April 20, 2010
Judge Removed But Not Disciplined For Workplace Incivility
The North Carolina Supreme Court has ordered the removal of an elected district court judge who had already resigned from office. The court concluded that the judge had engaged in willful misconduct and disqualified him from future judicial office. He also was deemed ineligible for retirement benefits.
The initial issue involved the judge's service as a member of various corporate boards of directors. That issue was first raised with the judge at an education program for new judges. The judge sought to amend the rules that prohibited such service but was rebuffed by the Supreme Court. He nonetheless continued to serve on corporate boards and received significant compensation. An investigation was initiated by the Judicial Standards Commission. The commission concluded (and the court here agreed) that the judge made untrue statements for the purpose of misleading the commission's investigation.
The court also considered an incident between the judge and the Chief District Court Judge. The chief judge denied his request to relieve him of a court assignment to attend a corporate board of directors meeting. The judge went to her chambers where he "became agitated and raised his voice." He called her "a media hound" and a "political hack" who should "leave [him] the hell alone." The judge made accusations of improper conduct by the chief judge and caused her to feel threatened. The court stated:
Standing alone, Respondent's words and actions during the confrontation...did not necessarily merit a recommendation for discipline by the Commission. While a district court judge must respect the Chief District Judge's duties and authority, the nature of the relationship between coworkers may at times produce episodes of contention, disagreement, and frustration. Despite the inappropriate nature of Respondent's actions during his confrontation with [the Chief Judge], discipline is not normally imposed for a single incident of improper behavior towards a coworker.
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