Throwback Thursday

20 years ago this month:

  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for making remarks to friends that purported to convey the outcome of an appeal in which the friends had an interest.  Public Admonishment of Revak (California Commission on Judicial Performance December 12, 2000).
  • Adopting the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Performance based on an agreed statement of facts and recommendation, the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for his conduct in 2 related cases, including imposing fines and sentences in excess of his statutory authority and presiding over a perjury charge although he lacked jurisdiction.  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Neal, 774 So. 2d 414 (Mississippi 2000).
  • Accepting the determination of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the New York Court of Appeals removed a judge from office for (1) failing to deposit court funds in his official account within 72 hours after receipt, in violation of court rules, (2) failing to remit court funds to the state comptroller by the tenth day of the month following collection, in violation of statutes, (3) his conduct during a disagreement with a local attorney who represented a funeral home in an action against the judge for an unpaid bill, (4) acting in a retaliatory manner toward a second attorney, and (5) suspending a traffic defendant’s driver’s license out of personal animosity for the defendant’s attorney.  In the Matter of Corning, 741 N.E.2d 117 (New York 2000).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former magistrate for embezzling court funds to pay a woman with whom he had an affair.  In the Matter of Brown, 540 S.E.2d 452 (South Carolina 2000).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former magistrate for financial mismanagement of his court.  In the Matter of Roberts, 540 S.E.2d 458 (South Carolina 2000).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation and agreement, the Washington Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for using an arguably harsh and inappropriate tone and manner when interacting with defendants in 3 case.  In re Lukevich, Stipulation, Agreement and Order of Admonishment (Washington Commission on Judicial Conduct December 1, 2000).

Setting the tone

A recent judicial discipline case illustrated the connection between judicial demeanor and public confidence in judicial decisions.

Based on a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge “for an intermittent pattern of intolerant and intemperate behavior.”  In re Wilson, Stipulation, agreement, and order (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 20, 2020).  The judge also agreed to participate in at least 2 hours of ethics training and to participate in behavioral coaching with an emphasis on courtroom demeanor by a qualified behavioral modification professional until the “professional has certified, in writing, that such counseling has accomplished positive changes and that in his/her opinion, the Respondent has the competency to maintain these changes in the future.”

The Commission initiated a complaint after the court of appeals reversed a sentence imposed by the judge and remanded for re-sentencing before a different judge.  The reversal was based on the judge’s use of profanity and comments that appeared to manifest bias against a defendant terminated from drug court.  In that case, the judge, after telling the defendant he could, “Stop with the shoulder bulls*** now,” said:  “So I got a guy standing in front of me, who won’t tell me that he’s got a dirty UA for alcohol, finally admits that he drank and then tells me he needs anger management.  I think you’re a f***ing addict and maybe you need treatment.  I don’t think it’s got nothing to do with anger management.  You think I give you anger management and that’s gonna get you clean and sober?  What the hell are you talking about?  Have a seat, over here…  Percocet and alcohol…  I’m gonna relax a little bit and then figure out what to do with him.”  The judge also said:  “You, sir, are just a criminal, that’s all you are, you’re just a criminal.  Do you have issues?  Yep, you do.  Are you going to deal with them?  No, you’re not….  You, the odds say, are going to die in prison.”

The judge’s disrespectful language to a defendant led to reversal of a second sentence and remand to a different judge.  In that decision, the court of appeals rejected the prosecution’s argument that the judge had simply been having “a serious conversation” with the defendant about addiction and the possibility of change and explained that slurs and epithets were not necessary for a serious conversation and that the judge’s “harsh and inappropriate language defeated the purpose.” 

The Commission identified additional hearings in other cases that illustrated the judge’s intemperate behavior.

During one hearing, the judge told an attorney who was trying to make a record:  “You don’t have the right to make a record” and “I am not going to proceed in this case with this counsel in front of me.  The matter will be stricken, and re-note it in front of another judge.  You may take him,” the latter comment directed to the jailer about the in-custody defendant.

At another sentencing hearing, the judge denied the prosecutor’s request to have the victim present by telephone, saying in an elevated and agitated voice while pointing directly at the prosecutor, “Neither you nor your office have a right to tell this Court what it’s going to do in its own courtroom.”

The Commission had publicly admonished the judge in 2018, based on a stipulation and agreement, for, during sentencing in a domestic violence case, addressing the defendant in a confrontational and angry tone, repeatedly calling the defendant “an animal,” and, near the conclusion of the hearing, refusing to let the defendant speak.

In the current discipline case, the Commission noted that, although the judge “is generally calm and professional on the bench, at times he can be impatient or volatile,” interrupting litigants and attorneys, addressing them “in an unduly confrontational, condescending, and harsh manner,” using foul language, profanity, and language that manifested bias or prejudice, and expressing “anger or emotion.”  It noted several negative effects of such conduct:

  • It “may impair the right of individuals to be fairly heard by intimidating or discouraging them from fully presenting their positions in court.”
  • It may discourage “others from wanting to appear in his courtroom for fear of how they might be treated.”
  • It affected his ability to execute his duties and significantly impacted “his efficacy as a judicial officer,” noting his recusal from 1 case and the 2 cases in which he was reversed.

The Commission emphasized:

The judge sets the tone for the courtroom.  Discourteous and disrespectful behavior by a judge in the courtroom erodes the public’s confidence in the quality of justice administered by that judge, not only for the direct targets of such behavior, but also for all those who witness it.  The public is more likely to respect and have confidence in the integrity and fairness of a judge’s decision if the judge is outwardly respectful, patient and dignified.  Because of the power disparity between a judge and others in the courtroom, berating a litigant or an attorney is not a proper exercise of judicial power.

Throwback Thursday

25 years ago this month:

  • Pursuant to a conditional agreement for discipline, the Indiana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for having an attorney arrested for failing to appear at a hearing when the date for the hearing had been rescheduled after an ex parte communication with the prosecutor, the attorney had informed the judge that he had a conflicting court date, and the judge had denied a motion for a continuance.  In the Matter of Johnson, 658 N.E.2d 589 (Indiana 1995).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for, without a subpoena or official summons, signing a 2-page affidavit that provided opinion evidence about the parenting skills of parties in a pending matter.  In re Poyfair, Stipulation and Agreement and Order of Admonishment (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 1, 1995).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge who had initiated or considered ex parte communications concerning pending or impending proceedings.  In re Burchard, Stipulation and Order of Reprimand (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 1, 1995).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation and agreement, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for inappropriate statements in 3 domestic abuse cases.  In re Turco, Stipulation and Written Admonishment (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 1, 1995).
  • The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for a pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior; for assaulting his then-wife; for improperly requiring a party to file an affidavit of prejudice against him after he had recused himself; for conducting a mitigation hearing on a traffic citation received by a woman he was dating; and for inappropriately touching a pregnant court employee and commenting, “I can’t get you pregnant, obviously.”  In re Wilcox, Commission Decision (Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct December 1, 1995).

More Facebook fails

Accepting an agreed statement of facts and recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for (1) during his campaign, on his personal Facebook page, posting memes that propounded conspiracy theories, making disrespectful and undignified comments about laws he would be sworn to uphold as a sitting judge, and endorsing a candidate for the town council; and (2) after becoming a judge, on his personal Facebook page, posting comments on the release of a defendant he had arraigned, linking to articles critical of bail decisions in other cases, and commenting on one of those cases.  In the Matter of Schmidt, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 3, 2020).  Screenshots of his posts are attached to the agreed statement of facts.

The judge served as a justice of the Brunswick Town Court from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2015.  In March 2019, the judge announced his candidacy for the same office, securing the Republican Party nomination in April, winning the election in November 2019 election, and taking office on January 1, 2020.

The judge maintained a Facebook account under the name “Bob Schmidt.”  The biographical information on the Facebook page listed one of his occupations as “Judge – March 15, 1999 to Present – Brunswick, New York” and “Local Criminal Court Judge.”  The public could view all of the posts on his page.

(1) On various dates in August 2019, the judge posted to his Facebook page:

  • A meme that implied that former President Bill Clinton had killed Jeffrey Epstein.
  • A meme depicting a witch trial hanging that read, “JUST A REMINDER…SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS HAD ‘RED FLAG’ LAWS, TOO.”
  • A meme that read, in part, “WHAT DOES THE SHEEP SAY?  WE NEED COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL.”
  • A meme that displayed a photograph of a Nazi book burning with the text, “BOOK BURNINGS DON’T JUST LOOK LIKE THIS,” above a second image showing a social media platform warning that posts in violation of the platforms’ guidelines will be removed, with the text, “THEY ALSO LOOK LIKE THIS.”

In addition, the judge posted a link to the Facebook page for the campaign of Brunswick Town Council candidate Mark Cipperly and “liked” a comment to the post by another Facebook user that read, “Cip is a good man.”

(2) The judge was elected as town justice in the November 2019 election and took office on January 1, 2020.

On January 4, 2020, the judge posted to his Facebook page a statement in which he announced he had performed the first nighttime arraignment of his new judicial term and wrote, “Feel like a judge again.”  In a comment on his post, another Facebook user asked if the defendant had been released before the judge got “back in bed,” to which the judge replied, “of course.  This is NY 2020.”

On January 30, the judge posted to his Facebook page a link to a New York Post article entitled, “Fatal DWI suspect bragged about bail reform:  ‘I’ll be out tomorrow’” about a pending case in which the defendant had been indicted for vehicular manslaughter and other charges.  The judge wrote above the post, “Sign of the time,” and another Facebook user commented, “I predict vigilante mentality will soon return.”  

On February 2, the judge posted to his Facebook page a link to a New York Post article entitled, “Suspect in brutal mugging of elderly woman caught on video released under new bail law” about a pending case in which the defendant had been charged with robbery.  Another Facebook user commented on the judge’s post, “Is this true?, [sic] disgusting!”

The judge removed the Facebook posts after receiving the Commission’s letter regarding their propriety in April 2020.  To the Commission, the judge wrote, “I cringe as I review the [posts] presented and have no explanation as to why I felt that it would be appropriate to put them on my Facebook page as a candidate for judicial office.”  The judge acknowledged that, “though the posts were not reflective of him as a town justice, his conduct was nevertheless beneath anyone who is privileged to wear a robe and is trusted with representing our judicial system to the public.”  The judge committed “to being more circumspect in his use of social media in the future . . . .”

* * *
The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly warned a judge for disparaging another judge’s bond determination on Facebook and referring to the other judge’s family in doing so; the Commission also ordered the judge to receive 2 hours of instruction with a mentor.  Public Warning of Crow and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct October 28, 2020).

In July 2019, a post on the Facebook page “Inside Fort Bend County Courts” criticized Judge Robert Johnson’s decision to release on bond a defendant charged with capital murder.  The post described the defendant as a “violent, repeat offender” and indicated that, while out on bond, the defendant was arrested for “pistol whipping an innocent woman, car-jacking her, and leading [police] officers on a high speed chase endangering police officers and the community.”  In response, Judge Crow posted:  “This makes me so sad.  I wonder how Judge Johnson would feel if the woman that was pistol whipped was his daughter, wife, or sister?  He sounds like an activist judge trying to prove a point.  That doesn’t help the woman who was hurt.”

During her appearance before the Commission, the judge said that she had intended her post to be a comment on the need for judges to consider the totality of circumstances before issuing a bond, including the defendant’s criminal history and the risk the defendant poses to society.  The judge acknowledged that she did not have any personal knowledge regarding what Judge Johnson considered when making his ruling.  In her written responses to the Commission, the judge acknowledged that on reflection, “it would have been a more prudent choice to enhance and maintain confidences in our legal system by expressing my sentiment using different words.”

* * *
The Texas Commission publicly warned a judge for her Facebook activities in support of a friend’s campaign for city council and a court clerk’s acceptance of a donation to her campaign at the courthouse; the Commission also ordered the judge to receive 2 hours of instruction with a mentor.   Public Warning of Woodard and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct October 28, 2020).

The judge is personal friends with Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray.  During Gray’s 2019 re-election campaign, the judge shared a post and photograph of Gray on her Facebook page and posted “#teamkelly!” with the photograph, which was a hashtag used by Gray’s supporters.  On election day, the judge “liked” a Facebook post that tagged Gray’s Facebook page, included a photograph of someone with Gray’s campaign signs, and stated “re-elect Kelly Allen Gray!  Fort Worth City Council, -District 8.  #teamkelly.”

During her appearance before the Commission, the judge stated that she had not intended to endorse Gray but to show her support as a friend during a difficult time for Gray unrelated to Gray’s election campaign.  The judge recognized that people could have thought the post was an endorsement.

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

Throwback Thursday

5 years ago this month:

  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for committing multiple errors in an eviction proceeding.  Carrillo, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct November 13, 2015).
  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a former court commissioner for being impatient, harsh, and intimidating to an attorney for the victim in a criminal case who was attempting to be heard at a hearing.  Newell, Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct November 13, 2015).
  • The Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded a judge for comments he publicly posted on his Facebook page about cases to which he was assigned as a senior judge.  In the Matter of Bearse, Public reprimand (Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards November 20, 2015).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a non-lawyer judge for issuing warrants of eviction and money judgments in 2 summary eviction proceedings without according the tenants an opportunity to be heard or reviewing the supporting documents and failing to mechanically record 2 other eviction proceedings.  In the Matter of Williams, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 2, 2015).
  • Adopting the findings and recommendation of the Judicial Standards Commission based on stipulated facts, the North Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a judge for, during proceedings in a divorce case, failing to be patient, dignified, and courteous to the parties, making inappropriate comments to the parties, misstating the law when threatening future contempt proceedings, improperly exercising his contempt powers, and failing to maintain order and decorum in the proceedings before him.  In re Hill, 778 S.E.2d 64 (North Carolina 2015).

Fall Judicial Conduct Reporter

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

  • Judicial ethics in landlord/tenant cases
  • Interim suspensions pending discipline proceedings or criminal charges
  • Encouraging pro bono services
  • Recent cases
    • Independent investigation:  Commission on Judicial Performance v. Bozeman (Mississippi 2020)
    • Orchestrated release:  Disciplinary Counsel v. Goulding (Ohio 2020)
    • Solar opposition:  Public Warning of Plaster (Texas Commission 2020)

The first article discusses cases in which judges have been disciplined for their conduct in landlord/tenant cases.  It begins with cases in which legal error has been found to constitute judicial misconduct because the judges did not follow the procedures that ensure that tenants and landlords both have an opportunity to be heard.  Next, it summarizes cases in which judges have been disciplined for ex parte communications in eviction matters, sometimes with the landlord, sometimes with the tenant, and sometimes even without a case being filed.  Finally, the article lists cases involving other types of misconduct in landlord/tenant cases.

The article on interim suspension explains that, in over half the states, a judge can be suspended with pay pending the resolution of allegations of misconduct and that over 30 states have constitutional provisions, statutes, or rules that authorize the suspension of a judge with pay pending the outcome of criminal proceedings.  It then describes how that suspension authority differs from state to state based on which authority can suspend the judge—the judicial conduct commission or the supreme court; the stage of the process at which a suspension be imposed—any time or after a formal complaint is filed; what notice and opportunity to be heard the judge receives; whether disciplinary proceedings are expedited when a judge is suspended; and the criterion for when an interim suspension is warranted.

The article on encouraging pro bono services discusses the code and advisory opinions that approve judicial efforts to increase lawyer participation in pro bono programs and the caveats conditioning that permission.

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.

In addition, the Center for Judicial Ethics has posted 3 online CourtClass tutorials.

  • Judges and court staff participating in marches and demonstrations:  In less than 30 minutes, the presentation covers the key points for all employees of the judicial branch, judges and non-judges alike. 
  • Ex parte communications:  The 11-minute presentation introduces this core rule of the code of judicial conduct and discusses judicial discipline cases applying its principles.
  • Ability to pay hearings:  In approximately 35 minutes, the presentation covers the essential constitutional, ethical, and practical aspects of conducting ability to pay hearings in connection with court-ordered financial obligations and bail. 

Throwback Thursday

10 years ago this month:

  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for, while a candidate, criticizing her opponent under the guise of a fictitious identity in a comment to an on-line newspaper story.  Segal, Amended Order (Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct November 30, 2010).
  • Based on a stipulation for discipline by consent in which the judge agreed to tender her irrevocable resignation within 5 days, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a judge for (1) allowing herself to be videotaped while conducting proceedings in her courtroom to promote herself for a role in a potential television entertainment program and telling an attorney representing the producer that she would set her more interesting cases on the day of the filming; (2) making numerous improper remarks and engaging in improper conduct while court proceedings were being filmed; (3) a pattern of other improper conduct, including making demeaning and discourteous remarks regarding litigants, court attorneys, and others; (4) making remarks in court disparaging the court clerical staff; and (5) placing a defendant into custody for contempt without affording her due process or complying with the legal requirements for contempt.  Inquiry Concerning Salcido (California Commission on Judicial Performance November 10, 2010).
  • Based on a complaint by the Judicial Inquiry Board, the Illinois Courts Commission publicly reprimanded a judge for creating an appearance of impropriety by agreeing to conduct a special bond hearing on a Saturday afternoon for the brother of a long-time friend and former client who was well-known in county politics.  In re Chmiel, Order (Illinois Courts Commission November 19, 2010).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court removed a judge for (1) sharing a hotel suite during a judges’ meeting with a 20-year-old female who had been charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and who was taking part in the judge’s alternative sentencing program and (2) operating alternative sentencing programs that were not approved by the solicitor’s office as required by an order of the Court.  In the Matter of Evans, 702 S.E.2d 557 (South Carolina 2010).
  • Accepting an agreement for discipline by consent, the South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a former magistrate who had pled guilty to state charges of misconduct in office for engaging in ex parte communications with certain defendants; using his judicial position to advance the private interests of a litigant; using a procedure for handling fines and bond services for certain defendants that was not in accordance with the orders of the Chief Justice; and appropriating public funds for his own use.  In the Matter of Love, 702 S.E.2d 115 (South Carolina 2010).
  • The Tennessee Court of the Judiciary publicly reprimanded a judge for a delay of 10 years and 11 months in entering a decision in a case.  Public Reprimand of Russell (Tennessee Court of the Judiciary November 29, 2010).

A sampling of recent judicial ethics advisory opinions

  • When an appellate justice learns that a staff member has posted a comment on social media that violates the canons of judicial ethics, the justice should immediately take steps to remedy the violation, including at a minimum requiring the staff member to take all reasonable steps to have the post taken down and removed from the public domain. If the justice learns that an improper comment has been viewed by the public, republished, or otherwise disseminated, the justice should, depending on the circumstances, instruct the staff member to correct or repudiate the comment on social media, particularly if the comment is demeaning, offensive, or otherwise undermines the dignity of the court.  California Oral Advice Summary 2020-37
  • A judge may permit his law clerk to participate in peaceful Black Lives Matter protests away from the courthouse during non-working hours, but must instruct the clerk not to carry signs calling for the arrest or prosecution of the police officers involved in the Breonna Taylor shooting and not to remain with any protestors engaging in vandalism or violence. New York Opinion 2020-141.
  • A judge may display photographs and other memorabilia of current and former elected federal officials in her chambers but must be mindful of the content, context, and circumstances of the display to avoid any appearance of impropriety. New York Opinion 2020-101.
  • A court may include on its approved arbitrator list and guardian ad litem registry an attorney who is married to a judge on the court as long as protocols are followed to ensure that there is no appearance of impropriety, nepotism, or favoritism. Washington Opinion 2020-6.  
  • A judge or group of judges may sign a proposed resolution urging judges to remain vigilant in their efforts to keep racial bias out of the justice system and may submit the resolution for consideration to the chief judge of their circuit and to the Florida Supreme Court. Florida Opinion 2020-18. 
  • Judges may use court letterhead for any correspondence related to the appropriate exercise of the judicial office, including educational outreach and civic leadership activities. Alaska Opinion 2020-1.
  • A judge may not voluntarily write a letter of support on behalf of any litigants in any civil or criminal matter pending or impending in any court or administrative venue, including any judge or lawyer disciplinary proceeding. West Virginia Opinion 2020-25
  • A judicial official may not provide a letter of recommendation to the governor’s legal counsel at the request of a candidate seeking a judicial appointment but may be listed as a reference for the candidate and, if requested by the governor’s legal counsel, may provide a written or oral recommendation, subject to conditions. Connecticut Informal Opinion 2020-4.  
  • A judge may not submit a letter to a newspaper or bar association newsletter that accuses a named elected federal official who is currently running for re-election of undermining the rule of law, blames recent civil unrest on that official’s policies and philosophies, and criticizes the official’s policies. New York Opinion 2020-90
  • A judge may speak to an ethnic/cultural affinity group of employees in the prosecutor’s office about the judge’s experience as a prosecutor and career path and the court system’s adaptation to virtual operations. New York Opinion 2020-131.
  • A judge may write the biography of a noted attorney that includes accounts of criminal events and judicial decisions that may reflect negatively on the judicial system at the time. The judge may post the release date for the book on Facebook or other social media and participate in book promotions and speaking engagements in Florida or other states.  Florida Opinion 2020-21.  
  • A judge may write a book review of a friend’s novel and post it online without mentioning her judicial position provided the purpose is not to promote sales of the book. The judge must not authorize use of the review on the book jacket or elsewhere to promote sales of the book.  New York Opinion 2020-85.
  • A judge, judge’s family members, and staff members may accept gifts that are considered ordinary social hospitality but should not accept any gifts from persons who may appear before the judge or gifts presented with no reasonable expectation the judge will reciprocate. Ordinary social hospitality includes, for example, food or a bottle of wine presented by a houseguest; the purchase of a meal by a friend or colleague with the reasonable expectation that it will be reciprocated; mutual gift exchanges, such as holiday or birthday gifts of comparable value; and produce from a home garden if it is reciprocated.  Examples of gifts that would not be considered ordinary social hospitality include tickets to concerts, shows, sporting events, or fundraising events and gifts that are of significant value, such as use of a vacation home or time-share and expensive gifts from a lobbyist or vendor.  Michigan Opinion JI-146 (2020).
  • A judge may purchase raffle tickets at a charity auction. Florida Opinion 2020-19
  • A judge who is on the board of directors of a non-profit organization that supports and promotes musicians may not write a letter in support of the foundation’s application for grants from local and state governments. Florida Opinion 2020-17.
  • A judge may serve on the board of a non-profit organization that supports the historic preservation of buildings, makes recommendations for the establishment of historical districts, supports rehabilitation projects, and provides loans to organizations with similar goals. New York Opinion 2020-109.
  • A judge who wishes to be a member or leader of a non-profit organization that allows only women to be general members with voting authority and advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement and promotes U.S. Census participation by African-Americans and the expansion of literacy and technology resources in the community must determine if the organization invidiously discriminates, engages in partisan political activity, or will insert the judge unnecessarily into controversial lobbying, advocacy, or litigation. If some of the organization’s activities are clearly permissible and some are potentially controversial, a judge may only be a regular member and may not serve in a leadership position.  New York Opinion 2020-128
  • A judge may become a dues-paying member of the NAACP. Florida Opinion 2020-22.
  • A judge may not accept appointment to a federal health agency’s advisory council on improving public health among minority populations. New York Opinion 2020-146
  • A judge may participate on an exploratory committee formed by the public defender and the district attorney to consider the creation of a district court system in her county. New York Opinion 2020-147.
  • A circuit court judge may not serve as a regional judicial outreach liaison, a part-time paid position with the American Bar Association Judicial Division related to driving while under the influence laws, which is part of a cooperative agreement between the ABA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Wyoming Opinion 2020-1

Throwback Thursday

20 years ago this month:

  • The Nevada Supreme Court upheld the removal of a judge for engaging in numerous and repeated ex parte communications with experts retained by the parties or appointed by her in child custody proceedings and appointing her first cousin as the mediator in a case without informing the parties of their relationship.  In the Matter of Fine, 13 P.3d 400 (Nevada 2000).
  • Based on an agreed statement of facts and joint recommendation, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge who had continued to serve as secretary/treasurer and director of a corporation after becoming a judge and who had failed to disqualify himself from cases involving an attorney who was making lease payments or mortgage payments to the judge as principal of the corporation.  In the Matter of Torraca, Determination (New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct November 7, 2000).
  • The Utah Supreme Court approved the implementation of the Judicial Conduct Commission’s order of public reprimand of a judge who had on-the-record, in the courtroom criticized jurors in 2 cases for their verdicts.  In re Young, Order (Utah Supreme Court November 7, 2000).
  • Pursuant to a stipulation in which the judge agreed to resign, the Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly censured a judge for (1) his treatment of 2 witnesses in a case; (2) presiding over a case in which the defendant was the judge’s brother-in-law and transferring the case and recalling a bench warrant after an ex parte contact with the defendant; and (3) writing a defendant whom the judge believed had knowledge of property stolen from the judge, “if you know where by stuff is – I will let you out — & Dismiss your case.”   In re Colby, Stipulation, Agreement and Order of Censure (Washington State Commission November 30, 2000).

Recent cases

  • Based on a stipulation and the judge’s retirement and agreement not to serve in a judicial capacity in the future, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for intruding into the charging authority of the district attorney, questioning a deputy district attorney about the filing of a peremptory challenge, choosing a successor judge to handle a case after his disqualification, engaging in improper ex parte communications with the district attorney, and engaging in conduct toward the district attorney that was discourteous and conveyed the appearance of bias, embroilment, and prejudgment.  In the Matter Concerning Tamietti, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance October 14, 2020) .
  • The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished a judge for (1) interrogating a witness in a hostile manner in a civil jury trial, making sarcastic remarks, and mishandling the witness’s assertion of her privilege against self-incrimination, and (2) questioning the parties and counsel in an injudicious manner in a quiet title action.  In the Matter Concerning Roesch, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance October 15, 2020).
  • Accepting the determination of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the removal of a judge 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 to obtain payment for legal work he performed prior to becoming a full-time judge; and (3) failing to file timely and accurate disclosure reports of his income from his extra-judicial activities with the IRS, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Ethics Commission for the Unified Court System, and the clerk of the court.  In the Matter of Miller (New York Court of Appeals October 15, 2020).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for revoking a defendant’s probation without having the probation officer sworn in before testifying, denying the defendant the right to present evidence, and denying an appeal bond; the Commission also ordered the judge to obtain 2 additional hours of education.  Public Admonition of Christian and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for refusing to allow a defendant’s counsel access to the defendant’s court records and providing the police chief an interoffice memo about the case ex parte; the Commission also ordered the judge to obtain 4 additional hours of instruction.  Public Admonition of Del Carmen and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly admonished a judge for making a phone call on his aunt’s behalf to determine the whereabouts of a horse and exhibiting poor demeanor during the call; the Commission also ordered the judge to receive 2 additional hours of education.  Public Admonition of Foley and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded a judge for speaking publicly about a domestic violence victim during a political forum.  Public Reprimand of Howard (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020).
  • The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly warned a judge for requesting that law enforcement officers target and issue traffic citations to commercial vehicles associated with a solar farm project that was next to property owned by her family and making racially insensitive comments about people of Mexican descent in her communications with law enforcement officers; the Commission also ordered the judge to obtain 2 hours of instruction with a mentor.  Public Warning of Plaster and Order of Additional Education (Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct August 12, 2020).
  • The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission publicly admonished a judge for going to the homes of litigants to determine if they had in their possession disputed marital personal property and/or to supervise the transfer of the items.  In the Matter of Shuck, Public admonishment (West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission August 25, 2020).