Monday, May 7, 2012
In a matter involving confidential complaints, the Delaware Supreme Court has ordered the removal of a family court judge, one day after his pension entitlement vests.
The complaints alleged that the judge had "attempted to establish an inappropriately close social relationship with a young female attorney (Complainant #1)" who regularly appeared before him. Complainant #2 was the chief judge of the family court.
After "[e]nergetic efforts to resolve the complaints failed," the matter was heard by a Board of Examining Officers appointed by the Court. The board found that the judge had engaged in ex parte communications with Complainant #1 and "after developing and expressing romantic feelings for [her], continued to preside over cases in which she participated."
Mere social contacts with Members of the Bar, including those who appear before judges, alone do not constitute a violation of the Delaware Judges' Code of Judicial Conduct. But, where those contacts rise to the level of personal and emotional attachments, no matter how unrealistic, one-sided, and unreciprocated, judges must take steps to preserve public confidence in their integrity and impartiality. Here, Respondent, despite clearly rebuffed overtures, continued to pursue a relationship and presided over cases in which Complainant #1 appeared.
The board did not find that the judge's decisions were impacted by his interest in Complainant #1.
The judge may not take vacation days prior to his removal. He must pay up to $10,000 of Complainant #1's therapy bills and 75% of her reasonable counsel fees.
His judicial term expires on November 1, 2012. (Mike Frisch)