July 9, 2010
Judge Benched Or "Take Care Of My Shortstop"
The Nebraska Supreme Court concluded that suspension of a county judge "would be insufficient to correct the damage wrought by the respondent's behavior" and removed the judge from office. The respondent had served in the judicial office since 1991.
The judge had agreed to serve as an assistant coach for his daughter's softball team (the "Sensations"). He heard rumors that the coach was about to be arrested. The judge discussed these rumors with the county attorney and offered to pay restitution as "he had not wanted his daughter's team to be hurt by association with [an arrest]." He also spoke with a different prosecutor, offered to pay the restitution and said to tell the county attorney that the he would put the coach on "double secret probation."
The coach was charged with misdemeanor theft. The judge recused himself. The matter was set for a guilty plea and drew media attention. The judge suggested an early plea but the county attorney rejected the suggestion. The coach pled guilty and was sentenced.
When the school board initiated an action against the coach, the judge interceded and made a threat to a board member that he would be " 'making an enemy' he didn't want to make." The board member also is an attorney and regularly appeared before the judge. The judge confirmed the threat in a telephone conversation with the board member's law partners. He also confirmed that he was not joking. The judge then wrote a letter designed to help the coach keep her job.
But that's not all, folks. He had a case involving the team's shortstop, who was on juvenile probation. He recused himself from the matter after taking the assistant coach job but lobbied the county attorney "as a softball coach and not as a judge" to "take care of [his] shortstop." He also asked the judge who had the case if it was proceeding to disposition.
The court here found that the judge had allowed family to influence his judicial conduct and judgment. Removal from office was required as he had ignored warnings that his conduct was unethical and "demonstrated a disregard for ethical rules that a suspension cannot overcome." His course of conduct was such that several lawyers cannot have confidence in his fairness as a judge.
Additional information, and some revealing quotes from the judge, may be found in this post from the North Platte Bulletin. (Mike Frisch)
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