pending or impending case,” “disclose nonpublic information;” or “convey any predisposition with respect to issues or matters that may come before the judge.”

With those caveats, the committee advised that the code “permits judges to write novels or other works of fiction, contract with commercial publishers, participate in certain promotional activities, and receive reasonable compensation from sales of their books.”  However, the committee further cautioned in general that a judge:

  • Must ensure that “promotional efforts or other activities related to the publication and sale of a book do not distract from or interfere with the duties of judicial office;”
  • Must not use any court resources in writing, publishing, or promoting the novel;
  • “Should not directly sell or be involved in financial transactions” for the sales of the book;
  • May not use the judge’s judicial title or office for promotional purposes or otherwise exploit the judicial position or permit others to do so;
  • Should only agree to publication contracts that allow the judge to “retain sufficient control over the advertising” to avoid such exploitation; and
  • Must report any earnings from sales of the novel on the judge’s annual, public extra-judicial income report.

More specifically, the committee stated:

  • “A judge may not use judicial email or court mailing lists to promote sales of a novel authored by the judge.”
  • At a book signing, the financial transactions for sales of the book “should be handled by someone other than the judge.”
  • A judge should not participate in book signings and other promotional activities “at a courthouse or any other location that would lend the prestige of judicial office to efforts to sell the judge’s novel.”
  • A judge should take “particular care” when using social media for promotional activities on social media, such as maintaining an author website or author profile on different platforms.
  • When “a book has appeal to a wider audience” (in contrast to an educational book intended for lawyers), a judge should not target promotions to lawyers to prevent “impermissibly trad[ing] or appear[ing] to trade on the judge’s status and relationships with lawyers.”

However, the committee stated that judges who are also authors “are not required to hide their judicial identities” despite the prohibition on abusing the prestige of office.  Thus, the committee advised:

  • A judge “may be identified as a judge or by title in biographical materials that contain only factual statements, including on the jacket of a book authored by the judge, so long as the judge’s position is neither unnecessarily emphasized nor exploited for purposes of promotion.”
  • “At book-signing events and in public discussion of the judge’s book, a judge may identify as a judge in response to questions.”

Noting that “the distinction between proper and improper use of a judge’s title may be subtle and highly dependent on circumstances,” the committee explained that “a judge should only state the judge’s judicial position in an incidental way, without relating that position to the work of fiction authored by the judge.”  The opinion noted that “additional or different limitations may apply if a judge authors a non-fiction writing that concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.”  The committee encouraged the judge to contact it “if more specific questions arise” during promotion of their novel.

See also “The Judge as Author,” Judicial Conduct Reporter (spring 2013); U.S. Advisory Opinion 114 (2014).