Recent cases

  • Based on an agreement and stipulation and the judge’s retirement, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary found that a former judge committed misconduct by appointing his son as an attorney in more than 200 indigent cases from August 2015 to July 2017, for which his son was paid approximately $105,000, not including any money paid under an indigent-defense contract, and taking judicial action in some of the cases and ordered that he pay costs of the prosecution.  In the Matter of Chaney, Final judgment (Alabama Court of the Judiciary February 24, 2020).
  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for ex parte communications with a temporary guardian about a pending matter and an independent investigation in the case.  Stevens, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct January 31, 2020).
  • Based on the report of a referee following a hearing, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct removed a judge from office for (1) engaging in a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward court staff, including unwelcome comments of a sexual nature; (2) allowing his court secretary to prepare a letter as part of his effort to obtain payment for legal work he had performed prior to becoming a full-time judge; and (3) failing to timely and accurately report his extra-judicial income to the Ethics Commission for the Unified Court System, the Internal Revenue Service, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, and the court clerk.  In the Matter of Miller, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 14, 2020).
  • Adopting the findings, conclusion, and recommendation of the Judicial Standards Commission based on a stipulation and agreement, the North Carolina Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for making “detailed, affirmative and specific factual assertions to the State Bar during its investigation” that he “knew were unsupported by any personal recollection or documentation” and were misleading, grossly negligent, and made with reckless disregard for the truth on letterhead bearing the imprimatur of the North Carolina Judicial Branch.  In re Stone (North Carolina Supreme Court February 28, 2020).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly warned a judge for attempting to impose a 10-day jail on a defendant who failed to accept a plea agreement and attempting to influence a witness’s statement to the Commission.  Public Warning of Gray (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 7, 2020).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly warned a judge for removing an attorney as appointed defense counsel in 14 cases, instructing a defendant to “shop around” for another attorney after he removed her defense attorney and failing to appoint her counsel for 3 months, and posting a list of attorneys on the court’s website and disseminating a list to criminal defendants in his court.  Public Warning of Cox (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 7, 2020).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for failing to maintain her Texas law license in good standing and failing to cooperate with the Commission.  Public Reprimand of Slaughter (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 7, 2020).

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Accepting the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Georgia Supreme Court removed a magistrate from office for her handling of a dispute with the sheriff and county board.  Inquiry Concerning O’Neal, 454 S.E.2d 780 (Georgia 1995).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct removed a non-lawyer judge for handling 365 cases, including committing defendants to jail in 36 cases, without successfully completing the training course required by statute before he could assume the duties of office.  In the Matter of Yusko, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 7, 1995).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for presiding while intoxicated and, in 2 small claims cases, entering judgements based on his conversations with litigants outside of court.  In the Matter of Bradigan, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 10, 1995).
  • Pursuant to an agreed statement of facts, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for, at a number of arraignments, failing to advise the defendants of their rights, and, in 7 cases involving defendants charged with patronizing a prostitute, eliciting potentially incriminating statements, making remarks that presumed guilt, and making sarcastic and inappropriate statements.  In the Matter of Austria, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 10, 1995).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for dismissing a series of cases without according the prosecutor the opportunity to be heard and, in 3 cases, initiating and considering ex parte communications on the merits.  In the Matter of More, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 13, 1995).
  • The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for, after receiving an inquiry from the Commission concerning his handling of a criminal case, telling the defendant in that case to lie to the Commission.  In the Matter of Menard, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct March 13, 1995).
  • The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals publicly reprimanded a judge for giving ex parte advice to an assistant prosecuting attorney about an on-going criminal trial.  In the Matter of Starcher, 457 S.E.2d 147 (West Virginia 1995).

 

Conditions

Many commissions and courts can impose conditions on judges in judicial discipline cases.  For example, the rule in Indiana provides:  “Upon a finding of misconduct . . . or disability . . . , the Supreme Court may impose . . . limitations or conditions on the performance of judicial duties,” alone or in combination with other sanctions.  In 2019, conditions were imposed in over 20 cases, usually with the judge’s agreement.

For example, as part of a stipulation, a judge who was publicly admonished for delays of 392 days and 132 days in deciding 2 family law cases agreed to maintain a list so that pending matters will be regularly brought to his attention and, every 3 months for a year, to affirm in writing that he has no matters with decisions pending beyond 90 days to the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct.  In re Fennessy, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 26, 2019).

In several discipline cases, judges were required to undergo a psychological assessment as part of the sanction.  For example, the Maryland Court of Appeals conditioned a judge’s reinstatement after a 6-month suspension without pay on an emotional and behavioral assessment by a qualified health care professional.  The judge was required to “fully cooperate in the health care evaluation and comply with the recommended course of treatment, including counselling, if any;” and, if and when she applies for reinstatement, to provide the Commission of Judicial Disabilities and the Court “a written report from the evaluating health care professional or professionals” about her current medical condition, including any reason why she should not be reinstated as a district court judge.  The judge had (1) failed to treat other judges and courthouse staff with dignity and respect, including repeatedly yelling at court clerks and judges, subjecting court clerks to line-ups when clerical mistakes were made, physically pushing a clerk, and repeatedly attempting to undermine the authority of the administrative judge and (2) abdicated her duty to handle and process search warrant materials as required by statute and instructed a law clerk to destroy warrant materials.  In the Matter of Russell, 211 A.3d 426 (Maryland 2019).

In 2 unrelated cases, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline placed judges on probation in addition to sanctioning them and ordered them to complete any treatment complete any recommended treatment by licensed psychologists following a psychological and psychosocial assessments.

In In re Muth, Opinion (October 31, 2018), 220 A.3d 1220 (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline 2019), the Court suspended a  judge for 45 days without pay and fined him $5,000 for (1) viewing images of naked and partially naked women while in his office and (2) having judicial employees grade papers and make copies of handouts on the court’s copier for classes he was teaching.  The purpose of the psychosocial assessment, the Court stated, was “to determine the cognitive, behavioral and emotional motivation leading to the inappropriate sexualized behavior . . . .”

In In re Maruszczak, Opinion (January 9, 2019), Opinion (Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline October 4, 2019), the Court publicly reprimanded a judge for, during his re-election campaign, publicly confronting 3 people who supported his opponent and yelling at them, insulting them, and threatening them.  The purpose of the psychological assessment, the Court explained, was “to assess impulse control and anger related issues.“

See also Inquiry Concerning Lemonidis, 283 So. 3d 799 (Florida 2019) (agreeing that a judge continue stress management counseling in addition to a public reprimand, pursuant to a stipulation, for her comments in 2 criminal cases).

The condition most often imposed is a requirement of additional education, often with a mentor.

For example, a judge agreed to participate in a mentoring program he would develop in consultation with the chief judge when he agreed to be publicly reprimanded by the Vermont Judicial Conduct Board for directly contacting attorneys, including attorneys who appeared before him, to ask them to be part of a campaign committee.  In re Glennon, Public reprimand with order (Vermont Judicial Conduct Board August 28, 2019), pursuant to a stipulation.

Ordering instruction with a mentor is an option often imposed by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

  • The Commission publicly reprimanded a judge for pulling traffic citations to have an assistant district attorney file a motion to dismiss and/or provide other preferential treatment and ordered that he receive 20 hours of additional instruction with a mentor about traffic citations and warrants. Public Reprimand of Trejo and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct April 26, 2019).
  • The Commission publicly warned a judge for refusing to allow a litigant to review and copy the charging documents in his case unless and until he entered a plea and for her policy and practice with respect to requests for access to court files; the Commission also ordered the judge to receive 2 hours of instruction with a mentor on public access to court records and responding to requests for court records. Public Warning of Baggett and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 8, 2019).
  • The Commission publicly admonished a judge for invoking her judicial position during a telephone conversation with a man she believed was the estranged husband of a woman she believed was cohabitating with her estranged husband; the Commission also ordered that she receive 2 hours of instruction with a mentor, particularly on judicial ethics and professionalism. Public Admonition of Rocha and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 26, 2019).

Both the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline ordered judges to complete the web-based course, “Ethics and Judging:  Reaching Higher Ground,” offered by the National Judicial College.  Guerrero, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct March 29, 2019) (reprimand for threatening to hold 2 police officers in contempt for failing to comply with his order to arrest a woman for violating a harassment injunction entered in a proceeding from which the judge had recused himself); In the Matter of Jasperson, Stipulation and order of consent (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline July 23, 2019) (reprimand for ordering a landlord jailed for contempt without following the law).

The Nevada Commission also ordered 2 judges to attend at their own expense other specific courses at the National Judicial College, which is located in Reno, Nevada.

  • The Commission publicly censured a judge for using an alternate judge whenever it was his turn to act as on-call search warrant judge for 4 years and failing to cooperate with 3 chief judges and ordered the judge to attend the NJC course “Leadership for Judges.” In the Matter of Hastings, Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and imposition of discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline March 6, 2019).
  • The Commission publicly admonished a hearing master for ignoring an attorney’s objections to her questioning of a juvenile defendant, interfering with the attorney-client privilege and relationship, yelling at the attorney, attempting to pressure the juvenile into answering her questions by telling her that her probation would be increased if she refused, preventing the attorney from making a record on his objection, and threatening to contact the attorney’s boss; the Commission also ordered the judge to complete “Managing Challenging Family Law Cases: A Practical Approach” at the NJC.  In the Matter of Henry, Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and imposition of discipline (Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline December 12, 2019).

Other examples of education requirements:

  • Based on an agreement, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for sharing partisan posts on Facebook. The judge also agreed to complete a program addressing ethical issues and the use of social media; to refrain from making any comments or disseminating any substantially similar social media posts; and to keep his social media platforms private.  Lammey (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct November 15, 2019).
  • Based on a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for, without notice or a reasonable evidentiary basis, entering an order in a case to which he was not assigned that gratuitously attacked the character of 2 attorney. The judge also agreed to participate in 4 hours of judicial ethics training, not to repeat his conduct, and to read the code of judicial conduct.  In re Spanner, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 22, 2019).

Throwback Thursday

5 years ago this month:

  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for appearing in a photograph on his law firm’s web-site in a judicial robe and advertising himself on the web-site as an active part-time judge pro tem in the Arizona court system.  Watters, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct February 6, 2015).
  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for presiding over a criminal damage trial even though he was a leasing agent for the company that managed the property that had been damaged and had spoken with the resident of the property about the damage.  Wilson, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct February 6, 2015).
  • Based on the judge’s consent, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications publicly admonished a judge for (1) assuming the role of prosecutor by contacting an attorney to offer a deferral agreement to the attorney’s client, who had received a speeding ticket; (2) permitting deferral payments to be sent directly to the court, rather than to the prosecutor’s office; and (3) adopting a practice in which she or her court clerk would directly negotiate deferral agreements with defendants, rather than allowing the prosecutor to offer these agreements.  Public Admonition of Hagerty (Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications February 9, 2015). 
  • Accepting a statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline, the Indiana Supreme Court permanently banned a former judge from serving in any judicial capacity for (1) abusing her judicial powers in several cases; (2) failing to follow proper legal procedures in guilty plea and sentencing hearings; (3) injudicious behavior outside of the courtroom relating to her conflict with the father of her children; and (4) during the Commission’s investigation, providing incomplete answers to requests for information, failing to respond to Commission communications in a timely manner or at all, failing to respond to the Commission’s subpoena duces tecum, and failing to appear for depositions.  In the Matter of Bennington, 24 N.E.3d 958 (Indiana 2015).
  • Granting an application of the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, the Iowa Supreme Court reprimanded a part-time magistrate for signing a warrant to search the home of a client.  In the Matter of Krull, 860 N.W.2d 38 (Iowa 2015).
  • Based on the findings of the Commission on Judicial Qualifications and adopting its conclusions of law, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended a judge for 90 days without pay for (1) making offensive and demeaning comments of a sexual nature to female attorneys and staff members; (2) sending an ex parte e-mail to an attorney’s client that expressed bias or prejudice toward the attorney; and (3) trying to broker an employment opportunity for his wife.  In the Matter of Henderson, 343 P.3d 518 (Kansas 2015).
  • Adopting the findings and recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, based on stipulated facts , which the judge accepted, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time judge for (1) using his judicial stationery to attempt to intercede in a juvenile matter on behalf of a councilman’s daughter and (2) representing a Garwood Borough councilman in a personal matter while serving as judge on the Garwood municipal court.  In the Matter of Inacio, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court February 27, 2015).
  • Based on stipulations of facts and stipulated violations, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended a judge for 2 years for exhibiting a demeaning attitude toward counsel and litigants in 2 matters before him; the Court stayed the suspension on the condition that he commit no further misconduct and comply with a contract with the Ohio Lawyer Assistance Program.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Weithman, 34 N.E.3d 865 (Ohio 2015) .
  • Based on the judge’s agreement, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for his conduct in several hearings in a juvenile case, which the Court of Appeals had determined was a “procedural train wreck.”  Re Newell (Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct February 25, 2015).
  • Based on a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for telling a defendant that his fedora would be removed if he did not provide support for his statement that wearing it was part of his Jewish faith.  In re Ladenburg, Stipulation, agreement, and reprimand (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 20, 2015).
  • With the judge’s consent, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board issued a letter of counsel to a judge for leaving the scene of an accident.  Letter to Rega (Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board February 10, 2015).

Winter issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter

The winter issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter has been published.  The issue has articles on:

  • State judicial discipline in 2019
  • Removal cases in 2019
  • Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2019
    Relationships, disqualification, and disclosure
    Political comments
    Sexual misconduct
  • What judges said that got them in trouble in 2019
    What they said to or about criminal defendants
    What they said to litigants in family court cases
    What they said to self-represented litigants
    What they said ex parte
    What they said to attorneys
    What they said to or about court staff
    What they said to or about other judges
    What they said in their personal lives
    What they said that abused the prestige of office

The article on “Relationships, disqualification, and disclosure” begins:  “Although judges are not automatically disqualified from cases involving someone they know, a judge’s duty to at least disclose a relationship is triggered  by ties far short of blood or marriage and far more often than judges may think, as several judicial discipline cases from 2019 illustrate.”  One of the first cases of 2020 also demonstrates that evident blind spot for some judges.

Adopting the findings of fact of a hearing panel, which were based on admissions, and agreeing with its conclusions, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time court commissioner for failing to recuse himself from a small claims case in which a close friend appeared as an attorney or to at least disclose the relationship and for making angry and sarcastic comments to the self-represented defendant in the trial of the case.  In the Matter of Gorski (Wisconsin Supreme Court January 30, 2020).

The commissioner and Timothy Gebert:

  • Had known each other for approximately 20 years,
  • Socialize at least once a month,
  • Went on 4 overseas vacation trips together with other individuals between 2015 and 2018, and
  • Frequently take overnight golfing trips together, locally and in other parts of the U.S.

In September 2015, during a pretrial conference the commissioner scheduled a trial in a small claims case for November 18.  Gebert represented the plaintiff; the defendant, a non-lawyer, represented himself.

In October, the commissioner, Gebert, the commissioner’s son, and a fourth person went on a week-long golfing trip to Ireland.  In November, the judge presided over the trial in the small claims case without disclosing the trip or his friendship with Gebert to the defendant.

During the trial, the commissioner lost his temper with the defendant.  He said, “Stop, now, just stop with that!  Jesus . . . .  Come on.  That’s getting old, that’s getting really old.”  Later in the trial, the commissioner audibly groaned at something the defendant said and then asked, “Why can’t you just be quiet when other people are talking?”

After the commissioner ruled, the defendant asserted that the verdict was an example of corruption.  The commissioner groaned again and then responded, “That’s my middle name . . . corruption.”  The commissioner admitted that his comments were angry and sarcastic.

After the Commission notified the commissioner that it was investigating his failure to recuse himself in the small claims case, the commissioner presided over a pretrial conference in another case in which Gebert represented a party and the other party was self-represented.  While that case was pending before him, the commissioner went with Gebert and others to Vietnam.  During the disciplinary investigation, the commissioner told the Commission that Gebert had appeared before him 6 or 7 times.

Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for speaking loudly to the complainant in a sharp, rude manner and threatening him with contempt and arrest during a hearing involving the complainant’s wife.  McCullar, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct February 2, 2010).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation for discipline by consent, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a former judge for revising a settlement agreement to provide that payment to the class representative and attorney would be made in gift certificates.  Inquiry Concerning Klein, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 2, 2010).
  • Approving a stipulation, the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for, during her 2008 campaign, using the term “re-elect” even though she had been appointed, not elected, and stating that she had 20 years of legal experience even though she had not been admitted to practice law until 1994.  Inquiry Concerning Dempsey, 29 So. 3d 1030 (Florida 2010).
  • Approving the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Florida Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for (1) revoking a defendant’s bond and imposing a higher bond to punish the defendant for exercising his right to file a motion to recuse and (2) impeding the ability of pro se petitioners in domestic violence injunction proceedings to obtain relief by being unduly rigid and formulaic.  Inquiry Concerning Eriksson, 36 So. 3d 580 (Florida 2010).
  • The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge who had pled guilty to the gross misdemeanor for failing to file personal state tax returns for 5 years.  Public Reprimand of Venne (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards February 17, 2010).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for a campaign letter that conveyed bias and the appearance of bias in favor of pistol permit holders and that misrepresented his authority over pistol permits.  In re McGrath, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct February 5, 2010).
  • The Ohio Supreme Court suspended a judge’s license to practice for 1 year for 2 convictions of disorderly conduct because of physical altercations with his girlfriend; the Court stayed the suspension with conditions.  Disciplinary Counsel v. Russo, 923 N.E.2d 144 (Ohio 2010).
  • Based on agreement, the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended a magistrate for 90 days without pay for failure to reconcile his accounts.  In the Matter Hudson, 690 S.E.2d 72 (South Carolina 2010).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former magistrate for ticket-fixing.  In the Matter of Woodham, 689 S.E.2d 605 (South Carolina 2010).

Recent cases

  • Following a hearing on a complaint, the Alabama Court on Judiciary publicly reprimanded a judge for securing an ex parte, oral deviation from an order in a child custody/visitation case involving his parents and obtaining the services of law enforcement to enforce the oral order.  In the Matter of Allred, Final judgment (Alabama Court on Judiciary January 31, 2020).
  • Based on the presentment of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly censured a judge for incarcerating a pro se litigant for 23 days in default of bail to ensure her appearance in court, committing the litigant for a psychiatric evaluation without following a civil commitment process, and abusing his contempt power.  In the Matter of Adames (New Jersey Supreme Court January 16, 2020).
  • Accepting a stipulation based on the judge’s resignation and agreement not to seek or accept judicial office in the future, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded a proceeding against a former judge who resigned after the Commission told him it was investigating allegations that, “from 2005 through 2019, he made improper and at times abusive personal demands of court staff, directly or indirectly conveying that continued employment required submitting to such demands, and creating a hostile  workplace environment.” In the Matter of Rosenbaum, Decision and order (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 23, 2020).
  • Accepting an agreed statement of facts and recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for operating his motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, causing him to lose control of his car and crash into 2 stop signs and 2 benches, twice falsely telling police officers at the scene that he had had only 2 alcoholic drinks prior to the accident, and telling state police officers at the scene that he would never again conduct an arraignment for the state police.  In the Matter of Miranda, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 30, 2020).
  • Accepting an agreed statements of fact and recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a non-lawyer judge for driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol, which caused him to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a building, and being uncooperative and belligerent to a police officer and paramedic at the scene.  In the Matter of Petucci, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct January 30, 2020).
  • Adopting the findings of fact of a hearing panel, which were based on the judge’s admissions, and agreeing with its conclusions, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time court commissioner for failing to recuse himself from a small claims case in which a close friend appeared as an attorney or to disclose the relationship and his angry and sarcastic comments to the self-represented defendant in the trial of the case.  In the Matter of Gorski (Wisconsin Supreme Court January 30, 2020).