Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Based on an agreed statement of facts, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a judge for (1) misusing Department of Motor Vehicle records and using court staff, stationery, and equipment for the judge’s personal activities; (2) making sexually related comments toward female court employees; (3) being absent from the courthouse without reporting the days as vacation time; and (4) regularly leaving the courthouse when the Friday calendar was completed, sometimes as early as noon.  Inquiry Concerning Hyde, Decision and Order of Public Censure (California Commission on Judicial Performance May 10, 1996).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for improperly intervening on behalf of a woman with whom he had an intimate relationship in an investigation of a child welfare matter.  In the Matter of Kaplan, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct May 6, 1996).

Uncomfortable, angry, and hurt

Based on a stipulation and the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Discipline, the Colorado Supreme Court accepted the resignation of a judge and publicly censured her for (1) using the N-word in a conversation with a Black staff member; (2) expressing her views about criminal justice, police brutality, race, and racial bias while wearing her robe in the courthouse and on the bench; (3) referring to a judicial colleague in derogatory terms; and (4) using court staff for personal tasks.  In the Matter of Chase, Order (Colorado Supreme Court April 16, 2021). 

In late January or early February 2020, the judge drove a family court facilitator and the judge’s law clerk in her car to and from a safe baby program.  The judge is White; the family court facilitator is Black.  On the way back from the program, the judge asked the family court facilitator why Black people can use the N-word but White people cannot and whether it was different if the N-word is said with an “er” or an “a” at the end.  During the conversation, the judge used the full N-word a number of times.  The family court facilitator was uncomfortable, angry, and hurt by the conversation but could not leave the car or the conversation and did not express her emotions because she feared retaliation by the judge.  She explained that the judge’s use of the full N-word was “like a stab through my heart each time.”  

The judge maintained that she did not intend any racial animus, but acknowledged that her statements violated the code of judicial conduct.  The Commission concluded that, “although not directed at any person, saying the N-word has a significant negative effect on the public’s confidence in integrity of and respect for the judiciary.”

In early February 2020, the judge was on the bench, wearing her robe, during a break in court proceedings.  There were 2 or 3 other people in the courtroom.  2 employees in the courtroom were Black.  When someone brought up watching the Super Bowl, the judge stated, from the bench, that she would be boycotting the Super Bowl because she objected to the NFL players who were kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality against Black people.

On the Monday in May 2020 after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota and after there were Black Lives Matter protests in Denver, 2 Black court employees were in the judge’s courtroom.  One of them asked the other if they had seen the George Floyd protests.  The judge, while wearing her robe and sitting on the bench, told the employees some of her opinions regarding racial justice issues and asked questions about the Black Lives Matter movement.  The employee tried to explain the Black Lives Matter movement; the judge stated that she believes all lives matter.  The judge also stated that the conduct of the police officers in the George Floyd matter should be investigated.

In the first half of 2020, the judge told her clerk she was meeting with another judge.  When she returned from the meeting, the clerk asked how it went, and Judge Chase called the other judge a “f****** b****.”

In early 2020, the judge directed her law clerk to do some legal research related to a personal family legal issue that was unrelated to the judge’s official case load.

In August 2020, the judge had a medical episode at the courthouse.  After courtroom deputies came to her aid, the judge declined an ambulance.  She then asked one of the court employees to drive her to the emergency room.  The judge also asked the court employee to stay with her at the hospital.  The employee missed a half day of work to accommodate the judge.

Throughout 2020, the judge forwarded personal emails to her clerk and asked her clerk to edit or rewrite the emails to read better before the judge sent them.

The judge repeatedly and discourteously discussed personal and family matters with staff and other employees in office work areas and as part of court business.

Recent cases

  • Granting the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities, the Maryland Court of Appeals removed a judge from office for (1) her conviction on charges of driving while impaired by alcohol, speeding, negligent driving, reckless driving, and discarding trash outside of her car; (2) during the traffic stop, failing to be truthful and cooperative, injecting her judicial position, and mentioning the officer’s superior; and (3) failing to comply with the terms of a conditional diversion agreement and reprimand issued by the Commission and failing to cooperate during the investigation.  In the Matter of Nickerson, Per curiam order (Maryland Court of Appeals March 26, 2021). 
  • The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge for endorsing or opposing candidates for the presidency and U.S. Senate on his Facebook page by, for example, “liking” Donald J. Trump’s Facebook page, including photographs of himself piloting a boat in the Trump Boat parade, and “liking” a newspaper endorsement in the Senate race.  In the Matter of Quinn, Public reprimand (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards March 9, 2021).
  • Based on a stipulation the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly reprimanded a judge for, during voir dire in a criminal case, throwing a book against the wall and cursing, berating, yelling at, and threatening a prospective juror for expressing her belief that she could not be impartial, which led to reversal of the jury verdict on appeal.  In the Matter of Scotti, Stipulation and order of consent to public reprimand (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline March 15, 2021).
  • Based on a stipulation of discipline by consent, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time judge for failing to maintain an IOLTA account and to maintain professional liability insuranceIn the Matter of Killen, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court March 11, 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 an investigation of allegations that a non-lawyer judge (1) had repeatedly sent text messages to his then-girlfriend that contained threats about a former girlfriend and that were “vulgar, crude, demeaning and/or featured extreme gender-based slurs and profanity;” and (2) after arraigning a defendant, repeatedly engaged in unauthorized ex parte communications with the defendant and other individuals and, during one of the defendant’s appearances in court, advised the defendant how to avoid having his firearms confiscated by law enforcement.  In the Matter of DiVietro, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 18, 2021).
  • Accepting an agreed statement of facts and recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a non-lawyer judge for posting on his Facebook page 2 photographs of himself wearing a sheriff’s uniform and comments expressing his appreciation for law enforcement officers and describing his appearance at a “Back the Blue” event.  In the Matter of Peck, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 19, 2021).
  • Accepting an agreed statement of facts and recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for editing political opinion essays and letters to the editor intended and/or submitted for publication by a candidate for non-judicial elected town office and offering advice by email to the candidate about issues raised in his proposed submissions.  In the Matter of Rana, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 19, 2021).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former judge for finding a friend not guilty of a traffic violation without a trial, plea, or appearance and asking a police officer to dismiss a ticket issued to his brother-in-law.  In the Matter of Mendelsohn (South Carolina Supreme Court March 31, 2021).
  • Based on the magistrate’s agreement to resign and never seek judicial office again, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonished the former magistrate for making numerous inappropriate sexual, homophobic, and racist comments to 2 individuals verbally and by text message and sending indecent photos, cartoons, and at least 1 video by text message.  Public Admonishment of Poe (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission March 12, 2021).

Throwback Thursday

5 years ago this month:

  • The California Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for repeatedly continuing post-trial hearings in a criminal case in response to statements a criminal defense attorney made at sidebar during a trial without citing the attorney for contempt or issuing an order to show cause; failing to give the attorney notice of the subject of one of the hearings, improperly excluding the attorney from the hearing, and engaging in improper ex parte communications before the hearing; and contacting another judge to obtain information about another possible contempt matter concerning the attorney.  Public Admonishment of Connolly (California Commission on Judicial Conduct March 23, 2016).
  • Following a hearing on a complaint brought by the Judicial Inquiry Board, the Illinois Courts Commission suspended 1 judge for 4 months without pay for presiding over cases in which the husband of a judge with whom he was having an affair represented a party without disclosing the relationship and for a pattern of deceptive conduct to hide the affair from the chief judge and publicly censured the judge with whom he was having the affair for knowing that he was presiding in cases involving her husband but failing to initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against him.  In re Drazewski and Foley, Order (Illinois Courts Commission March 11, 2016).
  • Adopting the recommendation of the Judiciary Commission, the Louisiana Supreme Court removed a judge for mishandling multiple peace bond proceedings, including failing to timely refund money paid to him after the bonds had expired without forfeiture; extending peace bonds beyond the 6-month maximum term allowed by law; exceeding the $1,000 maximum limit for peace bonds; charging fees in peace bond proceedings that exceeded the amount allowed by law; imposing sentences on peace bond defendants that exceeded the maximum allowed by the code of criminal procedure; issuing peace bonds that interfered with family court proceedings; issuing peace bonds without a hearing as required by law; being rude and discourteous; allowing his staff to be rude and discourteous; and failing to properly notarize peace bond applications.  In re Laiche, 198 So. 3d 86 (Louisiana 2016).
  • With the judge’s consent, the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities released its private reprimand of a judge for appearing in a court where he was assigned as a recall judge for a trial on a ticket he received.  In the Matter of Plitt, Private reprimand (Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities March 15, 2016).
  • The Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline permanently barred a former judge from judicial office in the state based on his federal plea agreement to charges related to a conspiracy to devise and execute a scheme or artifice to defraud and obtain money or property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, half-truths, and promises.  In the Matter of Jones, Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and imposition of discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline March 1, 2016).
  • Based on the judge’s consent, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly reprimanded a judge for independently investigating the father in a paternity case and then holding him in contempt without following procedures required by due process and failing to enter a visitation order in the case for over a year.  In the Matter of Wanker, Stipulation and order of consent (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline March 3, 2016).
  • Adopting the findings and recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, which were accepted by the judge, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former judge and permanently barred him from serving in judicial office for (1) presiding in 4 cases in which he had a conflict of interest; (2) making improper and derogatory remarks during 2 court proceedings; (3) dismissing a parking violation against a litigant using a procedure that conflicted with the rule and guidelines regarding plea agreements; and (4) engaging in plea negotiations with numerous defendants charged with driving while on the suspended or revoked list.  In the Matter of Scattergood, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court March 8, 2016).
  • Based on joint stipulations of fact, violations, and aggravating and mitigating factors, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended a former magistrate for 2 years, with 18 months stayed with conditions, for his sexual relationship with a party in an eviction action over which he presided as a magistrate, his falsification of a loan application for the purchase of a motor vehicle for her, and his misappropriation of wrongful-death proceeds that were intended to finance an annuity for the benefit of a decedent’s minor children.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Williams, 49 N.E.3d 289 (Ohio 2016).
  • • Based on stipulations of fact in lieu of trial, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline fined a former supreme court justice $50,000 for participating in an exchange of e-mails with friends and professional acquaintances that were insensitive and contained inappropriate references to gender, race, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, using his Commonwealth-issued computer equipment and a personal web-based e-mail address. In re Eakin, 150 A.3d 1042 (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline 2016).
  • • Pursuant to an agreement with the judge, the investigative panel of the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for an ex parte meeting and e-mail with members of the district attorney general’s office regarding the types of dispositions she would accept in domestic violence court. Reprimand of Walker (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct March 23, 2016).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly warned a judge for attempting to pull a driver over for reckless driving, having a police officer pull the driver over, and threatening to have the driver incarcerated without legal justification; the Commission also ordered the judge to receive 2 hours of additional education. Public Warning of Brady and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 3, 2016).
  • Based on a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for regularly interrupting litigants and attorneys and addressing them in an unduly confrontational, loud, and harsh manner; the judge also agreed to participate in ethics training.  In re Canada-Thurston, Stipulation, agreement, order of reprimand (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 4, 2016).

Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for berating defendants, attorneys, and individuals in the courtroom gallery.  Johnson, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct March 18, 2011).
  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a former judge for threatening to send a homeowner to jail, take away his house, and give it to the city without authority to do so.  Andress, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct March 18, 2011).
  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a former judge for displaying an improper demeanor at a hearing and attempting to alter conditions of release without providing notice to the parties or otherwise following procedure.  Andress, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct March 18, 2011).
  • Based on the judge’s agreement, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission publicly admonished a part-time judge for 2 phone calls he made to police and helping return stolen goods that were taken by an employee of his family’s business.  Letter of Admonishment (Boeckmann) (Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission March 18, 2011).
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for an insensitive comment about the Ku Klux Klan.  Public Admonishment of Giss (California Commission on Judicial Performance March 16, 2011).
  • The Mississippi Supreme Court suspended a judge without pay for 30 days, publicly reprimanded him, and fined him $1,000 for engaging in ex parte communications; misusing his contempt power; failing to properly notice hearings; granting relief not requested; issuing a search warrant without legal authority; making comments to the local newspaper to explain his actions and justify the defendant’s incarceration in 1 case; and publicly admitting ex parte contact with a litigant.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Patton, 57 So. 3d 626 (Mississippi 2011).
  • Based on a stipulation and the judge’s consent, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly censured a former judge for committing domestic battery against his now ex-wife and having been convicted of the charge arising from the incident; the Commission also prohibited him from seeking and accepting judicial office in Nevada for 4 years.  In the Matter of Abbatangelo, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Consent Order of Discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline March 30, 2011).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a non-lawyer judge for personally delivering his co-worker’s traffic ticket to another court.  In the Matter of Daniels, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 25, 2011).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for taking a treatment court participant for a ride in his personal car over a lunch recess and speaking privately with him about personal issues, including the defendant’s drug use and his mother’s death.  In the Matter of Tarantino, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 28, 2011).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a part-time judge for (1) representing clients before the village building and zoning department over which his court has jurisdiction; (2) allowing his name to appear on papers filed by his law firm in lawsuits against the village; and (3) permitting his law firm to make political contributions.  In the Matter of Kelly, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 31, 2011).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for writing a letter on judicial stationery in support of a defendant in a criminal case pending in federal court.  Public Reprimand of Ochoa (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 31, 2011).

Recent cases

  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a former judge for (1) treating parents and others in a harsh and discourteous manner in 10 dependency hearings; and (2) on consecutive days, yelling at court staff and displaying frustration about an internet outage and discourteously raising her voice to another judge.  Public Admonishment of Roberts (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 18, 2021).
  • With the judge’s approval, the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct ordered a judge to cease and desist from failing to perform judicial duties competently and diligently and from delaying his decisions.  Inquiry Concerning Tate, Order (Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct January 20, 2021).
  • Affirming the findings of fact and conclusions of law of a panel of the Commission on Judicial Conduct following a hearing, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended a judge without pay for 1 year for (1) frequently using the word “f**k” and its derivatives when speaking at the courthouse; (2) using derogatory terms when referring to women; and (3) using the phrase “Kansas boy” to describe a young black male defendant; the Court stayed the suspension for 60 days for the judge to submit a plan for counseling and training.  In the Matter of Cullins (Kansas Supreme Court February 26, 2021).
  • Based on an agreement and stipulated facts, the Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct ordered that a former judge cease and desist from inappropriately using the prestige of judicial office and acting in a manner that does not promote confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and to continue his retirement and not hold a judicial office in the future; the judge had asked the county sheriff’s office not to service a summons/petition in a divorce case and had a profane and threatening conversation with an undersheriff about the incident.  Inquiry Concerning Smith, Order (Kansas Commission on Judicial Conduct February 25, 2021).
  • Adopting in part the recommendation of the Judiciary Commission based on a statement of stipulated facts and conclusions of law, the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended a judge for 2 years without pay for grabbing the buttocks of a waitress at his bachelor party while intoxicated and failing to cooperate with police, for which he had been convicted of several misdemeanors; the Court deferred all but 6 months of the suspension and the 6 months was made retroactive to the date of his suspension as an attorney; the deferral was subject to the judge successfully completing a 5-year Judges and Lawyers Assistance Programs monitoring agreement.  In re Hardee, Opinion (Louisiana Supreme Court January 27, 2021).
  • Based on the judge’s consent, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline publicly admonished a judge for acting in a manner unbecoming a judicial officer towards court staff and the chief judge on numerous occasions.  In the Matter of Earley, Stipulation and order (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline January 21, 2021).
  • Adopting the findings and recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, which the judge accepted, the New Jersey Supreme Court suspended a judge for 10 months without pay for, during and after a criminal trial, failing to follow fundamental principles of criminal procedure; “fashion[ing] a remedy outside of accepted statutory and ethical norms” without entering guilty findings; using an expletive when the court administrator advised her that there was no authority for her disposition; engaging in “combative” ex parte communications when the defendants did not meet their restitution obligations; and suggesting that the victim file a civil suit against the defendants; the suspension was made retroactive to the date of the judge’s temporary suspension, and her resumption of duties was conditioned on her compliance with a plan regarding professional development.  In the Matter of Rasul, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court February 16, 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 non-lawyer judge who had pled guilty to criminal mischief for keying a town official’s vehicle in a parking lot, “apparently in reaction to the town’s denial of his request to provide health insurance.”  In the Matter of Burker, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 28, 2021).
  • Accepting a stipulation based on the judge’s affirmation that she vacated her 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 judge who had been charged in a formal written complaint with, inter alia, presiding “notwithstanding a disqualifying conflict with a party or witness but fail[ing] to disclose and/or recuse herself as required.”  In the Matter of Ward, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 28, 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 its investigation of allegations that a non-lawyer judge had, between December 2019 and March 2020, engaged in inappropriate conduct in his courthouse that was inconsistent with his ethical obligations to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and to conduct his extra-judicial activities so as not to detract from the dignity of his judicial office and had failed to respond to the Commission inquiry.  In the Matter of Cunningham, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 28, 2021).
  • Based on her agreement to resign and not seek an appointed or elected judicial office in the future, the Tennessee Judicial Conduct Board agreed not to pursue formal charges against a judicial commissioner for discourteously and intemperately injecting herself into a criminal case involving a family member.  In re Tomlinson (Tennessee Judicial Conduct Board February 1, 2021).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for, in a post-judgement collection matter, improperly issuing a show cause order for a defendant based on the plaintiff’s oral motion for contempt and failing to ensure that the defendant had notice and an opportunity to respond to the motion; the Commission also ordered the judge to obtain 4 hours of education with a mentor.  Public Reprimand of Jones and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 28, 2021), appealed to special court of review.
  • Following a hearing, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for appearing in bus advertisements for a college that identified him as a judge.  In re Keenan, Decision and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 5, 2021).
  • The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonished a judge for comments she made on her Facebook page about a pharmacist arrested for destroying COVID-19 vaccine dosages and about the siege at the U.S. Capitol.  In the Matter of Jackson, Public admonishment (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission February 24, 2021).

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Based on a stipulated disposition and agreed statement of facts, the California Commission on Judicial Performance severely censured a judge for a wide variety of misconduct, including remanding people to custody without following proper contempt procedures for whispering or appearing to fall asleep in court; being rude and insulting to a deputy public defender on 5 occasions; putting inordinate pressure on prosecutors to offer dispositions and on defendants to enter guilty pleas; and frequently and arbitrarily dismissing misdemeanor cases if the prosecution was unable to proceed on the day set for trial without the 10-day grace period allowed by the penal code.  Inquiry Concerning Ormsby, Decision and Order of Public Censure (California Commission on Judicial Performance March 20, 1996).
  • Reviewing a special masters’ report and the record de novo, the Indiana Supreme Court removed a judge from office for participating in harassment directed toward a court employee and her family; the Court also suspended the judge from the practice of law for no less than 2 years.  In the Matter of McClain, 662 N.E.2d 935 (Indiana 1996).
  • The Michigan Supreme Court suspended a judge for 3 days without pay for intemperate and abusive conduct toward an attorney.  In the Matter of Hocking, 546 N.W.2d 234 (Michigan 1996).
  • Pursuant to an agreed statement of facts, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for failing over 6 years to advise defendants in traffic cases of a trial date upon receipt of not guilty pleas as required by statute and meeting ex parte with prosecutors to discuss plea reductions negotiated with defendants by the prosecution.  In the Matter of Bregman, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 20, 1996).
  • Pursuant to an agreed statement of facts and recommendation between the Commission administrator and a judge, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a part-time judge for signing as complaining witness and filing with the other judge of his court 30 informations against individuals that the judge had apprehended on the property of a private club where he was superintendent and using judicial stationery in several letters to his fellow judge and to the district attorney in connection with the cases.  In the Matter of Hoag, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 20, 1996).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct removed a judge for failing to remit court funds to the state comptroller by the tenth day of the month following collection as required by statute, failing to respond to 3 letters from staff counsel, and failing without explanation to appear to give testimony.  In the Matter of Driscoll, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 20, 1996).
  • Pursuant to an agreed statement of fact and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for stepping off a roadway into some bushes in a park and raising his shorts, exposing himself; informing the arresting police officers that he was a judge even though they had not asked about his occupation; and, stating to a lieutenant at the police station that his arrest would be devastating because of his judicial position.  In the Matter of D’Amico, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 21, 1996).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a part-time judge for making an improper, ex parte telephone call to the victim in an assault case and conducting night and weekend arraignments in the police station even though a courtroom was available.  In the Matter of Cerbone, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 21, 1996).
  • Agreeing with the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommended sanction of the Board of Commissioners on Judicial Standards, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former judge for having sexual intercourse with a litigant in a case before the judge.  In the Matter of Gravely, 467 S.E.2d 924 (South Carolina 1996).

A sampling of recent judicial ethics advisory opinions

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require a judge to allow nonlawyers to represent litigants with disabilities in court.  A judge may permit accommodations for litigants with disabilities that do not conflict with rules prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law, for example, allowing an individual to sit with a self-represented litigant, but may deny a request for an accommodation that would circumvent procedures essential to the nature of the court’s services, programs, or activities.  A court may encourage a litigant with a disability to seek assistance, but may not exclude them from court services, programs, or activities if they choose not to seek assistance. Arizona Opinion 2020-1. 
  • A judge is not required to recuse from a case after an unsolicited ex parte communication from a litigant if the judge halts the communication as soon as possible, promptly advises all parties, and can disregard it.  Illinois Opinion 2020-1.
  • When a party or attorney has advised the court that their preferred gender pronoun is “they,” a judge may not require them to use “he” or “she.”  New York Opinion 2021-9.
  • An appellate justice may not accept the services of a law firm employee who is an incoming associate to work in the justice’s chambers for 6 to 12 months.  California Expedited Opinion 2021-38.
  • On learning that a law firm has posted screen shots or videos of the court’s oral arguments on its website, a justice should request that the images be removed.  New York Opinion 2020-158.
  • • To celebrate birthdays and holidays, judges may exchange modest gifts with their courtroom staff but should treat all staff members equally and maintain proper decorum and should not give any gifts that might pressure staff to reciprocate, be offensive, demeaning, or otherwise inappropriate, or be perceived as harassment. California Expedited Opinion 2021-39.
  • After receiving any required administrative approvals, judges may collaborate with the Historical Society of the New York Courts on a project to provide historical context for existing art and memorials at the courthouse and install new thematic artworks created by artists from marginalized groups.  New York Opinion 2020-202.
  • A judge is required to report to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct a town justice who filed a letter in support of the town clerk’s pistol permit application.  New York Opinion 2020-181.
  • A judge may not write a letter to the attorney grievance commission attesting to a former employee’s character.  Maryland Opinion Request 2020-22
  • A judge may not allow a transition program for formerly incarcerated individuals to list the judge’s name with other supporters in a grant application.  New York Opinion 2020-144.
  • Subject to general limitations on speech and conduct, a judge may write an article for a legal publication outlining what the judge considers are significant flaws in the risk assessment instrument judges are required to use under New York’s Sex Offender Registration Act.  New York Opinion 2020-136.
  • A town justice may not serve on the town’s police reform collaborative.  New York Opinion 2020-183
  • A judge may not accept an award for domestic violence awareness month from a not-for-profit entity that provides legal advocacy services and other resources and support for domestic violence victims.  New York Opinion 2020-184
  • A judge may donate to a fund established to install a public monument honoring a federal judge and may also solicit contributions from co-equal judicial colleagues.  The judges’ names and titles may be listed with other contributors on a plaque erected with the statue.  New York Opinion 2020-132.
  • A judge who underwent surgery at a not-for-profit hospital may not share their story on a patient education live webinar on the hospital’s website and social media channels.  New York Opinion 2020-108.
  • A municipal judge may not serve on the board of directors of a non-profit corporation that contracts with the city to provide re-entry services to the court as an alternative to incarceration.  Ohio Opinion 2021-1.
  • A judge may serve on a bar association’s internal nominating committee that recommends individuals seeking board and officer seats.  New York Opinion 2020-168.
  • A town justice may not speak at a town board meeting about a proposed resolution opposing extension of the big game hunting season.  New York Opinion 2020-193.
  • A judge may obtain and license a patent.  New York Opinion 2020-102.
  • A judge may volunteer as a participant in a COVID-19 study conducted by a hospital and may accept the same modest per-visit compensation as other participants.  New York Opinion 2021-11,
  • A judge may not form a for-profit company that will provide instruction on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics.  New York Opinion 2020-155.
  • A judge who is leaving office may not authorize a prospective employer to advertise their anticipated post-judicial employment at the firm.  Florida Opinion 2020-26.
  • As often as the judge determines necessary based on the circumstances, a judge must ask her spouse for information on his business arrangements with local attorneys and determine if disqualification or disclosure is necessary.  New York Opinion 2020-126.
  • A judge need not object to his spouse hosting a political fund-raiser for a candidate at their marital home, but the invitations must not refer to the judge, and the judge must not appear or participate in the event.  New York Opinion 2020-157/2020-160.
  • A judicial candidate may pledge to comply with the rules about appointments and fees in fiduciary cases and to make decisions and appointments without regard to political affiliation, cronyism, or nepotism.  A judicial candidate may not pledge to strive to appoint women attorneys and attorneys of color to fiduciary positions but may promise to reach out to various associations to increase participation in the lists.  New York Opinion 2020-114.

Winter issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter

The winter issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter has been published and is available on-line.  The issue reviews judicial ethics and discipline in 2020 with stories on:

  • State judicial discipline in 2020
  • Removal cases in 2020
  • Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2020
    • What judges said to women that got them in trouble
    • Judicial participation in demonstrations, protests, marches, and rallies
    • Judicial ethics and discipline during a pandemic
  • What judges said that got them in trouble in 2020
    • What they said to or about litigants that got them in trouble
    • What they said to or about criminal defendants that got them in trouble
    • What they said to or about attorneys that got them in trouble
    • What they said to court staff that got them in trouble
    • What they said in election campaigns that got them in trouble
    • What they said to law enforcement that got them in trouble
    • What they said off-the-bench that got them in trouble
    • What they said on social media that got them in trouble

The Judicial Conduct Reporter is published electronically, and an index and current and past issues of the Reporter are available on-line.  Anyone can sign up to receive notice when a new issue is available.

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.

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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.