Monday, December 5, 2016
The Georgia Supreme Court has ordered reconsideration of an opinion of the Judicial Qualifications Commission that deals with excluding children from a courtroom and the ability of security personnel to inquire of court visitors
On August 28, 2013, the Judicial Qualifications Commission rendered Formal Advisory Opinion No. 239, which concerns Canon 2 (A) of the former Code of Judicial Conduct. In pertinent part, Canon 2 (A) provides that “[j]udges shall respect and comply with the law,” and Opinion No. 239 concerns the obligation of judges to respect and comply with the constitutional guarantee of the right of public access to judicial proceedings. Concerned that Opinion No. 239 reflects some misunderstandings about the scope of that right and the extent to which it is clear and settled in the decisional law, the Council of State Court Judges asked the Commission to reconsider portions of Opinion No. 239. The Commission, however, declined to reconsider, and so, on July 10, 2015, the Council filed a petition with this Court, seeking a review of Opinion No. 239. In its response to the petition, the Commission conceded our authority to review its formal advisory opinions, but the Commission urged us to deny review of Opinion No. 239 on the merits.
On September 8, 2015, we granted the petition for review, and we directed the Commission and the Council to file briefs addressing the extent to which Opinion No. 239 rests upon clear and settled principles of constitutional law. The Commission and the Council filed briefs, but the Commission also filed a motion to dismiss, repudiating its earlier position, and contending for the first time that this Court is without authority to review the Commission’s formal advisory opinions. We heard oral argument on November 2, 2015. Having carefully considered the arguments of the Commission and the Council, we now conclude that this Court has authority to review formal advisory opinions rendered by the Commission, and we conclude as well that Opinion No. 239 reflects some misunderstandings about the extent to which the scope of the right of public access to judicial proceedings is clear and settled in the decisional law. Accordingly, pursuant to JQC Rule 22 (b), we direct the Commission to reconsider Opinion No. 239 consistent with the opinion of this Court.
Holding on authority
Our authority to review formal advisory opinions rendered by the Commission is necessarily implied by JQC Rule 22, and to the extent that JQC Rule 22 itself is constitutional — it is, and the Commission concedes that it is — our exercise of that implied authority in no way impairs the constitutional prerogative of the Commission to discipline judges. This Court has the authority to review Opinion No. 239 upon the petition of the Council, and the motion of the Commission to dismiss this matter is denied.
On the merits
To the extent, however, that Opinion No. 239 endeavors to extrapolate broader principles of law from these precedents, it raises the worrisome prospect that the Commission has wandered into a field of law that is unclear and unsettled, something that is beyond its purview. The Council contends that the Commission has done exactly that by its identification of certain acts and practices as constitutionally intolerable...
The Council asserts that the law is not clear and settled that the constitutional guarantee of the right of public access extends to children, and the Council likewise contends that the law is not clear and settled that inquiries by security personnel amount to a closure in violation of the constitutional guarantee. With respect to these aspects of Opinion No. 239, we agree that the Commission has gone beyond a mere interpretation of Canon 2 (A) and has wandered into unclear and unsettled areas of constitutional law.
According to Opinion No. 239, a practice of excluding children as a class from judicial proceedings is unconstitutional. We note, however, that none of the precedents cited in Opinion No. 239 concerns the admission of children of tender years to a courtroom, and whether children are constitutionally entitled to the same extent as adults to attend court seems to be an open and debatable question...
Given the current state of the law, fair-minded jurists may reasonably disagree about the extent to which the constitutional guarantee of the right of public access to judicial proceedings requires the admittance of children of tender years, and decisions to admit or exclude children do not, without more, implicate Canon 2 (A).
Opinion No. 239 says that it is unconstitutional for court staff or security personnel to inquire of a courthouse visitor about the reasons for his visit. The law, however, is not clear and settled on this point. Certainly, a court has an obligation “to take reasonable measures to accommodate public attendance” at least with respect to the public’s right to attend criminal trials...
Neither this Court nor the United States Supreme Court has decided that no questions ever may be asked of persons seeking admittance to the courthouse or a courtroom, and we note that a number of federal courts have held that requiring such persons to produce photo identification prior to their admittance does not violate the constitutional guarantee of the right of public access...So long as court staff and security personnel understand that a member of the public is entitled to attend court whether or not he has a case pending therein, no clear and settled law prohibits court staff and security personnel from inquiring of persons seeking admittance about what has brought them to the courthouse.
In an apparent effort to limit its scope, Opinion No. 239 says that the practices that it identifies as unconstitutional are only “generally” improper. That offers little comfort, however, to judges who must address these issues every day. If a judge were to carefully consider the law and honestly determine that she ought to do what the Commission has deemed constitutionally intolerable, she then would have to choose between following the law as she understands it or yielding to the contrary understanding of the Commission. In those circumstances, following the law as she understands it would expose the judge to disciplinary proceedings, even if those proceedings ultimately would vindicate the judge. To permit the Commission to put a judge in that position would compromise the independence of the judiciary. Until it is clear and settled in the decisional law whether and to what extent the practices at issue are unconstitutional, it is not for the Commission to opine about what the Constitution means. Accordingly, we direct the Commission to reconsider Opinion No. 239 consistent with the opinion of this Court.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
A judge's Facebook proclivity has led to a six-month suspension by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
An estate was opened in Oconee County for the estate of Z.H. Z.H.'s parents had filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the estate against the Seneca Police Department. The case was settled with the family for the sum of $2,150,000. Due to the public nature of the case, the settlement received extensive press coverage.
Despite the matter being before the probate court for administration of the estate, respondent expressed his opinion about the settlement on Facebook posting: "In the end it's all about the money. Always. Unfortunately, I see it EVERYDAY." Respondent later added: "Once ck is in hand, they'll disappear."
A review of respondent's Facebook account revealed that he has made extensive political posts, including ones in which he appears to endorse the presidential candidacy of one candidate. A review of respondent's Facebook account further revealed a post in which he engaged in fundraising for a local church. Respondent's Facebook account identifies himself as the probate court judge for Oconee County and the account, along with all of respondent's posts, were accessible to all members of Facebook.
Respondent greatly regrets his conduct with regard to the estate of Z.H. matter and is sorry for any distress that it may have caused Z.H.'s family. Respondent recognizes that, while he did not mention the estate of Z.H. by name on Facebook, it was inappropriate for him to make the statements as it would be clear in the community to what he was referring. Respondent also recognizes that it was inappropriate for him to make political posts and to post information about a fundraiser for a local church.
Respondent has now removed reference to himself as a judge on his Facebook page. He submits that he is deeply embarrassed about the matter and seeks to assure the Court that, in the future, he will not make reference to anything involving his court and will refrain from making political posts or posting fundraising information on Facebook or any other social media. Respondent is extremely proud of the Oconee County Probate Court and wants to assure the Supreme Court that he will do nothing further that could damage the reputation of the probate court.
We find respondent's misconduct warrants a six (6) month suspension from judicial duties, retroactive to April 12, 2016, the date of his interim suspension. We therefore accept the Agreement for Discipline by Consent and suspend respondent from office for six (6) months.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
A recent decision of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct orders a reprimand and education requirements of a justice of the peace.
Two of the counts involve misconduct in cases in which the judge presided.
The third charge is more interesting
Judge Uresti has a public Facebook page that identifies her as: “Yolanda Acuna Uresti – Judge Elect for JP Pct. 4 Pl. 2.”
The page includes her photo and identifies her as a “politician.”
Judge Uresti has not utilized available privacy settings that would prevent members of the public from accessing and viewing her Facebook page.
On June 4, 2014 and July 1, 2014, while a candidate for judicial office, Judge Uresti’s Facebook page included links, photos, and posts promoting the real estate business of Jennifer Uresti, the judge’s daughter-in-law.
On March 3, 2014, while a candidate for judicial office, Judge Uresti’s Facebook page included a link, photo, and post promoting a former judge’s business as a wedding officiate.
In her written responses to the Commission’s inquiry, Judge Uresti acknowledged that she had a Facebook page, but denied that she was identified on that page as a “politician,” despite the fact that her Facebook page expressly included the description of her as a “politician.”
Further, Judge Uresti denied responsibility for the Facebook posts promoting the businesses of Jennifer Uresti and the former judge, claiming the posts were “illegal,” “unauthorized,” and the result of someone “hack[ing]” her Facebook page.
According to Judge Uresti, none of the posts promoting these businesses were ever accessible to the general public.
Although Judge Uresti claimed to have deleted her Facebook account, as of the date of this sanction it remains accessible.
When asked if she reported the “hacking” of her Facebook account to the appropriate authorities, Judge Uresti stated that she had not.
Judges and Facebook
With regard to the Facebook posts that promoted the financial interests of her relative and a former judge, the Commission notes that at the time of the original posts, Judge Uresti was a judicial candidate and not yet a judge. While the Commission does not have jurisdiction over the pre-bench conduct of a judicial candidate, Judge Uresti’s failure to remove the posts from her public Facebook page after she assumed the bench in 2015, and the fact that these posts continue to be visible to the public sixteen months into her term as judge, even after the Commission brought the concerns to the judge’s attention, constitutes a continuing violation of the canons. Viewers of Judge Uresti’s public Facebook page would continue to perceive that Judge Uresti has lent the prestige of her judicial position to advance the private financial interests of these individuals and has conveyed or permitted others to convey the impression that they were in a special position to influence the judge.
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A, 2B, and 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, §1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution, it is the Commission’s decision to issue a PUBLIC REPRIMAND AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION to the Honorable Yolanda Uresti, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Place 2, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas.
Pursuant to this Order, Judge Uresti must obtain eighty (80) hours of instruction by repeating the curriculum provided by the Texas Justice Court Training Center for new judges, in addition to her required judicial education for Fiscal Year 2017. Such training may be obtained at the judge’s own expense or at the expense of Bexar County if so approved.
Judge Uresti shall complete the additional eighty (80) hours of instruction by May 1, 2017. It is Judge Uresti’s responsibility to contact the Texas Justice Court Training Center and schedule her attendance at each of the programs designated for new judges, starting with the Stage I seminar scheduled for December 11-15, 2016, in Austin, Texas.
Upon the completion of the eighty (80) hours of instruction described herein, Judge Uresti shall provide the Commission with a certificate of completion from the Texas Justice Court Training Center, along with the completed Respondent Judge Survey indicating compliance with this Order. Failure to complete, or report the completion of, the required additional education in a timely manner may result in further Commission action.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, §1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution, it is ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC REPRIMAND AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION by the Commission.
Failure to cooperate with the investigation was treated as an aggravating factor. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, November 10, 2016
The Florida Supreme Court has approved sanctions against a judge
In this case, we review the Findings and Recommendations of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC). The JQC recommends that Judge John P. Contini receive the sanction of a public reprimand plus the conditions that he hand deliver a written apology letter, continue active judicial mentoring for three years, set up and complete a stress management program, and be assessed the costs of these proceedings. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 12, Fla. Const. For the reasons that follow, we approve the JQC’s findings and recommended discipline.
The judge assumed office in January 20155
the violations manifested themselves threefold: (1) sending an ex parte e-mail to the Broward Public Defenders Office; (2) failing to seek a recusal or transfer when an appeal effectively froze his division; and (3) making impertinent and belittling remarks in open court about a pending matter.
The ex parte email was sent while the judge was attending judicial college. As a result
...on April 9, 2015, the State, through the Attorney General’s Office, petitioned the Fourth District Court of Appeal for a writ of prohibition seeking to disqualify Judge Contini from a list of 962 cases. On June 10, 2015, the Fourth District issued an order to show cause concerning the writ, which stayed further proceedings in the cases to which it applied. Although there was no formal stay in effect until the show cause order was issued, all parties acted as though a stay was in effect between March 26 and June 10. Judge Contini’s division—the criminal division—was essentially frozen, yet he neither recused himself sua sponte nor sought an administrative transfer. Instead, he remained within the division hoping for personal vindication.
While the judicial conduct charges relating to the email were pending
It appears that Judge Contini became increasingly frustrated until he lost his temper in open court during August 11 and 12, 2015, hearings. In one instance, he said, “And if a prosecutor, someone with the AG’s office, wants to put that person’s case on their disingenuous list of cases that are pending sentencing, that’s a lie from the pit of hell, and that is a fraud on the Fourth [District].” He wished that the Fourth District would “spank the person who put [a case on the] disingenuous list” and “ream out the idiot who put [that case] on the list.” The assistant attorney general who signed the initial list, Heidi Bettendorf, was not present. However, Judge Contini chastised her by name for “misleading” and committing “fraud on the Fourth [District].” In another instance, Judge Contini threatened a state attorney with contempt while raising his voice and accusing him of inappropriate behavior. Judge Contini demanded that the state attorney admit to assisting Bettendorf with the creation of the list and ordered bailiffs to escort the attorney from the courtroom after the exchange.
The judge must appear before the court to be reprimanded. (Mike Frisch)
Saturday, November 5, 2016
The Maryland Court of Appeals heard oral argument last week on an interesting issue relating to judicial discipline - whether the Court has review authority of a reprimand issued by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities.
The video of the argument is linked here.
The reprimand involves findings of rude, disrespectful and unprofessional behavior toward an attorney. The Commission further found that the judge had failed to recuse herself from the case after admitting bias against the litigant.
The judge's answer to the allegations is linked here.
The judge was named Judge of the Year by the Maryland Access to Justice Commission in 2014.
The commission clearly has the authority to impose a reprimand. The question is whether the Court may review the exercise of that authority.
In D.C. bar discipline matters, the Board on Professional Responsibility has that same reprimand power.
My fading memory does not recall any instance of an attempt by either Bar Counsel or a respondent to appeal a Board reprimand. However (and unlike here), the court has by rule empowered itself to review any disposition in a bar discipline matter.
It would be a discretionary review rather than an appeal of right. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, October 31, 2016
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has imposed a public letter of reprimand of a General Sessions Court Judge.
The judge learned that "an acquaintance had been arrested and placed in the Bartlett, Tennessee jail." The judge made multiple calls to learn if bond had been set. He informed the jailer that he was a judge and was setting bail to release the acquaintance on personal recognizance.
The jailer declined to accept the judge's authority and bond was set at $10,000. The Bartlett judge kept the bond as set despite the efforts of the reprimanded judge.
The story from the Memphis Daily News.
The reprimand describes “an acquaintance” of Anderson who was arrested and jailed Dec. 19 in Bartlett. The report does not identify the person or what they were charged with.
Anderson made several telephone calls to learn if bond had been set or would be set, but had obtained no information. The next morning Anderson went to the Bartlett jail and learned that bail would be set the next day – a Monday. Anderson asked for the telephone number of a Bartlett judge, but jailers said they didn’t have the number. That’s when Anderson “informed the jailer in charge that as a General Sessions Judge with Shelby County jurisdiction, you were setting bail for the acquaintance and the acquaintance was to be released on his own recognizance,” the reprimand reads.
The jailer refused to release the person and Anderson left. Later that day, a Bartlett judge set the bond at $10,000.
Anderson then called the judge “and asked if the Bartlett judge had knowledge that you have previously directed a release on recognizance,” the reprimand reads. “The Bartlett judge declined to reduce the bond he had set.”
Anderson’s conduct, the board concluded, violated the judicial canon that “a judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” Anderson also violated the canons that “a judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently and diligently,” and “a judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.”
The reprimand also notes that once he was notified of the complaint, Anderson “promptly and with candor responded” and cooperated in the investigation.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has admonished a judge who
without basis in law, threatened to:
( 1) hold an assistant district attorney in contempt of court if the defendant was arrested for threatening a witness in the case, (2) declare a mistrial with prejudice if the defendant was arrested, and (3) impose financial sanctions upon the District Attorney's Office if a mistrial was declared because of the arrest. Respondent also yelled and acted in a discourteous manner toward the assistant district attorney.
The misconduct took place during the trial of a man accused of raping his daughter.
After testifying, the defendant's ex-girlfriend alleged
Ms. Joseph completed her testimony before court was recessed for lunch. Toward the end of the luncheon recess, and before trial resumed, there was an off-the- record conference during which ADA Nugent informed respondent that the defendant, who was free on bail, had allegedly approached Ms. Joseph as she was leaving the courthouse during the lunch break and said to her, "You're dead." ADA Nugent also informed respondent that Ms. Joseph had been taken to the g4th Precinct stationhouse to make a complaint against the defendant.
The judge threatened the ADA over the possibility of a mid-trial arrest of the defendant
Let's make something crystal clear, People. Today is Friday. We are going to finish the People's case now with this last witness. The defense case is supposed to start on Monday. If you were to have .. . Mr. Bartholomew arrested any time between now and Monday ... Mr. Bartholomew ... would not be in a position to prepare his defense.
If there is a mistrial, if this case has to be delayed because you have unnecessarily and unjustifiably prevented the defendant from seeing his attorney and preparing his defense and this matter has to be adjourned, I will consider, one, financial sanctions against your office. And number two, I will certainly consider a mistrial with prejudice.
As a result
Although the police intended and were prepared to arrest the defendant promptly for threatening Ms. Joseph's life, they delayed doing so because of respondent's statements. Respondent sentenced the defendant to 15 years in prison and 20 years of post-release supervision. After sentence was imposed, the police arrested and charged the defendant with menacing, a B misdemeanor, having a maximum possible sentence of 90 days in jail. However, the Kings County District Attorney's Office chose not to prosecute the defendant on the menacing charge and it was dismissed for failure to prosecute. Notably, the prosecution had never requested an Order of Protection on behalf of Joleane Joseph in the three years this case had been pending trial, nor did they do so at the time they represented she had been allegedly threatened by the defendant Mr. Bartholomew.
regardless of whether [the judge] intended to follow through on the threats he made, the threats were inappropriate since he had no lawful basis to act on them. Such statements to a prosecutor - especially by a judge who "yelled" and spoke in "a raised voice" - are highly intimidating and could only be perceived as a serious warning of very significant consequences, including a mistrial with prejudice in a case involving a serious crime. As respondent has acknowledged, his discourteous conduct was inconsistent with the required standards of judicial behavior.
The agreed statement of facts is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, October 24, 2016
A story from last week's Charlotte News & Observer
A Superior Court judge was convicted Friday on charges that he tried to bribe a federal agent with two cases of Bud Light to get copies of text messages from the phones of the judge’s wife and another man.
A defense attorney announced immediate plans to appeal the verdict against Wayne County Judge Arnold O. Jones II. The verdict came after jurors deliberated for less than an hour.
Sentencing is set for Jan. 23. But before then, the defense team will get one more opportunity to argue to U.S. District Judge James C. Fox that the case should not have gone to the jury because prosecutors failed to bring enough evidence.
Jones – the senior resident Superior Court judge in Wayne County – is on administrative leave from his post but campaigning for re-election in November.
He was convicted of three felonies – paying a bribe to a public official, promising and paying a gratuity to a public official, and corruptly attempting to influence an official proceeding.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
The New York Court of Appeals has upheld the removal from office of a judge
The misconduct giving rise to [the judge's] concession "qualifies as 'truly egregious'" (Restaino, 10 NY3d at 590). The record reflects that, among other things, petitioner used a sanction -- a tool meant to "shield" from frivolous conduct -- as a "sword" to punish a legal services organization for a perceived slight in an inexcusable and patently improper way (see 22 NYCRR 130-1.1 [a] [authorizing the imposition of sanctions, but precluding town and village courts from applying such penalties]). The record is also replete with instances in which petitioner used his office and standing as a platform from which to bully and to intimidate. To that end, it is undisputed that petitioner engaged in ethnic smearing and name-calling and repeatedly displayed poor temperament -- perhaps most significantly, by engaging in a physical altercation with a student worker.
Those actions are representative of an even more serious problem. Petitioner -- in what allegedly was a grossly misguided attempt to motivate -- repeatedly threatened to hold various officials and employees of the Village of Spring Valley in contempt without cause or process. Those threats "exceeded all measure of acceptable judicial conduct" (Matter of Blackburne [State Commn. on Jud. Conduct], 7 NY3d 213, 221 ), and we are particularly troubled by the testimony of one court officer, who suggested that petitioner's threats were so common that they became "a joke." The matter may have been a laughing one to that officer, but it was not to others.
Significantly, too, petitioner's hectoring extended beyond the courthouse. In what ostensibly was an attempt to undermine a former co-Judge and an apparent political adversary, petitioner willfully injected himself into the political process involving the election of an office other than his own. All of the foregoing actions reflect a pattern of calculated misconduct that militates against petitioner's assertion that the misbehavior complained of will not be repeated if he is allowed to remain on the bench.1 Petitioner's misconduct apparently was tempered only by the intervention of the Commission, and at the hearing held with respect to this matter he appeared unrepentant and evasive, testifying falsely on at least two occasions in an attempt to minimize his misconduct -- all of which renders suspect his guarantees of better behavior.
Details on the misconduct may be found here in the Determination of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, October 17, 2016
The New York Law Journal has a report on allegations against a judge
A Sullivan County Court judge has been placed on restricted status amid an investigation of whether the judge intentionally ran over his older brother with an all-terrain vehicle.
Peter Labuda, 70, is accusing his brother Judge Frank LaBuda, 66, of breaking his leg and his rib by intentionally knocking him over with an ATV on Sept. 25 on property Peter Labuda owns in Wurtsboro, which adjoins property owned by the judge. The brothers capitalize their name differently.
Sheriff's deputies responded to a call about the afternoon incident but did not arrest Frank LaBuda, as his brother requested. The next day, from his hospital bed at the Orange Regional Medical Center, Peter Labuda told the Middletown Times Herald-Record that he believes his brother drove over him "full throttle" without trying to avoid him, after he told the judge to get off his property.
Relations between the brothers were known to have been strained prior to Sept. 25, with the Times Herald-Record reporting that Frank LaBuda refused to talk to his brother when the two ran into each other the previous week at a local coffee shop, according to Peter Labuda.
No charges had been filed in connection with the case as of Monday, state and county officials said.
Benjamin Ostrer, an attorney representing Frank LaBuda, said that while the brothers' relationship has been difficult at times, he believes the judge will be exonerated.
"I can't imagine Judge LaBuda having intentionally struck his brother," Ostrer, of Chester, said Sunday. "I am confident that the investigation will reveal that it was truly an accident."
After the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department initially investigated the incident last week, Sullivan County District Attorney James Farrell announced Friday that he was handing the case over to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office, and that the sheriff's department would forward all information it had gathered to state police.
"While I believe that my office could have fairly and impartially handled this matter, out of an abundance of caution and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, I have requested the attorney general take over this case," Farrell said in a statement. "All of the people involved in this incident, Peter Labuda, Frank LaBuda and the citizens of this county deserve a full, fair and independent evaluation of the facts of this case."
Farrell said he is certain that state authorities will handle the matter in a "thorough, comprehensive and professional" way.
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said LaBuda was placed on "annual leave" effective Monday after the judge conferred with Thomas Breslin, the chief administrative judge for the state's Third Judicial District.
Chalfen said that under annual leave, a judge remains on the bench but takes vacation time for the interruption in service. He said LaBuda will not return until the investigation and any prosecution of the Sept. 25 stemming is resolved.
Chalfen said LaBuda began to handle only civil cases last week once it was clear the allegations by his brother were being handled as a criminal matter.
In LaBuda's absence, Chalfen said Sullivan County Supreme Court Justice Stephan Schick and County Court Judges Michael McGuire and Mark Meddaugh will handle his caseload.
An admonition was imposed on a non-lawyer judge by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct
On three separate occasions in July 2013, May 2015 and June 2015, as set forth below, respondent asserted the prestige of judicial office while attempting to enter an Otsego County-owned building in possession of a firearm, in violation of a local law prohibiting the possession of weapons in county buildings...
At all times relevant to the matters herein, a sign was posted by the exterior door to the public entrance of the Meadows, stating "No Weapons Permitted." Posted below this sign was a copy of County of Otsego Local Law No. 2 of 1995, titled "A Local Law Banning Possession of Firearms and Other Dangerous Weapons in Otsego County Buildings" (hereinafter "Local Law")...
respondent possessed a license to carry a concealed firearm and carried a .380-caliber Ruger pistol in his pants pocket.
In each instance he had asserted his authority as a judicial officer to security officers
While respondent now understands that his conduct in identifying himself as a judge during these three incidents was inappropriate and created at least the appearance that he was attempting to use the prestige of his judicial office to enter the building with his pistol, respondent avers that he did so because he believed at the time that his status as a judge exempted him from security procedures in county buildings...
Throughout the incidents, respondent repeatedly referred to his judicial status and asserted that his judicial position exempted him from security procedures and compliance with the local law prohibiting possession of a weapon in county buildings. Notwithstanding his professed belief that, as a judge, he was entitled to special treatment for security purposes, the local law, which was posted at the entrance to the building, exempts "law enforcement officials only." Since that law was enacted in 1995, it seems unlikely that respondent- as a judge for 35 years and a gun owner-would have been unfamiliar with it. It was specifically brought to his attention in the first two incidents. Indeed, the fact that in the first two incidents he did not reveal that he had a gun or produce it when he emptied his pockets suggests that he was attempting to conceal the gun because he knew that bringing it into the building was prohibited. Regardless of whether the security procedures were enforced on other occasions, he was obligated to comply with those requirements when they were properly enforced by security officials. Even if he was not abusive or discourteous in confronting the security officers, he should have recognized that his repeated insistence that his judicial status entitled him to special treatment would place them in a more difficult position in carrying out their assigned responsibilities.
The Commission's news release is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, October 13, 2016
The Mississippi Supreme Court has removed from office and fined a judge
The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance recommends to this Court that former Madison County Justice Court Judge William “Bill” Weisenberger Sr. be removed from office after finding by clear and convincing evidence that Weisenberger physically and verbally assaulted a mentally disabled individual at the 2014 Canton Flea Market. Because of the egregious nature of Weisenberger’s actions, this Court agrees with the Commission’s recommendation and removes Weisenberger from office. Weisenberger is directed to pay a fine in the amount of $1,000 and costs of these proceedings in the amount of $5,918.46.
The ugly details
Weisenberger’s conduct clearly was willful. Weisenberger was not hired to provide security for the Canton Flea Market, yet he was dressed like a security officer and was carrying a gun and had a radio. Additionally, although Weisenberger knew he was not hired to provide security, he heard Deputy Sullivan’s transmission over the radio and purposefully injected himself into the situation instead of waiting for hired security officers. Weisenberger took it upon himself to initiate contact and unreasonably inflict physical injury upon Rivers. In addition, Weisenberger yelled a racial slur at Rivers, a completely inappropriate and intentional action that heightened the injury that Weisenberger inflicted. And instead of calling for security when Rivers did not walk in the direction in which Weisenberger had no authority to direct him, Weisenberger repeatedly made contact with Rivers and forced him to comply to Weisenberger’s wishes. Moreover, throughout the interaction, Weisenberger was wearing a shirt that said “Madison County Justice Court.” Thus, Weisenberger’s actions clearly were willful.
Justice Coleman concurred
Justice Dickinson makes an excellent point – that we cannot remove a person who is not a judge from the judicial office. However, our precedent in judicial performance cases requires us, in part, when we consider the proper sanctions for judicial misconduct to examine prior cases that are on point. See Miss. Comm’n on Judicial Performance v. Thompson, 169 So. 3d 857, 869 (Miss. 2015); Miss. Comm’n on Judicial Performance v. Skinner, 119 So. 3d 294, 300 (Miss. 2013). Should a future case arise as to which today’s case would be “on point,” today’s opinion would support removing the judge in question from office. If we omit the sanction from today’s opinion, then should the above-described case arise it would not be so readily apparent that removal is proper, despite the severity of the misconduct. Because including the sanction will better inform the Court’s decisions in the future, I concur with the majority’s decision to do so – despite the reality that Bill Weisenberger already has left office.
Presiding Justice Dickinson
I agree with the majority’s findings of misconduct, and most of the sanction imposed. But the notion that we can remove Bill Weisenberger from office after the voters already have done so is pure fiction. Justice Coleman understandably is concerned that the bench, bar, and public should be on notice that Weisenberger’s conduct merits removal from office.
But his concern would be eliminated by simply declaring that if Weisenberger still were in office, he would be removed from it. This approach would comport more closely with logic and the truth.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
A former Buffalo judge has been disbarred as a result of a felony bribery conviction.
The Buffalo News reported on the conviction and the judge's background
For the first time in 21 years, no one rose to their feet when John A. Michalek walked into a courtroom on Wednesday.
For the first time since he began serving as a State Supreme Court judge in 1995, Michalek’s role in the courtroom was as an admitted criminal, one who pleaded guilty to felony crimes of bribe-receiving and offering a false instrument for filing in a court case. Both of the crimes involved Michalek’s dealings with longtime political power broker G. Steven Pigeon.
Looking thin, pale, tired, dejected and broken, the 65-year-old Michalek told the court that he was resigning from his $193,000-a-year judgeship, and agreeing to cooperate as a witness in the ongoing probe into Pigeon’s political activities. He faces a possible prison term of up to seven years when he is sentenced on Sept. 21.
As a convicted felon, the former judge also will lose his right to practice as an attorney. It’s a painful fall from grace for a man who was selected as the Outstanding Jurist in 2005 by the Erie County Bar Association’s Matrimonial and Family Law Committee. And many of the people who knew and worked with Michalek over the years seem genuinely surprised.
“Would I ever have expected Judge Michalek to get into any kind of trouble? Absolutely not,” said former Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark, who worked with Michalek from 1977 to 1985. “John was a very conservative, very reserved, very careful guy … a public servant. I was extremely surprised to hear he was in any kind of trouble. It just doesn’t add up.”
Until now, many people in legal circles would say Michalek lived a charmed life. A State Supreme Court judgeship is one of the most coveted jobs for any lawyer in New York State. It is a 14-year position that, in addition to a salary far beyond that made by most lawyers, provides a generous pension and other benefits.
Michalek never had to run in a contested election for his judgeship. A registered Democrat, he was selected by political party leaders to be “cross-endorsed” by both Democrats and Republicans in 1994 and again in 2008.
Every judge has his or her critics, but legal experts say most of the lawyers who practiced in front of Michalek considered him to be fair, honest and hardworking.
“I’ve practiced in front of him a number of times over a period of 20 years. Even when he’s ruled against me, I’ve never seen a decision from him that seemed to be tainted by politics or anything else,” said Amherst lawyer Steven M. Cohen.
It is sad, said Cohen and several other Buffalo attorneys, that Michalek has become the second brother in his family to wind up in serious trouble with the law.
Not like his brother
His older brother, the late James J. Michalek, was a flashy guy – an attorney and investment scam artist who lived in an extravagant home in Orchard Park, wore a full-length fur coat, drove an expensive sports car and went to prison in the 1990s for cheating banks out of millions of dollars and dozens of senior citizens out of their retirement savings.
To most people in Buffalo’s legal community, John Michalek seemed to be cut from a much different cloth. He earned a reputation as an earnest, quietly efficient attorney who served as a top prosecutor in the Erie County district attorney’s office before political party leaders chose him to become a State Supreme Court judge in 1994. He began serving in 1995.
“John was not only embarrassed by the actions of his brother, he felt terrible about it,” said a close family friend of Michalek. “Some of Jim’s victims were old family friends, old neighbors and retired steelworkers … John wanted people to know that he wasn’t like that.”
“John and his brother Jim were such different personalities. Jim was flamboyant, a riverboat gambler,” Clark said. “John seemed to be a much different guy.”
The former judge grew up in a well respected family in Lackawanna. His late father, Leo Sr., was a physician. His late mother, Louise, was a nurse widely involved in charity and volunteer activities. The couple raised five children – three lawyers, a physician and a psychiatrist.
“I’ve known this family going back to the 1950s, and they were one of the most respected families in Lackawanna,” said former Erie County DA Edward C. Cosgrove, still practicing law at age 81. “They were good, solid people, deeply religious, hardworking, very good students.”
John Michalek graduated from St. Francis High School, Canisius College and the University at Albany Law School before he was hired by the district attorney’s office in 1977. Cosgrove gave him his first job.
“John was a marvelous young man who worked very hard for us,” Cosgrove recalled.
A notorious client
In 1985, after serving four years as chief of the Justice Courts Bureau, Michalek left the DA’s office and established a Hamburg law firm with two partners, Daniel J. Henry and Robert M. Vallarini, who later would win election as an Erie County legislator. Michalek handled some criminal defense work with the law firm, and his most famous – or infamous – client was the late Richard W. Matt.
Michalek represented Matt in a number of criminal matters in the early 1990s. Matt jumped into the national headlines last summer when he and another inmate escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. After nearly three weeks on the run, Matt was shot and killed by police last June.
Michalek became active in Town of Hamburg politics, and he was named assistant town attorney in 1988. Hamburg political figures say Michalek was an invaluable aide to Vincent J. Sorrentino, who was the town attorney and also the chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party. After Hamburg’s town supervisor, Jack Quinn, was elected to Congress, Michalek was appointed to take his place as interim supervisor for the year of 1993.
In 1994 – with a big push from Sorrentino – Michalek was selected by party leaders to get both the Democratic and Republican Party endorsements for State Supreme Court judge. With no actual competition, he won election for his first 14-year term in November 1994.
He has not been a controversial figure as a judge, but has handled some high-profile cases. In a 2012 ruling, he awarded more than $2.7 million – or more than $230,000 each – to 12 white Buffalo firefighters who alleged they were passed over for promotions because of their race. City officials vehemently disagreed with the ruling, which was later overturned by an appeals court.
In April of this year, Michalek made a ruling that barred former Buffalo School Board James M. Sampson from the ballot for this year’s election. Michalek agreed with opponents of Sampson who said he did not have enough legitimate signatures on his nominating petition.
One local attorney, Arthur Giacalone, said he had a bad experience with Michalek and felt he treated him and his client unfairly during a 2014 trial. But most attorneys and court officials interviewed by The News in recent weeks said Michalek had a solid reputation.
Allegations shock peers
“I always considered him to be a decent guy, hardworking and diligent,” said one former colleague, Salvatore R. Martoche, a former state appellate judge now in private practice. “I honestly can’t say anything negative about him because I don’t know anything bad about him.”
“I practiced before him on several different lawsuits, and I thought he was fair and very careful,” said Cosgrove, Michalek’s former boss. “As far as I am concerned, his past and present reputations are marvelous. I don’t know of anything contrary to that. I’d have to understand every part of what happened before I made any judgments on him.”
Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. was not involved in the Michalek probe, but he held a press conference after Wednesday’s court session to talk about the importance of prosecuting judges and other government officials who violate the public trust.
Flaherty called Michalek’s case “a sad and intolerable ... disheartening” situation.
The acting DA said he cannot recall another instance of a State Supreme Court judge in Western New York being accused or convicted of bribery-related charges.
A tall man who enjoyed playing pickup basketball with local attorneys, Michalek is described by friends as a devoted husband and father who has donated his time to St. Francis High School and other charitable and not-for-profit organizations.
One longtime Hamburg politician, who spoke on the condition that he or she would not be identified, expressed shock after learning of Michalek’s close relationship with a controversial political power broker like Pigeon.
“Knowing John as I do, I cannot fathom him doing anything illegal,” said the politician, a friend of Michalek’s for more than three decades. “I’ve known unsavory people in politics, but I can’t imagine John being one of them.”
When asked if he ever imagined that Michalek would take bribes or do anything else that was illegal, Cosgrove exclaimed: “Goodness, gracious no!”
The order was entered by the New York Appellate Division for the Fourth Judicial Department. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
A recent opinion of the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Whether a judge may directly solicit donations of used books for use by inmates at the local jail library?
The inquiring judge has been taking used paperback books to a local jail for use in the inmate library. The judge would like to step up this effort by asking for donations of used books from the local bar association membership and asking attorneys to drop the used books off at the judge’s office for the judge to deliver to the jail. The judge would also like to post on the judge’s Facebook page that the judge wants to collect people’s used books to take to the jail.
Soliciting donations from groups or persons who appear before the judge, such as members of the local bar association, and requesting that the donations be delivered to the judge or the judge’s office may convey the impression that the judge will favor those who donate. Likewise, soliciting donations from groups or persons on the judge’s Facebook page, regardless of whether those groups or persons appear before the judge, also may appear to be coercive to those who are not inclined to donate but who fear the judge’s disfavor if they do not donate, particularly when the judge is requesting that the donations be delivered to the judge or the judge’s office.
Friday, September 30, 2016
Disciplinary argument involving a judge who refused to perform same-sex marriages has been scheduled, according to a recent report by the Statesman Journal.
The Oregon Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments regarding the judicial fitness of Marion County Circuit Judge Vance Day. The hearings are set to begin March 22, 2017, and the court will consider whether to sanction Day for ethics violations.
Earlier this year, Oregon's nine-member judicial fitness commission held a two week trial of Day, who was accused of a litany of ethics violations. Prosecutors said he refused to marry same-sex couples; created improper relationships with defendants; allowed a convicted felon to handle a gun; and took money from attorneys that appeared before him, among other accusations.
Day denied the accusations. His attorneys argued that if he did violate any ethics rules, his conduct was protected by the free speech and religion protections of the First Amendment. Day has said his Christian beliefs prevent him from performing marriages for same-sex couples.
The commission — which is comprised of sitting judges, attorneys and members of the public — ultimately said Day violated his oath of office and engaged in criminal conduct. They unanimously recommended that Day be removed from the bench.
Day has said if he's sanctioned, he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the only venue for appeal of state supreme court decisions.
A former head of the Oregon Republican Party, Day was appointed to the Marion County bench in 2011 by Gov. John Kitzhaber. He was elected to a full six-year term in 2012.
Day continues to sit on the Marion County bench, but has been relocated from the downtown courthouse to the annex building on Aumsville Highway.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
A September 6 Judicial Ethics Opinion from Massachusetts:
Linked In: Using Social Networking Site
September 6, 2016
You have asked the CJE whether you may accept Linked in requests from attorneys who appear before you. You have also asked whether you must disconnect from Linked In connections you may have with attorneys who appear before you.
Your question requires us to consider whether our analysis and advice in Letter Opinion No. 2016-01, Facebook: Using Social Networking Site, is applicable to Linked In. We believe that the same overarching principles and concerns stated in Op. 2016-01 apply to all forms of social media that are currently available. Different types of social media networking may, however, pose distinct issues due to their features and the nature and extent of the audience with access to content posted by the judge.
Linked In is primarily a business-oriented social networking site, although some Linked In users post personal updates on and send personal messages through their Linked In accounts. A Linked In user, like a Facebook user, creates a personal profile. The Linked In user may then invite others "to connect" and respond to invitations "to connect" sent by others. Affirmative replies lead to the establishment of a "connection." Users may also "like" a connection's updates and achievements, endorse a connection's skills, and post recommendations. These actions will generally be visible on the profile page of the connection (although a Linked In user may choose not to post endorsements and recommendations). Linked In's default settings permit each user to view each connection's entire list of connections and vice versa. This is considered one of the most useful aspects of Linked In; a Linked In user may ask a connection (a first-order connection) to introduce the user to one of the connection's connections (a second-order connection). While Linked In resembles Facebook by requiring a person's affirmative response to connect with another, many if not most Linked In users seek to grow their number of connections so as to increase their business network. Moreover, Linked In user profiles are generally available to any other Linked In user (even if not a connection) who logs onto the Linked In website and enters the name of any person with a Linked In profile.
In our judgment, and consistent with Op. 2016-01, a judge who uses Linked In may not be connected with any attorney who is reasonably likely to appear before that judge. This conclusion requires a judge to reject requests to connect with and to disconnect from lawyers who are reasonably likely to appear before the judge(1). Because of the prevalence of professional recommendations and endorsements of professional skills that appear on many Linked In profiles, disconnection and disclosure are necessary to protect the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary. Despite a judge’s best efforts to comply with the foregoing guidance, there may be instances where, unexpectedly, a lawyer whom the judge knows(2) to be a Linked In connection appears before the judge. The existence and nature of the Linked In connection (e.g., whether, while the judge was a practicing attorney, the judge had posted a recommendation or endorsement on the profile page of this lawyer) is one factor for the judge to consider when determining whether disqualification is required under Rule 2.11(A)(1). Where disqualification is unwarranted, the judge should both disconnect from the lawyer on Linked In and disclose on the record the existence and nature of the Linked In connection. See Rule 2.11, Comment . If a judge knows that a lawyer appearing before the judge is a former Linked In connection, the judge should consider the nature of that past connection to determine whether disclosure is warranted. See Rule 2.11, Comment [5B].
As the use of social media continues to grow, we again emphasize judges' obligations under the Code of Judicial Conduct, including the obligations to uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary; promote public confidence in the judiciary; avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and public lives; maintain the dignity of judicial office at all times; avoid abuse of the prestige of the judicial office; refrain from political activity; and conduct all personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office. Judges must expect to be the subject of public scrutiny that might be burdensome if applied to other citizens. Each judge who uses social media must take steps to minimize the likelihood that the manner in which that judge uses social media would lead a reasonable person to question the judge's impartiality.
Judges must, of course, be aware that all social media communications may become public. See, e.g., In the Matter of Archer (Alabama Court of the Judiciary, August 8, 2016) (judge conducted what he regarded as "private" Facebook communications with a Facebook friend who made a copy of these communications and shared them with a reporter). There may also be sound reasons, apart from ethical considerations, for a judge to exercise restraint when using social media, such as the judge's concerns over the personal safety of the judge or the judge's family members. As we stated in Op. 2016-01, judges inclined to use social media should carefully weigh the risks and benefits.
Friday, September 16, 2016
The South Carolina Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a Magistrate
On May 18, 2011, respondent was appointed a magistrate. At the time, respondent's husband had retired from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and he did not hold any political offices. Respondent's husband later ran for and was elected Sheriff of Chester County.
South Carolina Court Administration forwarded a spreadsheet to ODC which indicated that, between July 1, 2013, and sometime in April of 2015, respondent's "judge code" was entered as having handled numerous traffic citations, arrest warrants, and bond hearings in Chester County Sheriff's Department cases. A total of 101 cases were identified with respondent's "judge code." In response to this information, Court Administration went to the Chester County Magistrate's Office and obtained a sampling of cases which corroborated respondent's involvement in cases involving the Chester County Sheriff's Department.
In mitigation, respondent states she attempted to follow the remittal of disqualification process on many of the matters, but now recognizes she did so incorrectly after having reviewed Section 3F of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 501, SCACR, with ODC. Respondent asserts she thought that she was complying with the remittal requirements by announcing her conflict before court and proceeding when no objections were voiced. She now recognizes that remittal requires that the disclosure be made on the record to each defendant, that each defendant be given time to consider the matter with counsel, and that the defendant's decision on the matter be placed on the record.
Respondent also incorrectly believed that when defendants requested she take their plea and/or knew her connection with the Sheriff's Department that the conflict was waived and she could take the plea. Respondent now recognizes that in these situations she was required to comply with the requirements of Section 3F of Canon 3. Respondent submits that she will comply with Section 3F at all times in the future.
In one instance, respondent mistakenly conducted a jury trial thinking that she could preside over the trial since the jury would decide the matter. Respondent now recognizes she must comply with Section 3F of Canon 3 in all jury trials.
In mitigation, respondent offers that no parties complained about the bonds that she set or the disposition of matters in question. ODC confirms it has received no complaints from the defendants in question.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has admonished a judge for inappropriate discourteous remarks in three matters
Respondent has acknowledged that on three separate occasions he made inappropriate statements that were inconsistent with his obligation to be "patient, dignified and courteous" in performing his judicial duties (Rules, § 100 .3 [B][3 ]).
In the Swank case, respondent's comments about an alleged victim of statutory rape were insensitive and created the appearance that he was being critical of her. In a plea discussion with counsel as the jury was deliberating, respondent told the prosecutor that he was "a little surprised" by a proposed plea that would require the defendant to register as a sex offender since the victim, who was then age 16, was "apparently not upset at the whole incident, from her testimony." (The alleged crime had occurred two years earlier.) When the prosecutor said that the point of the statute was that a 14 year-old could not consent to sexual activity, respondent commented that the victim now had a baby (fathered by a different man) and added, "She's only 16 now. So the statute didn't save her, did it ... I don't think it's going to save her."
Our system of justice is designed to protect young teenagers from sexual abuse, and such individuals must be viewed with sensitivity and respect. While respondent has acknowledged that his comments were insensitive, he avers that he made the statements in an attempt to determine whether a plea disposition might be acceptable, a discussion that had heightened significance since the possibility that the jury was deadlocked had been raised. In plea discussions, blunt statements, opinions and speculation that would be inappropriate in other contexts may be part of the process in achieving an agreement. Although such a discussion at that stage might appropriately include a frank assessment of any factors that might be relevant to the likelihood of conviction and an appropriate plea, respondent's choice of words could be perceived as a harsh, judgmental statement about a young woman who was the alleged victim of a serious crime.
Remarks to prosecutors in two matters also crossed the line
Respondent's criticism of the handling of the case involving the District Attorney's relative was especially improper since (i) that case was not before him, (ii) he seemed to have little information about the matter, and (iii) some of his information was inaccurate (the relative was not A_'s "co-defendant," as respondent stated, and was never charged with a felony). By making such comments, respondent violated his duty as a judge to be an exemplar of dignity, courtesy and neutrality.
While respondent's comments in the Swank and Johnson matters, standing alone, might otherwise warrant a confidential caution, his statements in the matter set forth in Charge III, in our view, elevate this matter to public discipline.
Friday, September 2, 2016
[Posted by Alan Childress] As part of my Quid Pro Books project, announced first here in 2010 (has it been that long?!), we've released two compelling autobiographies. Judge William Norris wrote the prescient opinion striking down the ban on gays in the military (almost three decades before marriage equality), but also shares his time before and after serving on the Ninth Circuit. Judge Alex Kozinski blurbs:
Recounted in this remarkable book is a conversation Bill Norris had with Justice White following his opinion for the Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick, upholding Georgia’s sodomy law. Shortly after, Justice White visited the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference and Bill confronted him about the injustice of the decision. I witnessed the interaction. No one else was bold enough to challenge the Justice, though others harbored the same doubts. Justice White shrugged off Bill’s concerns as trivial, but Bill stood firm and I could see from his tone and look that he would have none of it. Soon, Bill set about undermining Bowers with his brilliant opinion in the Perry Watkins case. The theory in Watkins resulted, a decade and a half later, in the overruling of Bowers and, eventually, to marriage equality. This story, among many others, makes this personal history a gripping and fulfilling read.
The other new release is by Barbara Babcock--the first woman law prof at Stanford, the first director of the D.C. Public Defender, and one of the first Asst. AG's at the Justice Department. Her life of "firsts" includes candid reflections on a tough childhood, her emergence (somewhat reluctant or naive) into feminism, and her biographical authorship on Clara Foltz. And she answers "How can you defend guilty people?" Blurbist Dahlia Lithwick writes:
Life will afford you no better sherpa on the extraordinary journey women have taken in the legal profession than Barbara Babcock. This book should be required reading for anyone who isn’t certain that they have a place at the lawyers table. Babcock’s amazing life has made a space for so many of us. Her story will do the same.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
A case scheduled for oral argument this week before the Ohio Supreme Court
Disciplinary Counsel v. Ronnie M. Tamburrino, Case no. 2016-0858
In a disciplinary case stemming from the 2014 election for judges on the Eleventh District Court of Appeals, the Board of Professional Conduct has concluded that Ron M. Tamburrino, a candidate in the race, approved and ran two television ads containing false statements, violating two judicial conduct rules.
Though the panel that reviewed the case proposed a stayed six-month suspension, the board noted Tamburrino has repeatedly refused to admit the content was false and continues to assert that the ads were appropriate. Given his perspective and its concern about “the chilling effect” false ads could have on the functioning of the judicial branch, the board recommends a one-year suspension with six months stayed.
Teenage Drinking Ad
Tamburrino, who is seeking election to the Eleventh District again this year, ran against Judge Timothy P. Cannon in the 2014 race. On Oct. 28 or 29, an ad approved by Tamburrino began to air on local television. The ad showed a judge in a courtroom serving what seems to be alcohol to children. Along with words appearing on the screen, the narration stated:
“Everyone knows that a judge would never serve alcohol to kids in a courtroom. But appellate judge Tim Cannon did something almost as bad. In the case State versus Andrews, Cannon ruled that cops couldn’t enter a house to arrest a parent who was hosting a teenage drinking party, because he felt teenage drinking wasn’t a serious crime. Cannon doesn't think teenage drinking is serious. What else does he think isn’t serious? We can’t afford Tim Cannon’s bad judgment. Elect Ron Tamburrino to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals.”
Judge Cannon wrote a concurring opinion in the Andrews case, which involved the suppression of evidence obtained during a warrantless search by police of a Geauga County home, where teenagers were allegedly drinking at a party. The homeowner was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The board explains in its report that the court’s majority opinion and Judge Cannon’s concurring opinion concluded the police should’ve first obtained a warrant before searching the home. In neither opinion was there language indicating that teenage drinking isn’t a serious crime or that police couldn’t enter a house or arrest a parent hosting a teenage drinking party, the board notes.
Judge Cannon instead acknowledged concerns about underage drinking and stressed that he didn’t want to impede law enforcement’s efforts to address underage drinking. He added that the alleged activity was a misdemeanor, which he determined is a factor for police to consider when deciding whether exigent circumstances exist to justify an intrusion and search without a warrant.
The board concluded that Tamburrino’s ad contained several “patently false” statements and that Tamburrino knew they were false or acted with reckless disregard for whether they were false.
Travel Expense Disclosure Ad
The second ad, first broadcast in mid-October 2014, stated that “Cannon won’t disclose his taxpayer-funded travel expenses.” The board found that Tamburrino never asked Judge Cannon to disclose his travel expenses, nor did anyone else during the campaign. In addition, the board noted that the Ohio Supreme Court, not the Eleventh District, paid Judge Cannon’s expenses, which then had no effect on the appeals court’s budget. The implication that Judge Cannon didn’t produce his expense reports in violation of the state’s public records law was false, the board concluded.
“Tamburrino’s use of false statements in both of the ads to unfairly denigrate Judge Cannon is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary,” the board wrote.
Tamburrino objects to the board’s conclusions and recommended sanction, arguing that all charges should be dismissed. He maintains that the ads’ statements identified by the board as false are instead true.
In the ad involving the Andrews decision, the majority opinion and Judge Cannon’s concurring opinion both ruled the police shouldn’t have entered the house without a warrant, Tamburrino states. The ad said that Judge Cannon concluded “cops couldn’t enter a house to arrest a parent who was hosting a teenage drinking party,” not that Judge Cannon said police could never enter a house to arrest any parent hosting an underage drinking party, Tamburrino asserts. Judge Cannon also wrote that he didn’t want the decision to deter police from taking action if an officer observed a “serious misdemeanor offense.” Judge Cannon then considers teenage drinking not to be a “serious misdemeanor offense,” and the ad fairly summarizes the judge’s view, Tamburrino alleges.
Tamburrino contends he has as much right as the dissenting justice in the case to criticize Judge Cannon’s ruling. Tamburrino also asserts that his ad was an expression of free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. Citing a 1996 federal court opinion and a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Tamburrino argues that judicial candidates have the same free speech rights as other candidates for elected office.
As far as the “won’t disclose” ad, Tamburrino argues he meant that the Eleventh District wouldn’t post its budget, including expenses such as Judge Cannon’s travel costs, on the court’s website. While Judge Cannon didn’t refuse any direct request to disclose the information, Tamburrino was of the opinion that the judge wouldn’t publish such information in the future. This opinion is protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, Tamburrino concludes.
He adds that the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that Ohio laws barring false statements in campaign materials during political campaigns were unconstitutional. The board found Tamburrino violated a judicial conduct rule that mirrors the statutes struck down in Anthony, he notes. In his view, Ohio’s disciplinary process for the legal profession regarding campaign speech is also unconstitutional.
Disciplinary Counsel’s Positions
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which filed the complaint against Tamburrino with the board, counters that the In re Campaign Complaint Against O’Toole 2014 decision from the Ohio Supreme Court presented a sound analysis upholding the constitutionality of the current judicial conduct rule prohibiting false campaign speech by judicial candidates. The Anthony ruling didn’t affect the O’Toole decision, the disciplinary counsel asserts.
In discussing the ads, the disciplinary counsel’s brief states that the teenage drinking piece “twist[s] Judge Cannon’s discussion of the Fourth Amendment into a referendum on Judge Cannon’s personal views regarding teenage drinking.” In the context of the ad specifically citing the Andrews ruling, and the larger context of the judicial campaign, the statements made “could only be interpreted as fact,” not as opinion, the disciplinary counsel wrote.
The disciplinary counsel adds that the “won’t disclose” ad also “can only be interpreted to mean that Judge Cannon refused to disclose his taxpayer funded travel expenses after having been asked to do so,” which was untrue.
Noting shared concerns with the board, the disciplinary counsel, however, suggests a stayed six-month suspension and maintains that any stayed discipline would be adequate to protect the public and deter this type of conduct in the future.
- Kathleen Maloney
Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.
Representing Ronnie M. Tamburrino: Donald Brey, 614.221.2838
Representing the Office of Disciplinary Counsel: Joseph Caligiuri, 614.461.0256
Oral argument will be heard tomorrow. (Mike Frisch)