May 16, 2013
Judicial Candidate Sanctioned For False Statements
A judicial candidate has been publicly reprimanded and barred from judicial office for five years by the Indiana Supreme Court.
The candidate ran for a circuit court judgeship against an incumbent. The judge had modified the sentence of a convicted felon.
In a newspaper article, the candidate was quoted falsely claiming that the judge and the felon were "boyhood friends." A press release from her campaign suggested that the judge's "work was paid for by the taxpayers, so it wasn't free for anyone but a convicted murderer [the released felon]."
After his release, the felon committed crimes in Ohio. The candidate claimed he would have been in prison but for the actions of the judge. She refused to correct the suggestion after the Commission on Judicial Qualifications "advised her that it appeared she was incorrect" in that suggestion.
The court approved the settlement agreement submitted by the candidate and the commission. (Mike Frisch)
May 10, 2013
Late To Work And Not Pleasant When He's There
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ordered that the Barnstable Clerk-Magistrate be removed from office:
The findings by the hearing officer, as adopted by the committee, provide sufficient cause for Powers's removal and we conclude, after considering the totality of the circumstances, that the public good requires his removal. We do not reach this conclusion lightly; we recognize that removal "strips the individual of the enjoyment of a position of distinction" to which he had been appointed by the Governor and approved by the Governor's Council. See Attorney Gen. v. Tufts, supra at 490. Our reasons for reaching this conclusion are best summarized by a statement made by Judge O'Neill, the presiding justice of the court where Powers presided as clerk-magistrate, during his testimony at the hearing: "I just want the clerk to do his job." The record demonstrates that from the date he started work at the Barnstable District Court through the time of the hearing, Powers fundamentally failed to do his job. He was not there during the busiest time of day for the clerk's office, leaving the office without necessary leadership and an essential helping hand, apparently failing to recognize that one essential component of his job was to show up when the work needed to be done. He continually abused his authority as clerk-magistrate by his mistreatment of litigants, court personnel, and even the presiding justice of the court. He failed to render timely decisions and sought to cover up his failure by asking employees under his direction to change the date of decision to the date of hearing. He failed to meet his obligation to ensure that monies collected by the clerk's office were deposited daily in a local bank, and effectively denied litigants the opportunity timely to appeal his denial of the issuance of a criminal complaint at a show cause hearing by directing his staff not to send notice of his denial. We need not consider whether any of these findings involves some degree of moral turpitude because we do not accept Powers's suggestion that he can keep his job, despite failing effectively to perform it for more than four years, as long as he avoids acts of moral turpitude.
Cape Cod Times has this coverage.
The case is In the Matter of Clerk-Magistrate Robert Powers. (Mike Frisch)
May 09, 2013
Former Magistrate Reprimanded, Posted Bond For Defendant
A magistrate who resigned from judicial office has been publicly reprimanded by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
In one self-reported matter, the magistrate set bond in a criminal matter, reduced the bond to ten bucks and posted it with his own funds.
There were other violations as well. (Mike Frisch)
May 08, 2013
The Law Of Judicial License Plates
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has issued a report on the ethical issues that relate to the use of judicial license plates.
The Commission intends to "generate a serious discussion" of the issue, reaching the conclusions that the use of such plates "does not per se violate any ethics rule or create an appearence of impropriety."
However, asserting judicial status "to avoid the consequences of a lawful traffic stop" can result in sanctions and a judge should so advise family and friends who operate the vehicle. If a judge uses a dashboard placard to park illegally, such conduct "may subject the judge to a confidential caution or public discipline."
Commission member Emery dissented and felt that the "milquetoast" report was "ducking" the issues.
The press release of the Commission is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
May 02, 2013
Former Magisterial Judge Disbarred
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has disbarred a former magisterial judge convicted of endangering a child's welfare and corruption of a minor.
The victim was the judge's 12 year old stepdaughter.
When her mother was away, she went into the judge's bedroom because she was "scared." He "rubbed her 'butt' and vaginal area on bare skin for about ten minutes."
The evidence at trial "included three secretly recorded telephone conversation between the Respondent and [the stepdaughter] wherein [he] apologized to [her] for inappropriate touching."
The judge had been on temporary suspension since March 2012.
Philly.com had this report on the trial. (Mike Frisch)
May 01, 2013
Judge Really Can Referee, Just Like The Chief Justice Said
As we had hoped, the anxiously-awaited answer to the question whether a judge may also referee college football is "Yes."
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opines:
Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3A provides that the judicial duties of a judge shall take precedence over all of the judge’s other activities. Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.215(b)(4) requires all judges to inform the chief judge of any contemplated absences that would affect the progress of the court’s business. Therefore, the judge is advised to discuss this activity with the chief judge and schedule this activity in such a manner that would not conflict with judicial activities.
Canon 5B addresses avocational activities of a judge and encourages a judge to “participate in extrajudicial activities concerning non-legal subjects, subject to the requirements of the Code.” (emphasis added).Canon 5A sets forth the requirements of the Code as they pertain to extrajudicial activities:
- Extrajudicial Activities in General. A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extrajudicial activities so that they do not:
- cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge;
- undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality;
- demean the judicial office;
- interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties;
- lead to frequent disqualification of the judge; or
- appear to a reasonable person to be coercive.
Likewise, Canon 2 generally prohibits any activity involving impropriety or the appearance of impropriety, and Canon 2B specifically prohibits an activity that involves the misuse of the prestige of judicial office. Serving as a part-time college football referee does not appear to reflect adversely on impartiality, demean judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial activities.
Finally, Canon 6A states that a judge may receive compensation and reimbursement of expenses for an extrajudicial activity if the source of the payments does not give the appearance of influencing the judge in the performance of judicial duties or otherwise give the appearance of impropriety. This compensation must be reasonable, cannot exceed what a person who is not a judge would receive for the same activity, and the expenses must cover the actual costs of expenses reasonably incurred, or otherwise should be reported as compensation. The inquiring judge is further advised to make a proper financial disclosure of this income pursuant to the reporting requirements of Canon 6B
Time to kick off. (Mike Frisch)
Banned From The Bench
The Indiana Supreme Court has permanently banned a senior judge from judicial service and suspended for one year with all but thirty days conditionally stayed.
The judge stipulated that she "engaged in an improper romantic relationship with a client" while serving as the client's public defender. Because the judge was certified to serve as a senior judge, the conduct also violated the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct.
NewsOne reported that the conduct took place during a prison visit. (Mike Frisch)
April 26, 2013
From Black Robe To Zebra Stripes?
A judicial ethics quandry has apparently been resolved by a recent opinion of the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.
The issue: Can a judge also serve as a college football referee?
Unfortunately, we will have to hold our breath for the answer, as the committee's web page links to an earlier, unrelated opinion on toy donations. (Mike Frisch)
April 25, 2013
Judge Removed For 1972 Sexual Misconduct
The New York Court of Appeals has accepted the determination of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct and affirmed the removal from office of a former family court judge.
The acts that led to the sanction took place in 1972 when the judge was 25 years old. He "engaged in sexual misconduct involving a five-year-old girl."
It is troubling that the petition is based solely on conduct that occurred 40 years ago - 13 years before petitioner was elevated to the bench. Nevertheless, the misconduct alleged is grave by any standard. Further, the significant danger of fading memories is tempered somewhat under the circumstances of this particular case, where petitioner admits that conduct of this nature in fact occurred.
The judge had resigned in April 2012. (Mike Frisch)
Judge Resigns After Criminal Charges
The West Chester Daily Local News reports the resignation of a Pennsylvania district judge recently charged with criminal offenses:
[The judge] was charged with one count of tampering with records or identification, a first-degree misdemeanor, and one count of obstruction of administration of law or other government function, a second-degree misdemeanor. The first offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine and the second a maximum of two years in prison and a $5,000 fine, although Arnold is unlikely to face either maximum penalty.
The charges brought by the state Attorney General’s Office accuse Arnold of intentionally obstructing the law by failing to properly perform her duty as an elected magisterial judge, and for concealing records pertaining to wrongdoing. Arnold last year admitted that she delayed docketing a summary harassment citation against her son, Forrest Solomon Jr., and then lying to investigators about what had happened with the citation.
Details from the Unionville Times:
According to the state’s criminal complaint, on Jan. 19, 2010, an altercation occurred at Arnold’s Downingtown home between Arnold’s son, Forrest “Forrie” C. Solomon Jr., who has a 12-year history of convictions ranging from indecent assault to drug offenses, and his half-brother, Jonathan Arnold, both of whom lived with the judge. As a result of the dispute, Solomon was issued a summary offense citation, which was filed the following day by a state trooper in Arnold’s court, the complaint said.
The charges state that after Arnold received the citation, she returned it to the trooper. Although the citation was immediately returned to the district court, Arnold allegedly did not docket the citation and failed to follow proper procedures to transfer the matter to another district court, the complaint said.
Agents said that Arnold concealed the citation for 2 ½ months in an effort to protect her son from additional sanctions with the Chester County Probation Department, even instructing an employee to “hold on to this” because Solomon had “a probation hearing coming up and she didn’t know if this would affect it,” the complaint said.
After her son was in rehab and after questions from police about the docketing delay, Arnold, without the required knowledge or approval of Chester County President Judge James P. MacElree II, docketed the citation using her computer username and password, and then ordered an employee to transfer the citation to District Justice Mark Bruno’s court, according to the criminal complaint. Bruno was suspended in February, accused in the Philadelphia Traffic Court ticket-fixing probe.
April 23, 2013
The Third Degree
A recent opinion of the Arkansas Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee concludes that a judge is not obligated to recuse himself in cases in which one of the parties is represented by the judge's first or third cousins.
The Code prohibits a judge from hearing cases in which a party is represented by someone within a third degree of relationship with the judge. Cousins, as defined by the Code, "are not within the third degree of relationship."
The judge still must consider whether his impartiality might reasonably be questioned, on a case-by-case basis. (Mike Frisch)
April 22, 2013
A Pre-Existing Condition
The North Carolina State Bar has filed a complaint against a former elected district court judge.
The complaint alleges that, after his 2006 election, the judge continued his position on the board of directors of Sonic Automotive, Inc. despite a warning that he was prohibited from doing so by the Code of Judicial Conduct.
After an investigation was initiated by the Judicial Standards Commission, he allegedly made false statements to the effect that he had a pre-existing medical condition and was provided insurance by Sonic. The complaint contends that he "made the statements about the health insurance coverage for the purpose of misleading the [commission] in its investigation."
Charlotteobservor.com had this report on earlier allegations of misuse of his daughter's trust assets. (Mike Frisch)
April 16, 2013
Prurient Interest Gets Judge In Hot Water
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has issued a public reprimand to a Rhea County judge.
In one instance, the judge "made a comment concerning [his] belief that one of the attorneys who appears in [his] court must be having a sexual relationship with another attorney who appears before [him]." He later apologized.
A second series of incidents involved a court employee. The judge used "inappropriate language" in asking about the employee's problem that led to a leave of absence: "This was done in an abrasive manner and was noted by other persons during the conversation,." (Mike Frisch)
April 12, 2013
One Censure, One Reprimand
A circuit court judge has been censured and reprimanded by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct.
The censure involved "intemperate, argumentative, disruptive" conduct at a deposition. The judge's conduct thus failed to abide by a previous resolution of comlaints against the judge.
The reprimand involved an improper ex parte hearing and relief granted in a petition to modify a permanent parenting plan. (Mike Frisch)
April 09, 2013
Judicial Size Matters
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct discontinued ongoing proceedings against an Elmira judge in light of his resignation from office after 31 years of service.
The judge faced charges that sounds like a fact pattern for a good judicial ethics exam question.
The judge had denied the charges and resigned after a hearing was held.
The complaint alleged that the judge directed an attorney to provide free legal services to a number of traffic defendants including the judge's daughter. The same attorney provided free assistance regarding an insurance issue on behalf of the judge's daughter.
Further, the judge allowed to same daughter (who resided with him) to serve as a trial juror in a criminal case.
Finally, there was the judge's telling of a "sexually graphic joke" at a police event. He described another judge (who he was not on speaking terms with) as a "small claims judge because his genitalia are small."
In his resignation letter, the judge stated that he "tried to maintain a good quality of life in Elmira. I have helped some people and wished I could have helped more." (Mike Frisch)
April 02, 2013
Disparate Treatment Of Counsel Violates Fundamental Fairness
The New York Court of Appeals has affirmed an Appellate Division conclusion that a trial court had improperly discharged the defendant's Legal Aid Society attorney.
The case involved robbery charges and "was marked by multiple adjournments, over a course of 15 appearances by a total of ten different assistant district attorneys (ADAs), and defendant's assigned counsel, the Legal Aid Society."
The judge accommodated several prosecution adjournment requests and set a trial date.
The Legal Aid Society attorney then advised the court he was leaving the office and requested a control date rather than a trial date. The court refused, removed the attorney (over a Legal Aid Society supervisor's objection) and set the case for trial.
The case was assigned to another judge and led to a guilty plea.
The Appellate Division majority found that the trial judge had granted "numerous requests for adjournments" from the People while "disparaging" defense counsel.
The court here found the plea no bar to review.;
Here, the claim to counsel is so deeply intertwined with the integrity of the process in Supreme Court that defendant's guilty plea is no bar to appellate review. A claim that removal of counsel was part of a court's disparate, unjustifiable treatment of defense counsel goes to the fundamental fairness of our system of justice. While the right to counsel of choice is qualified, and may cede, under certain circumstances, to concerns of the efficient administration of the criminal justice system, we have made clear that courts cannot arbitrarily interfere with the attorney-client relationship, amd interference with that relationship for the purpose of case management is not without limits, and subject to scrutiny.
The court found that the Appellate Division did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the request for adjournment should have been granted. (Mike Frisch)
March 29, 2013
Judge May Accept Free Legal Representation
The Massachusetts Committee on Judicial Ethics has issued an opinion concluding that an associate justice of a trial court may accept pro bono representation from an attorney in connection with a matter before the Commission on Judical Conduct:
The Committee characterizes a judge's receipt of free legal services as a gift. Your acceptance of free legal representation from the Attorney does not violate the Code because the Attorney has not ever and likely will never appear before you. Your acceptance under these circumstances is also consistent with your broader obligations to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and not to allow relationships to influence your judicial conduct or judgment.
The opinion notes that the CJC matter has generated publicity. (MIke Frisch)
March 27, 2013
Intemperate Judge Suspended
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has adopted the recommendations of its Judicial Conduct Board and suspended a family court judge without pay for four years with other sanctions.
The judge conceded that he was repeatedly intemperate with litigants, showed disrespect for authority and was unable to properly manage his staff.
The court found 24 violations of nine Canons of Judicial Conduct.
Chief Justice Benjamin concurred, in the result but questioned the majority's use of inherent judicial powers to impose the sanctions.
Widespread publicity was given to this video of the judge in action. (Mike Frisch)
March 19, 2013
Over A Motorcycle
The New Mexico Supreme Court has suspended a municipal judge without pay for 90 days.
The Las Cruces Sun-News described the violations:
An Espanola municipal judge has been suspended for 90 days without pay and must reimburse the state for an investigation of his conduct.
The New Mexico Supreme Court made the decision Wednesday to discipline Judge Stephen Martinez.
The Santa Fe New Mexican (http://bit.ly/LtGsKK ) reports that Salazar had ordered a towing company to return a motorcycle that was seized in a criminal case in another court. The motorcycle belonged to an acquaintance and son of a member of Salazar's church.
Salazar told the judicial panel that he would take responsibility for his actions.
The high court ordered Salazar to reimburse the towing company owners the $8,500 they spent to get his order overturned. Salazar also cannot accept $7,700 in public funds that city councilors provided for legal bills in the case.
The judge, who was on probation for earlier misconduct, also engaged in ex parte communications concerning the motorcycle. (mike Frisch)
March 14, 2013
The Florida Supreme Court accepted the findings and recommendations of the Judicial Qualifications Commission and imposed a public reprimand of a circuit court judge, to be administered in person at a time set by the Clerk of the court.
The judge also must send letters of apology and continue mental health treatment.
There were a number of incidents at issue, including "screaming loudly" at an assistant state attorney who the judge thought had disrespected him.
The judge remarked to opposing counsel during a female assistant state attorney's argument at sidebar as follows: "Do you know what I do when my wife and I disagree? I just let her talk." He indicated that "once she is finished, you can do what you want anyway."
In another matter, he sentenced a defendant without his attorney present.
There was mitigating evidence of family stress and that the judge had sought treatment and counseling for his temper. The court gave considerable weight to these efforts. (Mike Frisch)