August 24, 2007
Should Have Known
The Minnesota Supreme Court ordered a public reprimand of a district court judge for his "ex parte handling of a traffic ticket belonging to the husband of an administrative clerk employed by the judicial district." The court acknowledged that it is common practice in minor traffic cases for district judges to dismiss tickets without consulting the local prosecutor. Here, there was a written county policy that prohibited court employees from seeking special favors for"themselves or people they know."
The issue whether the judge knew that the favor sought was for the employee's spouse caused a dissent. The majority concluded that the judge "should have known that the ticketed driver was the clerk's husband..." The dissent agreed, but found "a significant distinction between actual knowledge and constructive knowledge in this context" such that a private warning was the approprite sanction. The dissent sees the real problem to be the casual manner in which minor traffic tickets are resolved: " I believe it would be more appropriate to vigorously condemn the court procedures but show more understanding for the judge who, by following these procedures, committed an act that violates the Canons."
Another judge of the same district court received a public reprimand for continuing for dismissal a ticket issued to the son of the same (and now former) clerk. The judge also had inappropriately contacted the clerk to discuss the pending investigation of judicial misconduct. (Mike Frisch)
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