Monday, August 25, 2014
A recent opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
May a sitting judge, who is not up for election in the current cycle, and whose adult child is running for an open judicial position, attend the adult child’s post-election gathering after all polls close in the relevant voting area?
The adult child of a sitting judge is running for an open judicial seat. The inquiring judge would like to attend the adult child’s post-election gathering. The inquiring judge states that, in an attempt to avoid the appearance of influencing potential voters, the judge would not attend the gathering until all relevant polls are closed. The inquiring judge adds that the post-election gathering will be comprised of people who previously knew the judge as the candidate’s parent.
The majority's rationale
The intent of Canon 7 is to separate judges and judicial candidates from political activity, including partisan activities and, more relevant to the present inquiry, endorsement of other candidates for public office. See Fla. JEAC Ops. 07-13, 06-13. Canon 7A(1)(b) quite specifically states that a judge shall not “publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office.” Canon 7D also states: “A judge shall not engage in any political activity except (i) as authorized under any other Section of this Code, (ii) on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, or (iii) as expressly authorized by law.” Accordingly, the dispositive question is whether the inquiring judge’s proposed conduct constitutes a public endorsement for purposes of Canon 7.
The majority view is that it does not but, as noted, their position has taken into account four unusual and very specific facts included within the inquiry. First, the Committee assumes this function is intended as a typical victory party following the completion of the election. If so, it is difficult to conceive how the judge’s personal appearance could influence any voters given that the act of voting was accomplished hours before the event commenced. A different conclusion would have been drawn if the inquiring judge’s child were in a multi-candidate race with the prospect of a runoff.
Second, the majority’s determination is limited to judicial races only, in which partisanship is not a factor and the candidates themselves do not make endorsements. In other words, this will not be a combination of celebration and “rallying the troops” such as may be experienced in partisan or issue-oriented politics. A post-election gathering can easily become a political event based on what occurs, which will not be known until the event is in progress. See, e.g., Fla. JEAC Op. 10-20: “[C]aution is strongly advised when attending these types of events, since the purpose is for the citizens to voice their opinions on varying issues and their expectation of receiving a pledge or commitment on particular issues from the public figures and/or elected officials.” See also Fla. JEAC Op. 98-17 (judicial candidates should be cautious that their presence, remarks, and/or actions are not construed by others to be political or partisan).
Third, it is important that the inquiring judge not be up for election or retention during the same cycle as the judge’s child, lest the event be perceived as participation in a slate of candidates rather than an event limited to honoring a specific and successful individual candidate. Conceivably a different conclusion might be drawn if both the judge and the judge’s child had won their respective races, but for purposes of this opinion we limit ourselves to the actual facts.
Fourth and finally, the majority have placed considerable weight on the fact the candidate is the inquiring judge’s child. It is difficult to imagine that any voter would not assume that the judge supports the child’s electoral efforts even if the judge cannot personally say so during the campaign.
The minority view is expressed in the opinion. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has issued an important opinion on the subject of judicial recusal and disqualification.
The case is somewhat complex.
A Portland Maine law firm was retained by a charitable trust to foreclose on property that the trust owned.
The client (somewhat uncharitably) fell behind in its fee payments to the firm. The firm withdrew and sued the trust for breach of contract.
Unknown to the firm, the subject property was transferred to a second charitable trust controlled by the same trustee for no consideration.
When the law firm learned of the transfer, it amended its complaint to add the second trust as a defendant and alleged that the transfer was fraudulent. The firm also filed a notice of lis pendens and attachment on the property. The court granted the relief.
The defendants sued the law firm in another county, alleging that the recording of the lis pendens constituted slander of title and tortious interference with its prospective economic advantage in reselling the property. That complaint was later dismissed on motion.
The breach of contract action was stayed in light of a fee arbitration panel proceeding. The law firm prevailed and the order was affirmed by a district court.
Proceedings in the district court were before Judge Cole. These proceedings involved discovery disputes and sanctions against the former client. Defaults against the trusts were ordered as well as a judgment for double the value of the property -- $340,000.
On appeal (and for the first time), the charitable trusts claimed that Judge Cole was required to recuse himself sua sponte because of a longstanding social relationship with a former judicial colleague (Judge Crowley) who was now at the law firm.
The court "reemphasize[d] that a party who is concerned about a judge's impartiality should tender its concerns to the court at the earliest possible moment."
Here, the charitable trusts had no done so.
Further, the court noted, there are only sixty active judges in Maine and only 3800 lawyers.
Collegiality between judges among themselves and with bar is not only permitted; it is encouraged:
At oral argument, counsel expressed surprise that judges will often have lunch together...
It is unavoidable, and indeed desirable, that judges who serve on the bench together will necessarily develop close professional relationships. We do not expect that such cordial relationships will end if a judge leaves the bench and returns to the practice of law. We are cognizant that the party status of the law firm in this instance makes this case somewhat different from those where a former colleague is simply an advocate for a party before the court.
Judge Cole and Judge Crowley were not alleged to be related or to have financial entanglements.
a friendship between colleagues or former colleagues that include such interactions [as lunch, golfing, hockey games or socializing at bar events] does not provide a basis for requiring recusal.
Nor do such contacts require disclosure.
The court also criticized counsel for injecting facts outside the record on appeal of the disqualification issue.
The court remanded for revised damages findings but rejected all other legal arguments raised by the charitable trusts. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, August 8, 2014
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has censured a town court justice who imposed sentences in excess of the legal limit in 791 matters.
Respondent testified that he was "shocked" when he learned of the sentencing errors. He itnposed the fines and surcharges from melnory instead of relying on the resources available to him. He acknowledged that "too many mistakes" were made and attributed his errors to "oversight," "mental lapse," "not paying attention," "mis-memoriz[ing] the law," "being overloaded" and "judicial error." He believed that he devoted sufficient time to his judicial duties (about 20 hours a week), but testified that even if he had worked longer hours, "I probably still would have made some mistakes"; he stated, "It's impossible not to make a mistake." He noted that for several months during this 29-month period, he was also doing the work of his co-judge who was unavailable.
The commission also rejected the contention that the fault lay with staff
While respondent attributes many of these unlawful dispositions to the unauthorized actions of his staff, as a judge he bears full responsibility for his clerks' conduct. This is especially so where, as the referee found, the record shows that during this period respondent did "little to nothing" to supervise his clerks, such as reviewing fine notices before they were sent or providing internal controls or written policies or procedures relating to the processing of cases (Report, p 5). Indeed, not until June 2013 three years after being served with formal charges addressing the sentencing errors he attributed to his clerks did respondent prepare a written "Policy Statement" for his staff, describing the court's procedures for handling traffic cases and making it clear that the judge imposes all fines. In view of his ethical obligation to ensure that those subject to his direction and control follow the law and "adhere to the standards of fidelity and diligence that apply to the judge" (Rules, §100.3[C]), respondent is responsible for the sentences imposed by his court staff.
The commission also rejected the contentions that the defendants had an appellate remedy for the excessive sentences and that, in order to discipline him, his motives must have been "vile, improper or impure." (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
A former magistrate has been publicly reprimanded by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The magistrate was the subject of criminal charges in two matters, both of which involved providing money and other benefits including his official actions in exchange for "sexual contact."
One of the relationships extended over a period of 13 years; the other for a decade.
The magistrate pleaded guilty to one count of Misconduct in Office and was sentenced to a year in jail with all but 90 days stayed.
The court noted that the reprimand was the most severe sanction it could impose on a former magistrate. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Kathleen Mahoney has this report on the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court today indefinitely suspended the law license of Bridget M. McCafferty, formerly a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
In August 2011, McCafferty was convicted on 10 counts of making false statements to federal law enforcement about phone conversations she had with former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo and local businessman Steve Pumper regarding cases in her courtroom. Federal officials had intercepted more than 40,000 calls as part of a federal investigation into countywide corruption. After some counts were merged, the federal court sentenced McCafferty to the maximum term of 14 months in prison with three years of supervised release, 150 hours of community service, and a $400 fine. Following her conviction, the Supreme Court suspended McCafferty’s license to practice law on an interim basis.
In a 4-3 decision today, the court found that the former judge had violated multiple professional and judicial conduct rules.
Justice William M. O’Neill, who authored the court’s majority opinion, noted that McCafferty’s misuse of her judicial position was not charged in the federal criminal complaint against the judge, so that conduct was not part of the disciplinary case before the Supreme Court.
In considering whether to disbar McCafferty, Justice O’Neill explained that the Supreme Court has sometimes determined that permanently prohibiting a judge from practicing law is appropriate when the judge is convicted of a felony, but the court has not always disbarred judges for dishonest conduct.
“Certainly McCafferty’s conduct warrants a severe sanction,” Justice O’Neill wrote. “She was convicted on multiple counts of lying to FBI agents about conversations with people who were the subject of a county-wide corruption investigation. In addition, McCafferty was deceptive about the nature of those conversations, most particularly that those conversations included matters that had been before her in court. Notwithstanding, the conduct that led to the criminal convictions and rule violations occurred during a single impromptu conversation with FBI agents, rather than as a pattern of premeditated criminal conduct. Thus, we agree with the [Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline] that imposition of the system’s most severe sanction is not warranted in this case.”
“But we also do not believe that the appropriate sanction is a fixed-term suspension,” he continued. “Despite McCafferty’s cooperative attitude during the disciplinary proceedings, we are troubled by the contradiction between McCafferty’s assertion that she accepts full responsibility for her actions and her statement that she believed that she had answered the agents’ questions as truthfully as she could. She clings to this claim, despite its utter implausibility in the face of the recorded conversations. Thus, we determine that an indefinite suspension without credit for time served [under the interim suspension] is the appropriate sanction for her misconduct.”
McCafferty’s interim suspension will continue until she completes the terms of her federal sentence. Her supervised release will end on September 17, 2015, as long as she commits no parole violations. Her indefinite suspension from practicing law will begin after she is discharged from the federal court.
The majority opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, and Sharon L. Kennedy. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger dissented in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Judith L. French.
The dissenters would have disbarred McCafferty.
“I do not see how the majority can square a sanction of a mere indefinite suspension with its statements that ‘[t]his court has stated that judges are held to the highest possible standard of ethical conduct,’” Justice Lanzinger wrote. In her view, the case deserved the full measure of the court’s disciplinary authority.
“The majority focuses solely on McCafferty’s conversation with FBI agents and paints her conduct as a one-time, brief lapse in judgment,” Justice Lanzinger continued. “This narrow characterization is simply untrue; McCafferty’s misconduct was more prolonged and more egregious than the majority admits. Months before she ever spoke to the FBI, McCafferty was swaying judicial outcomes for political associates and giving special consideration to high-ranking politicians. There can be no dispute that this conduct occurred. McCafferty’s criminal indictment outlined her involvement with [then-Cuyahoga County Commissioner James] Dimora and Russo, and she stipulated, at her disciplinary hearing, to engaging in the conduct described in the indictment.”
Two of McCafferty’s disciplinary rule violations relate to her involvement with Russo and Dimora and the abuse of her judicial office, so that misconduct is part of the case before the court, Justice Lanzinger contended.
“If the primary purposes of judicial discipline are to protect the public, guarantee the evenhanded administration of justice, and to bolster public confidence in the institution, then nothing short of disbarment should be imposed in this case,” she concluded.
The New York Court of Appeals has suspended the recently-indicted acting village justice of Waterloo.
The Finger Lake Times reported on the charges
Acting Village Justice Roger Barto is facing nine charges, five of which are felonies, related to a reported attack last summer authorities now say he fabricated.
The nine-count grand jury indictment was unsealed Monday afternoon in Seneca County Court. It charges Barto with felony counts of third-degree grand larceny, fourth-degree corrupting the government, third-degree insurance fraud, first-degree falsifying business records and defrauding the government.
Barto also has been charged with misdemeanor counts of third-degree falsely reporting an incident, official misconduct and petty larceny. The latter charge stems from Barto allegedly stealing gasoline in April while serving as sexton for the village cemetery.
The felony counts are related to an incident the night of Aug. 31, 2013, when Barto told police he was assaulted while locking up the village court following an arraignment. The court is in the village’s municipal building on West Main Street.
Barto told police he was approached from behind by one or two people, and that the assailant or assailants placed an object around his neck and hit him over the head with a toilet tank lid left outside the building due to renovations.
The suspension is with pay. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board has filed a lengthy complaint alleging misconduct by an Erie County Court of Common Pleas judge.
The complaint notes that the judge "engage[s] in many regional, national, and international educational, charitable and civic endeavors" but
In stark contrast to her record of non-judicial service, the judicial administrative authorities in Erie County have received numerous and consistent complaints regarding [the judge's] demeanor and concomitant behavior both on the bench and off the bench.
On bench, the judge is alleged to have been "impatient, intemperate, belittling, overly-critical, or disrespectful" to court employees, lawyers, litigants and witnesses.
Off bench, same allegations as to treatment of her personal staff.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the judge was first elected to office in 1989. Her attorney is quoted stating that the charges are "devoid of merit." (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court today publicly reprimanded a judge serving on the Akron Municipal Court for her conduct related to the 2012 arrest of a lawyer who practiced in her courtroom.
In the 5-2 decision, the court determined that Judge Joy Malek Oldfield violated two judicial conduct rules and one professional conduct rule, but rejected an argument from the Disciplinary Counsel that Oldfield violated an additional judicial conduct rule. The Disciplinary Counsel filed the complaint charging the judge.
In February 2012, Oldfield and her husband attended an evening event that lasted into the next morning. Oldfield’s husband asked Catherine Loya, the public defender assigned to the judge’s courtroom, to drive Oldfield home, and he left.
The judge and Loya left the party sometime after 1 a.m. and stopped in a shopping center parking lot. A police officer pulled up and asked them for identification. Two more police officers arrived soon after. When Loya refused to do field sobriety tests, she was arrested and taken to the police station. Oldfield asked one of the officers to take her to the station to be with Loya. During some of her interactions with the police, Oldfield mentioned that she was a judge.
At the station, Loya’s driving privileges were immediately suspended. An officer then drove both Loya and Oldfield to the judge’s house. Loya stayed at Oldfield’s house for three nights until she was permitted to drive again. For the next two weeks, Oldfield presided over 53 cases in which Loya represented clients.
In today’s majority opinion, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote that the court agreed with the state disciplinary board that the judge violated two judicial rules stating that judges must act in ways that promote public confidence in the judiciary, avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, and disqualify themselves from proceedings in which their impartiality might be questioned. The court also determined that the judge engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Despite an objection from the Disciplinary Counsel, the court also agreed with the board’s recommendation to dismiss the alleged violation of Judicial Conduct Rule 1.3, which reads: “A judge shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others, or allow others to do so.”
“Our review of the record supports the findings of the panel and the board,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “[T]he [board’s] panel concluded that the evidence was contradictory and that the record, taken as a whole, did not produce ‘a firm conviction’ that Judge Oldfield used her judicial title to influence the officers to accord her or Loya special treatment or that her conduct gave the appearance that she was using her title for that purpose. We find that the panel reviewed the record using an objective standard to determine whether Judge Oldfield’s conduct created an appearance of impropriety, i.e., whether her behavior would create, in reasonable minds, a perception that she was improperly using her position to gain favor. We therefore overrule [the Disciplinary Counsel’s] objections ….”
In determining the appropriate sanction, the court considered Oldfield’s failure to disqualify herself from more than 50 cases in which Loya was representing defendants to be an aggravating factor. But the court also noted the judge’s lack of any prior disciplinary record, her open disclosure and cooperative attitude in the disciplinary hearings, and her good character and reputation. Based on these circumstances, Oldfield’s conduct, and court precedent, the majority ruled to publicly reprimand the judge.
Joining Justice Kennedy’s opinion were Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor dissented in part in an opinion joined by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger.
In her opinion, Chief Justice O’Connor agreed with the majority that Oldfield violated two judicial rules and one professional conduct rule and concurred in the sanction. However, the chief justice dissented from the dismissal of Jud.Cond.R. 1.3.
“Importantly, Judge Oldfield’s first mention of her status as a judge to the officers was gratuitous and, contrary to the majority’s characterization, more than a mere ‘remark,’” she wrote. “During the arrest, Officer Garner asked a ‘yes or no’ question — whether Judge Oldfield was a lawyer. Judge Oldfield testified that she responded, ‘Yeah, actually, I’ve been an attorney for some time and now I’m a judge.’ Judge Oldfield acknowledged that she could have responded truthfully in a number of alternative ways, including by offering simply that she was licensed to practice law. The specific mention of her judgeship in response was not solicited or required, nor should it have been offered. Indeed, it served only one purpose: to make sure that the officer knew that she was a judge.”
In addition, the judge continued to insert herself into Loya’s arrest and booking at the police station, Justice O’Connor noted.
“I find that the evidence as a whole establishes that a reasonable person would believe that Judge Oldfield abused the prestige of her office to advance her and Loya’s interests,” she concluded. “Therefore, I would sustain [the Disciplinary Counsel’s] objection to the board’s dismissal of the Jud.Cond.R. 1.3 allegation and would find that Judge Oldfield violated the rule.”
The Akron Beacon Journal had this earlier story, which reports that the police found the judge and public defender in the backseat of the car and that both were "partially clothed and smelled of alcohol."
Scene and Heard had this report. (Mike Frisch)
A recent judicial ethics opinion from South Carolina
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 10 - 2014
RE: Propriety of an appellate court judge presiding over matters in which the judge’s law clerk’s parent is counsel of record or another attorney from the parent’s agency is attorney of record.
An appellate court judge has hired a law clerk whose parent is an attorney for an agency that frequently has cases before the court. The judge inquires as to whether the judge can preside over matters in which the clerk’s parent: 1) is an attorney of record but does not physically appear before the court and does not sign any filings for a particular case; 2) an attorney from the same office as the clerk’s parent signs all pleadings and makes a physical appearance but the clerk’s parent is not an attorney of record.
An appellate court judge may not preside over cases where the parent of the judge’s clerk is an attorney of record, appears on the pleadings, or makes any appearance in the case. Where another attorney from the parent’s agency is attorney of record, the judge’s law clerk is disqualified from any involvement in the case, but the judge is not disqualified.
Canon 3.E.(1)(d) states that a judge should disqualify himself or herself where the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned. In addition, Canons 1 and 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct require a judge to avoid the appearance of impropriety and act in a manner to promote the public’s confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
When the parent of a judge’s law clerk is an attorney of record and appears on the pleadings in the case, or makes any appearance in the case, the judge is disqualified. In matters in which another attorney from the same agency as the parent is the attorney of record and the parent makes no appearance, the law clerk is disqualified under Rule 506, SCACR, Canon 3E(4), which states that law clerk shall disqualify himself in matters in which he is related by blood or marriage to an attorney in a proceeding. Furthermore, the law clerk should be shielded from any part of the case by what is commonly known as a “Chinese Wall.” However, the disqualification of the law clerk does not extend to the judge. In addition, while the judge is not required to disclose that the judge’s law clerk has a parent who works for the same agency as attorney appearing as counsel of record, it would be wise to do so.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
The Florida Supreme Court has reprimanded and fined a judge for campaign violations.
The judge purchased a table at a Republican Party event, left out "for" prior to the office she sought in campaign material (which is required of non-incumbants) and accepted funds fron her spouse.
Justice Lewis in dissent decried the use of large fines as a sanction
While I recognize that this Court has the authority to impose fines for ethical violations committed by judges and judicial candidates, I continue to oppose the utilization of large fines to punish serious violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. See In re Pando, 903 So. 2d 902, 904-05 (Fla. 2005) (Lewis, J., specially concurring); In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77, 99 (Fla. 2003) (Lewis, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part). Faith and confidence in our judicial system is rooted in the ability to rely upon the integrity and independence of our judges. That confidence is severely undermined when an ethical transgression of a judge or judicial candidate is so severe that it justifies the imposition of a fine of this magnitude.
The New York Court of Appeals has upheld an order removing a surrogate's court judge from office.
The judge had presided over matters involving a very close friend (and former judge) as well as a matter in which her personal attorney was counsel.
The judge claimed that the matters were uncontested and thus no harm, no foul.
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct create no distinction between contested and uncontested/ministerial matters. The perception that these attorneys were in a position to be accorded preferential treatment is based on their relationships to the judge, not the type of proceedings. As the Commission pointed out, assuming that petitioner actually believed recusal was unnecessary under existing precedent and that there could be no appearance of impropriety or favoritism in her presiding over the matters involving these three individuals, her behavior reflects "exceedingly poor judgment and an inability to recognize impropriety."
A dissent notes the judge's "remarkable" career and would impose censure
Judge Doyle's tenure is remarkable. She served for 20 years as Chief Clerk of the Albany County Surrogate's Court. She was an Adjunct Professor of Law at Albany Law School teaching courses on trusts and estates and Surrogate Court procedure. She has been a frequent lecturer for the New York State Bar Association, Surrogate Judges Association and the Office of Court Administration. She also served as an Acting Supreme Court Justice by designation of the Office of Court Administration. The voters of Albany County elected her Surrogate twice.
Judge Doyle was first elected Surrogate in 2000 and reelected in 2010. She presided over a Court that has processed over 3,500 cases annually. The charges here are few and minor and involve only an "appearance of impropriety" and concededly involved no impropriety in fact.
The judge had previously been censured for giving misleading and evasive testimony.
The determination of the Commission on Judicial Conduct is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, June 23, 2014
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opines
May a judge who is a candidate for re-election use in the judge’s campaign literature and electronic media a picture of the judge being sworn in at the judge’s investiture by a now deceased former judge?
Regardless of whether the judge in the photograph is deceased or alive, it appears the use of this photograph could “imply” to the voting public that the judge pictured with the candidate judge previously endorsed or would have endorsed the candidate judge. It must be recognized that the audience to whom the campaign materials are directed may or may not realize the pictured judge is deceased, but this realization arguably does not change the outcome of the inquiry. For example, if the voting public knows the judge pictured with the candidate judge is deceased, the picture still potentially implies the deceased judge previously endorsed or would have endorsed the candidate judge. If the voting public does not know the judge pictured is deceased, the picture potentially implies the pictured judge endorses the candidate judge. These implications, and potential misrepresentations, are the very type of conduct addressed in Fla. JEAC Op. 10-18 and prohibited by Canon 7A(3)(e)(ii).
Therefore, given this Committee’s prior opinions prohibiting the use of photographs depicting other judges, both in campaign literature and on any website, and given candidates have an obligation under Canon 7A(3)(e)(ii) to not knowingly misrepresent a fact concerning their candidacy, and given that use of the photograph in question could imply and give to the voting public the perception of endorsement of the inquiring candidate judge by the deceased judge pictured in the photograph, the Committee believes the inquiring judge should avoid use of the photograph in question in the judge’s campaign materials and electronic media.
Monday, June 16, 2014
The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline rejected the proposed sanction of removal from office of a magisterial district judge and ordered a suspension without pay and probation for misconduct relating to dismissed parking tickets.
The judge presided over a busy court and suffers from Crohn's Disease, which caused urgent bathroom needs.
She received a number of parking citations, three of which she had dismissed.
The court found mitigation
The offending conduct here was an isolated incident which we believe would never have happened save for the coming together of a number of events and circumstances, as
- Respondent’s affliction with Crohn’s disease,
- the onset of an urgent need to use a restroom,
- the inadequacy of the restroom in the court office,
- the need to use the restroom at her home,
- the non-existence of a legal parking space near her home at the time,
- the issuance of the tickets while she used the restroom at home,
- the onset of a painful medical condition requiring treatment including hospitalization and surgery during the critical 15-day period when she would, ordinarily, have paid the tickets.
The misconduct was deemed to be an isolated incident by an outstanding magisterial district judge who presides over a busy court in an exemplary manner.
Further, the judge had self-reported. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
The New York Court of Appeals held that the Commission on Judicial Conduct is authorized to obtain sealed records in aid of an ongoing investigation into alleged judicial misconduct.
The appeal was brought by an attorney who was criminally prosecuted for campaign violations along with a judge. The charges were either dismissed or led to a jury acquittal.
The commission sought the records after the criminal charges were resolved. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, June 5, 2014
The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred former Broward County Circuit Court Judge Ana Gardiner for misconduct involving her relationship with the prosecutor in a death penalty case in which she presided
Monday, June 2, 2014
A town court justice was censured by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct for, among other things, his involvement with a DUI defendant
In sum, respondent's handling of the Matus case was inconsistent with numerous fundamental ethical principles. Viewed objectively, the totality of his conduct chatting with a defendant about his case during a ride in a police car, recommending that the defendant retain a lawyer with whom the judge had a business relationship, and granting the relief requested by the defendant even after respondent had indicated he could not handle the case breached the appropriate boundaries between a judge and a litigant and thereby created "a very public appearance of impropriety" (Referee's report 13), which adversely affects public confidence in the judiciary as a whole.
He also imposed fines in excess of the allowable maximum and made improper political contributions. (Mike Frisch)
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct removed a judge of the Albany Surrogate's Court as a result of findings summarized in a press release
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has determined that Cathryn M. Doyle, a Judge of the Surrogate’s Court, Albany County, should be removed for presiding over matters involving her close friend, her personal attorney, and a lawyer who acted as her campaign manager. The judge was publicly censured by the Commission in 2007 for giving testimony that among other things was "evasive and deceptive," "misleading and obstructionist."
From 2007 to 2011 Judge Doyle failed to disqualify herself from, and took judicial action in, nine matters involving attorneys with whom she had close professional and personal relationships: four matters involving her close friend and personal attorney, Thomas J. Spargo; four matters involving attorney Matthew J. Kelly, the judge’s de facto campaign manager in her 2007 failed campaign for a nomination to the state Supreme Court and later the campaign manager in her 2010 campaign for reelection as Surrogate; and one matter involving William Cade, the attorney who had represented her in an earlier Commission proceeding that resulted in her censure in 2007. (Mr. Spargo was himself removed from judicial office after a Commission proceeding in 2006 and, in related proceedings, was disbarred by the Appellate Division and convicted of a felony in federal court.)
Among the judicial actions Judge Doyle took in these matters was admitting wills to probate, issuing letters of administration, signing decrees granting administration after probate, conducting conferences and issuing various orders, appointing guardians ad litem for infants named in a will, and determining that particular infants were intended trust beneficiaries of a will.
As to removal
In imposing the sanction of removal, the Commission underscored that the misconduct began soon after she was censured by the Commission in 2007 for giving "evasive" testimony in a proceeding inquiring into her actions in connection with a legal defense trust fund for Mr. Spargo, who was then a Supreme Court Justice. The Commission stated that, "if not for her disciplinary history, [Judge Doyle] may have had a more credible argument to retain her judgeship." The Commission concluded: "Under the circumstances, we are constrained to view [Judge Doyle’s] misconduct with particular severity since, in view of her censure in 2007, she should have been especially sensitive to her ethical obligations, including her duty to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."
The Commission's web page notes
Judge Doyle has requested review of the determination in the Court of Appeals, which has scheduled oral argument for June 5, 2014.
The Court of Appeals suspended Judge Doyle from office, with pay, pending review of the Commission's determination. The Court's order is available at Doyle Suspension.
The judge was on the Albany Law adjunct faculty. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
A judicial ethics opinion from South Carolina addresses this question
A full-time Magistrate judge inquires into the propriety of serving as the head baseball coach for a high school or an American Legion team. The high school team is funded by the school district which also pays the coach’s salary. The high school team is also supported by a booster club that has fund-raising projects. The American Legion team is funded by donations and sponsors, and the judge’s coaching position is an unpaid, volunteer position. The judge does not solicit sponsors or donations. The team’s general manager handles all donations, sponsors, and bookkeeping. However, the team does hold several fund-raisers, for which the judge participates in planning and operations. One fund-raiser was a golf tournament for which a flyer was produced asking for hole sponsorship; the judge’s name (with no reference to judicial office) was one of several others listed as persons to contact regarding the tournament.
It's OK with a caveat
Here, if the judge does continue employment with the high school, the judge should not actively solicit funds on behalf of the booster club, though the judge may assist the booster club in planning fund-raisers. If the judge observes the Canons on fund-raising, there is no violation against employment as a high school baseball coach.
As the coach for the American Legion team, it appears that the judge would only be involved in planning the fund-raisers, and not in any active solicitation. Moreover, the flyer listing the judge as one of the tournament organizers for the legion team is akin to the use of letterhead for fund-raising and, since the judge’s office is not included on the flyer, there is no violation of the Canons. Therefore, the judge may serve as an unpaid volunteer coach for an American Legion baseball team, provided that the judge continue to observe the limitations on fund-raising.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
The Florida Supreme Court has ordered that a circuit court judge be publicly reprimanded for a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol.
The breath test results were double the legal limit.
The court called the conduct "reprehensible."
In Florida, a public censure requires the judge to appear in court to be reprimanded. The published opinion is not sufficient. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
A recent opinion from the Florida's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Whether a Judge, who is a member of a regional Association for Women Lawyers, may participate as a model as a part of an event described as a “cocktail party and fashion show,” where the event’s proceeds “primarily benefit…a free childcare facility located inside the…courthouse” but also help fund the association’s “assistance to deserving law students in need of financial support.”
The inquiring judge is a member of a regional Association for Women Lawyers (“the Association”) in the judge’s circuit. The Association is presenting its “annual spring cocktail party and fashion show.” In addition to a spring fashion runway show produced by a local department store, the event will offer to attendees “exclusive storewide discounts, door prizes, a silent auction, and special VIP offerings.” According to the Association’s event chair, “This stylish event supports the growth of [the area’s] professional women and women-owned businesses, while raising money for two important causes: [a free childcare facility located inside the courthouse] and [the Association’s] Bar Scholarship [which provides assistance to deserving law students in need of financial support].” The Association’s solicitation letter for event sponsors states in part, “As a sponsor, you will have the unique opportunity to showcase your business to the stars of [the local area’s] legal, business and executive communities.”
The event chair explains that the free childcare facility serves children who are brought to court by their caregivers when the caregivers have no safe place to leave them during the caregivers’ required attendance in court. She states it “spares these children from witnessing adult interactions that could be painful or frightening for them.” The childcare program in the courthouse therefore provides a supervised drop-in childcare facility for litigants, jurors and witnesses when childcare issues might otherwise create an obstacle for court participants to attend court proceedings. The facility “also provides their caregivers with referrals to resources like full-time child care or career counseling so they can return to work, financial assistance for crisis situations, counseling for children who have experienced trauma, and even beds for their homes.”
The inquiring judge asks whether a judge is permitted to participate in the Association’s fundraising event by modeling some of the fashions in the spring fashion show.
Canon 2B provides, “A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others….” The Commentary to Canon 2B states in part:
Respect for the judicial office facilitates the orderly conduct of legitimate judicial functions. Judges should distinguish between proper and improper use of the prestige of office in all of their activities. A judge must avoid lending the prestige of judicial office for the advancement of the private interests of others.
In 2008, the Florida Supreme Court in In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550 (Fla. 2008) amended Canons 4 and 5 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct to allow for judicial participation in fundraising in the context of “quasi-judicial activities” and “extrajudicial activities” concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice. Canon 4D(2) was amended to permit a judge to participate in a fundraising event if the event met two criteria: (1) the event is sponsored by an organization or governmental entity that is devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch or the administration of justice, and (2) the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law-related purpose. If these two criteria are met, then a judge may “speak at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of and permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with [a fundraising] event….” Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4D(2)(b). But even if these criteria are met, Canon 4D(2)(a) prohibits judges from personally or directly participating in the solicitation of funds from anyone except from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority.
Canon 4 states, “A Judge Is Encouraged to Engage in Activities to Improve the Law, the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice.” Canon 4A provides, in pertinent part:
A. A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s quasi-judicial activities so that they do not: * * * (2) undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality; [or] (3) demean the judicial office;
The Commentary to Canon 4B states, “This canon was clarified in order to encourage judges to engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.” Canon 4D(2)(b), dealing with a judge’s participation in an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice, now provides:
(2) A judge as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise: * * * (b) may appear or speak at, receive an award or other recognition at, be featured on the program of, and permit the judge’s title to be used in conjunction with an event of such an organization or entity, but if the event serves a fund-raising purpose, the judge may participate only if the event concerns the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice and the funds raised will be used for a law related purpose(s);
The majority opinion in In Re Amendments, supra, observed that the amendment to Canon 4 “is intended to allow judges to participate in a law-related organization’s fundraiser only where the particular event serves a law-related purpose and the funds raised will be used for a law-related purpose.” 983 So. 2d, at 552. The opinion placed the responsibility on a judge who wants to participate in a fundraising event to determine if the event meets the criteria of Canon 4D(2). Id. Justice Peggy Quince, in her dissent cautioned that a judge who wants to participate in a fundraising event permitted by Canon 4D(2) “will have to make a judgment call on whether or not a particular organization or event falls within the ambit of the amendment.” In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct-Limitations on Judges’ Participation in Fundraising Activities, 983 So. 2d 550, 553 (Fla. 2008) (Quince, J., dissenting).
The Committee is of the opinion that the Association is an organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the judicial branch, or the administration of justice. The courthouse childcare program improves the administration of justice by decreasing continuances due to childcare issues and by making the courts more accessible to parents who would not otherwise be able to attend required court proceedings because of a lack of childcare options. The Committee further believes the free childcare program in the courthouse contributes to the administration of justice by helping childcare providers to honor their required court appearances and by providing a safe and convenient childcare service for their children during such appearances.
Thus, the Committee advises the inquiring judge, who is a member of a regional Association for Women Lawyers, that the judge may participate as a model as a part of an event described as a “cocktail party and fashion show,” where the event’s proceeds “primarily benefit…a free childcare facility located inside the…courthouse” but also help fund the association’s “assistance to deserving law students in need of financial support.” Cf., Fla. JEAC OP. 11-06 (Judge may not speak and be featured on a program and permit the Judge’s title to be used for a fundraiser for a program which provides supervised childcare to parents and guardians who are attending court-related matters, because, although the program is law-related, it is under the umbrella of the YWCA, an organization that is not solely devoted to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.)