Thursday, August 20, 2015
A former Pennsylvania judge has been suspended from practice as a result of a criminal conviction.
Details from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Former Washington County Common Pleas Judge Paul Pozonsky stood before the court Monday as a “broken man,” his voice catching as he described losing his job, his reputation and, soon, his wife to an addiction he fueled through stealing cocaine submitted as evidence in his court.
“I made terrible decisions,” he said. “It’s taken away the only job I ever loved.”
For those crimes, Mr. Pozonsky will spend 30 days in the Washington County Jail. Visiting Judge Daniel Howsare of Bedford County ordered him to serve up to 23½ months, but the 59-year-old is expected to be released on parole after one month.
Mr. Pozonsky was scheduled to surrender at 4 p.m. Monday. Defense attorney Robert Del Greco said he needed the afternoon to arrange for the care of his elderly parents, who he had been living with in Muse. After parole, he’ll spend two years on probation in Washington County and will be responsible for more than $15,000 in fees and other court costs.
In explaining his decision, Judge Howsare called the situation “very difficult” and said he didn’t intend to “add salt to the wound.” But he said some incarceration was required for the former judge who created the county’s drug court, knew counseling was available and “instead decided to use the evidence … to satisfy his drug use.”
“It’s a factor that’s difficult to overlook,” he said.
Mr. Pozonsky abruptly retired in June 2012, halfway through his second 10-year term and a month after he was stripped of handling criminal cases by the president judge. Investigators found that some evidence bags in his chambers had been tampered with, their seals broken, and some cocaine had been replaced with baking soda.
He pleaded guilty in March to three misdemeanors — theft by unlawful taking, obstructing administration of law and misapplication of entrusted property — and in exchange, prosecutors dropped three other charges and agreed not to seek incarceration as a penalty. Also that month, Mr. Del Greco said Mr. Pozonsky has been “clean and sober” going on four years.
On Monday, he called his client “the victim of a career-ending, self-inflicted wound.”
“To say that he has suffered mightily is an understatement,” Mr. Del Greco said. He said Mr. Pozonsky will probably be disbarred soon. He has lost his pension of $98,000 per year plus full medical coverage for life.
In asking for leniency, Mr. Del Greco noted the former judge’s 28 years of public service, his role in creating the county’s drug court and the more than 70 letters of support from former prosecutors, colleagues, family, defendants and others.
Jim Kohler, 64, and his daughter Kerri Kohler, 39, who went through Mr. Pozonsky’s drug court, addressed the court.
“He saved my life,” Ms. Kohler said.
Mr. Pozonsky said a “confluence of events” led to his drug use, including family, work and personal issues. He began abusing prescription medicine after a car accident and progressed to cocaine, he said.
He apologized to the court and the residents of Washington County.
“My conduct was inexcusable,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Michael Ahwesh, lead prosecutor on the case, pointed out that Mr. Pozonsky began getting treatment May 14, 2011, but continued to ask police to turn over cocaine.
“He realized he had a problem and he didn’t do anything,” Mr. Ahwesh said. “The defendant turned the courtroom into his stash house and basically made law enforcement his private suppliers of cocaine.”
After handing down the sentence, the judge called for a recess to discuss where Mr. Pozonsky should serve the 30 days. Mr. Del Greco said he wanted him to stay in Washington County for the jail’s work-release program, and that it’s unlikely anyone the former judge sentenced would still be in the lockup unless the person is a repeat offender.
After the hearing, Barry and Andrea Aller of Burgettstown, whose late daughter Desire’e was in Mr. Pozonsky’s drug court, told reporters they had hoped for a harsher penalty.
“I just don’t think it’s fair that he could do that and sentence people when he himself could have been high sitting on the bench,” she said. “How can you be an addict only in the evening?”
Mr. Pozonsky told Judge Howsare he was never under the influence at work.
Final discipline will be imposed after disciplinary proceedings based on the conviction are concluded. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
The Ohio Supreme Court found an attorney in contempt for failure to comply with an earlier court order.
The court ordered that the stayed two-year suspension revoked and imposed the actual suspension.
This report of the Board of Commissioners on Admissions and Grievances describes his background
Respondent was admitted to the practice of law in the state of Ohio on November 9, 1974. Respondent is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. Respondent is 64 years old. Respondent has been a domestic relations magistrate for 33 years, serving in Crawford and Morrow counties and currently in Delaware County.
He is a "highly motivated public servant"
Respondent manages a busy case docket, including highly contentious and emotional domestic litigation. Respondent estimates that counting divorce trials, post decree matters, civil protection orders, child support enforcement agency matters, and other miscellaneous matters, he conducts approximately 1,000 hearings per year. Respondent prides himself on quick turnaround of his written decisions. Respondent enjoys his work and would like to work one or two more years after he turns 65 this year.
But, as like all of us, no one is perfect
Certain of the character letters also mention other aspects of Respondent's character that are somewhat consistent with Respondent's behavior in the Davis/Spriggs and the Krawczyk matters. Specifically, some of the letters describe Respondent as quick-tempered. Respondent is also described as having a quirky or unusual sense of humor that he sometimes uses to break the tension.
One matter that led to the misconduct
The Davis/Spriggs matter involved a former wife's motion to hold her former husband in contempt of court for distributing nude pictures over the internet of the former wife in violation of the divorce decree. The litigation lasted over two years resulting in numerous discovery disputes and a five-day trial on the merits. Respondent's misconduct consisted of several isolated incidents occurring at various times during this bitterly contested litigation...
On several occasions during status conferences and motion hearings, Respondent conducted himself in an unprofessional and undignified manner and treated the wife and her lawyer with extreme disrespect. During a status conference regarding the logistics of the wife's expert examining the husband's computers, Respondent mockingly imitated the voice of the wife's attorney over the telephone in her presence. After that hearing, Respondent walked into the hallway where the wife was seated and "slowly ogled" the wife "from head to toe in a demeaning and degrading fashion." Respondent later told the wife's attorney that she would need to provide Respondent with a CD containing intimate photos of Davis' then current girlfriend. At the hearing, Respondent explained that the photos of the girlfriend were relevant to the proceeding, but he acknowledged that in asking for them. "I probably said some wise thing." Stipulation 20, 23, 26; Hearing Tr. 29-36.
Respondent acknowledged that all of the above comments were inappropriate. Respondent admitted that he was "'being a wise ass, and not thinking before you talk." Respondent acknowledged that his looking at the wife in a manner that she perceived to be degrading was "stupid" on his part. Id. 21, 32.
During a discovery motion hearing regarding the lawyers' having withheld requested discovery, Respondent lost his temper stating: "This is so goddamn simple. If you give the discovery and don't do all this bullshit, I don't have to sit here for hours and listen to this crap. So everybody's excused. Goddamn it. Comply with the discovery and shut up once in awhile. You make 17 hairline things, we'll do 8 of them but not these 9. Stupid, All Franklin County attorneys are stupid." Stipulation 29; Ex. 5.
While the wife's attorney was addressing Respondent in a pretrial conference regarding recently filed motions, Respondent allowed the husband's attorney to repeatedly throw paperclips at Respondent's head with one or more striking Respondent on the forehead. Respondent took no action to stop the lawyer from creating this disruption. Stipulation 31.
Later during the trial, and just before the wife was to take the stand for crossexamination, Respondent jokingly told the husband's attorney that Respondent would give the husband's attorney a dollar if he could make the wife cry during her cross-examination. At the same time, Respondent removed a dollar bill from his wallet and placed it on the bench.
Monday, August 10, 2015
The Ohio Supreme Court has reinstated an attorney suspended as a result of a felony conviction.
The Morning Journal reported on the charges
Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge was indicted Sept. 24 by a grand jury from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office.
Burge, 67, is facing three counts of falsification, three counts of tampering with records, three counts of soliciting improper compensation and three counts of having an unlawful interest in a public contract...
According to the indictment, on Jan. 24, 2012, Burge allegedly made a false statement or “knowingly swear or affirm the truth of a false statement previously made, when the statement was in writing on or in connection with a report or return that is required or authorized by law.”
The indictment states that Burge allegedly tampered with records Jan. 24, 2012, of a 2011 Ohio Financial Disclosure Statement “and the writing, data, computer software or record was kept by or belonged to a local, state or federal government entity.”
It further alleges that Burge tampered with a 2010 Ohio Financial Disclosure Statement and a 2012 disclosure statement.
He allegedly solicited improper compensation from Feb. 1, 2011, to June 7, 2011, while serving as a public official by knowingly soliciting or accepting contributions, according to the indictment.
The indictment also charges Burge with having an unlawful interest in a public contract. The indictment stated that Burge did “knowingly authorize or employ the authority or influence of his office to secure authorization of any public contract in which he, a member of his family, or any of his business associates had an interest.”
Six of the charges are felonies.
The Chronicle- Telegram reported on his conviction by jury and efforts to regain his law license.
The court's order did not explain its reasoning for the reinstatement.
See comment below: conviction on which suspension was based has been vacated. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, July 23, 2015
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has censured a town court justice who
created the appearance of impropriety and lent the prestige of his judicial office to advance his son's private interests by requesting leniency for his son from two law enforcement officers in two separate conversations concerning impending charges of Overdriving, Torturing and Injuring Animals, a misdemeanor, and Violating Prohibited Park Hours, a violation under the local law.
The justice was contacted by police concerning his 19 year old son
Officer McCully led respondent to the women's restroom where he had earlier found Joseph Sullivan with two small kittens. One of the kittens had been hog-tied with tape, and there was a lighter nearby. Officer McCully informed respondent that his son would be charged at a later time and would be allowed to go home with respondent that night. Respondent was given custody of the kittens to return them to the location where his son had obtained them. No charges were issued against respondent's son that night.
Early the next morning, Saturday, July 20, 2013, respondent telephoned Whitestown Chief of Police Donald Wolanin on the chief's cell phone to discuss the incident in the park the night before. Respondent told the chief that he hoped that the police would not "go piling on" charges or "overcharge" his son, or words to that effect.
at the conclusion of respondent's court session, Officer McCully entered the Whitestown Town Court and asked to speak with respondent. The two went outside the building, where Officer McCully said that he needed respondent's son to come to the police station where the officer would issue an appearance ticket for animal cruelty and being in the park after hours. Respondent stated, "Do you really have to arrest him?" or words to that effect. Respondent told Officer McCully that if his son was arrested it would ruin his chances of getting a job with the Oneida County sheriff.
By acting as his son's advocate in two conversations with law enforcement officials while seeking leniency with respect to impending charges, respondent lent the prestige of his judicial office to advance his son's private interests...
While it is understandable that respondent was concerned for his son and hoped for leniency in the officers' assessment of potential charges, his '"paternal instincts' do not justify a departure from the standards expected of the judiciary"
The justice is not an attorney. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
There had been bad blood between the judge and petitioner's counsel such that, as a matter of tactics, another member of counsel's firm handled a second trial,
The alleged hostility arose in an unrelated Engle case wherein the judge issued a fifteen-page order granting a motion for new trial based largely on counsel’s courtroom behavior.
Within that order the judge detailed the attorney’s conduct characterizing it as misleading and a fraud on the court. The hostility between the two carried over into proceedings concerning the judge’s nomination for appointment to the federal bench. The judge furnished the nominating committee a copy of the order as a writing sample. Thereafter, the attorney sent the committee a letter challenging the facts contained in the order and questioning the judge’s suitability for appointment to the federal bench. Following the judge’s unsuccessful nomination, petitioner and other Engle plaintiffs represented by the attorney and his firm moved to disqualify the judge. The judge denied the motion, and we denied the prior prohibition petition.
But an issue arose when counsel attended closing arguments
The events surrounding this second motion arose after the attorney was present in the courtroom to observe a portion of a firm member’s closing arguments and after the jury returned its verdict. According to petitioner, she and her trial counsel approached the bench to thank the judge. Petitioner alleges that as the two were walking away from the bench, the judge commented that she had seen the attorney in the courtroom and that she would “never forgive him for what he did to me.” Petitioner alleged that it appeared to her that the judge was “highly emotional and on the verge of tears as she said this.”
Petitioner alleged that while she was previously aware of the issues between the judge and her attorney, she did not appreciate “the depth of the hostility or how deeply hurt the judge was by [counsel’s] active opposition to her quest for a federal judgeship.” Petitioner’s trial attorney, who was present at the bench with petitioner, furnished an affidavit echoing petitioner’s representation of the judge’s comments and adding that the judge said she “will never forget what he did. I will never forgive him and I took it personally. It was very hurtful and it made me cry.” Counsel added that the judge told him that he could communicate that sentiment to the attorney...
Accepting the allegations within the motion and affidavits as true, we conclude that the judge’s alleged inability to restrain either her utterances or her emotions in front of the petitioner would, if true, show that the experience profoundly affected her and made her future impartiality reasonably suspect. The source of this prejudice is personal and unrelated to petitioner’s case and trial counsel’s conduct therein. See, e.g., Lamendola v. Grossman, 439 So. 2d 960 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983). Though we previously concluded that any hostility arising from the events of the judicial nominating process did not warrant disqualification, the judge allegedly opened the door and displayed the depth of such hostility by failing to remain silent despite the passage of time.
Based on the foregoing, we conclude that a reasonably prudent person would be in fear of not receiving fair and impartial judicial review of the pending matters.
Monday, July 20, 2015
A judge who fixed tickets for a fellow judge and his family was suspended for a year (retroactive) by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Respondent was a municipal court judge in Jersey City until 2007. Sison was also a municipal court judge at the time.
On October 24, 2007, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General (AG) notified the OAE of charges filed against respondent for "ticket-fixing" and later provided the OAE with a copy of the complaint, charging her with the second-degree crime of Official Misconduct, N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2(a).
On August 28, 2009, respondent was admitted into the PreTrial Intervention (PTI) program, which she successfully completed.
Count one of the complaint alleged that Sison presented respondent with three motor vehicle tickets "for adjudication." The tickets had been issued to him and to members of his family. Respondent did not adjudicate the Instead, she imposed judgment tickets on the record. without the defendants’ appearances or pleas and without considering their guilt or innocence. She either found the defendants guilty or dismissed their matters.
For Sison’s ticket for parking during street cleaning, respondent assessed $20 in court costs and waived the $42 fine.She conceded, during the AG’s investigation, that "there probably was no legitimate reason to waive the fine; that’s the culture."
A second ticket charged Sison or his wife with the same offense, for which respondent assessed $I0 in court costs and waived the $42 fine.
A third ticket, issued to Karl Sison, charged him with a moving violation for failure to observe a traffic control device, a two-point violation. Respondent amended the ticket to delaying traffic, a no-point violation, and imposed a $25 fine and $25 court costs. She advised Sison of the amended charge and fines.
Although Karl Sison had been standing in the hallway, while respondent adjudicated his ticket, she did not elicit a factual basis for the amended charge and did not give the municipal prosecutor or charging officer an opportunity to be heard about the charges. Respondent knew that her actions were not authorize.
The judge questioned the proceedings
By letter to Sweeney, dated October i, 2014, respondent, among other things, accused Disciplinary Review Board Member Gallipoli of "Javert-like madness," in ensuring her prosecution, and questioned why charges against Sison had not been pursued.
The report of the Disciplinary Review Board and the court order may be found here. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, July 17, 2015
A judicial ethics opinion from the New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics
This responds to your inquiry (15-91) asking if you may act as a clothing model at a not-for-profit fund-raising luncheon/fashion show. The raffles and a silent auction.
A judge must always avoid even the appearance of impropriety (see 22 NYCRR 100.2) and must always promote public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). A judge may assist an organization in planning fund-raising, but must not personally participate in solicitating [sic] funds or in other fund-raising activities (see 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][b][i]).
Accordingly, while you may help organize and attend this event, and even though your involvement will not be announced in advance, the fact remains that the fundraising event itself is billed as a fashion show and the fundraising will necessarily occur close in time to - and/or simultaneously with - the clothes modeling activities. Therefore, your participation as a clothing model is prohibited.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
A new opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.
Whether Canon 3C(4) is violated if a judge continues to employ the judge’s judicial assistant, after the assistant marries the judge’s child.
ANSWER: Yes, even if the proposed action may observe technical compliance with Florida’s nepotism statute.
The question posed by the inquiring judge calls on this Committee to examine not only the Code of Judicial Conduct, but also section 112.3135, Florida Statutes (2015). In light of Canon 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which mandates that judges “shall respect and comply with the law,” the committee believes the judge’s inquiry should be answered although it does pose a mixed question of ethics and law, because under these particular facts those questions are inextricably linked.
A majority of this Committee (ten members) concludes that retaining the judicial assistant post-marriage would constitute a violation of Florida’s nepotism statute and therefore the Code of Judicial Conduct as well.Â Moreover, even if the minority (two members) is correct in its legal analysis (which is that the law would not be violated), the majority believes the proposed action would still run afoul of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
The majority view
the facts of the present case are not limited solely to the employee’s future advancement. Instead, the focus should be on the word “employ” as used in the statute. There should be little question that a judicial assistant is selected by the judge and not assigned by some higher authority such as a Chief Judge or court administrator. The judicial assistant thereafter serves at the judge’s pleasure. It should be emphasized that in the present case the inquiring judge did not actually hire a relative. Instead, the judge proposes to retain the employee once the familial relationship status is conferred by the upcoming marriage. The anti-nepotism statute does not actually mention retention - that is, it does not address the situation where an existing employee’s non-familial status suddenly changes. The minority concludes that this is a distinction with a difference. The majority cannot agree and would interpret the term “employ” as denoting, at least in this case, a continuing process...
The majority’s conclusion stems from the very nature of familial relationships and the unfortunate fact that they do not always remain intact. The legal definition of “relative” is broad and some relatives are more distant than others, but the statute itself attempts no such gradation. Would the minority reach the same result if the judge, rather than a relative, were the one marrying the judicial assistant? Even in the present case, suppose marital difficulties were to arise in the future, to the point litigation ensued. Even though, as would likely happen, the case could be transferred to a different circuit, the perception could arise that the judge has taken the side of the blood relation and has retaliated against the employee as a result. Such actions are the direct opposite of advancement or promotion, a contingency the anti-nepotism statute does not address, but one that presents ethical ramifications no less serious in nature. Personality conflicts, and the troubles that often follow them, will always be with us, but in this instance are easily avoidable by accepting that the Code of Judicial Conduct may impose broader restrictions on conduct than has the Florida legislature.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
In a published decision, the California State Bar Court Review Department imposed a public reproval and ethics school for an attorney who made false statements in his judicial campaign against a sitting judge.
we agree with the hearing judge that Parish’s statement accusing his opponent of involvement in bribery and corporate fraud was a factual misrepresentation made with reckless disregard for the truth...
We disagree with the hearing judge, however, that this matter should be resolved with an order of admonition, which is not discipline. Instead, we find Parish’s reckless statement implicating a judge with bribery requires public discipline to maintain the integrity of the legal profession and to preserve public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.
As a Yolo County deputy district attorney and a political neophyte, Parish mounted a campaign to unseat Judge Daniel Maguire in Yolo County Superior Court during the June 2012 election cycle. Parish spent the majority of his campaign going door-to-door and appearing at events to meet people and ask for their votes and their money. For campaign strategy and messaging, Parish relied heavily on his trusted advisor, Kirby Wells, who had extensive campaign experience. Parish also enlisted the aid of two paid political consultants — first Frank Ford and then Aaron Park. When Ford left the campaign in March 2012, Parish began working with Park, who was highly recommended by Wells. Park and Wells agreed that Ford had not been “aggressive” enough in the campaign.
Aggressive meant a campaign to tie his opponent to Governor Schwarzenegger, who was unpopular in Yolo County. The judge was referred to in a mailer as "Arnold's bagman"
Dan Maguire was quoted defending the Protocol Foundation — used to hide $1.7 million in Arnold’s Travel Expenses.
As part of Arnold’s inner circle, Dan Maguire was part of Arnold’s legal team that made decisions including commuting the sentence of convicted murderer Esteban Nunez. Fabian Nunez (Estaban’s [sic] father) is the former Speaker of the Assembly and current business partner of Arnold.
Dan Maguire was involved in a sordid case of corporate fraud that involved payment of bribes in Russia.
Dan Maguire received a political appointment (never elected) and took the bench only three weeks before Arnold’s last-day Commutation of Esteban Nunez’ sentence!
California suffered through 7 years of Arnold — you can stop it in Yolo County!
In the bar proceeding
Parish concedes the statement implicating Judge Maguire in bribery and corporate fraud was “actually false.”
He sent out two sets of mailers - one for the Democrats; another for the Republicans.
The mailer was sent on May 15, 2012. It was controversial, and the fallout was immediate. Judge Maguire asked his colleague, another Yolo County Superior Court judge, to prepare a robocall for voters condemning the mailer, which he did. In addition, local newspapers printed several articles, portraying the mailer in a negative light. Within days of the mailer’s delivery, Parish’s key followers withdrew their support, including the Yolo County sheriff and the district attorney, the Winters Police Officers Association, and the Yolo County Republican Party. Parish quickly and formally acknowledged the inaccuracy of the statement about Judge Maguire’s involvement in bribery and corporate fraud. He said he regretted including it in the mailer. Parish fired Park and stopped actively fundraising and campaigning. The election took place on June 5; Parish was resoundingly defeated, receiving only 23% of the vote.
The court rejected procedural challenges to imposition of discipline. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, June 29, 2015
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a new trial to a plaintiff who lost a medical malpractice case before a jury.
The trial judge had communicated with jurors in response to a note without advising the parties. The note was not preserved .
The plaintiff was contacted by two jurors who expressed concern about the deliberations several weeks later
the unique circumstances of this case, which include the untimely and serendipitous disclosure of the communication to Plaintiffs or their counsel; Plaintiffs’ inability to make the actual note or response a part of the record; the differing recollections about the nature and timing of the communication; the failure to resolve the perceived conflicts; and the inability to make a determination that a verdict for Defendants was demanded, regardless of any effect of the communication on the jury, support Plaintiffs’ entitlement to a new trial.
The court also reversed the Court of Appeals and concluded that the defendant had failed to preserve evidence. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
The New Jersey Supreme Court remanded a matter in which the defendant's motion to recuse the entire Bergen County judiciary from presiding over a criminal matter.
In this appeal, the Court considers defendant’s motion to recuse the Bergen County judiciary from presiding over his criminal indictments: The State asserts that defendant threatened to kill or harm two judges in the Bergen Vicinage, and, on that basis, defendant claimed that reasonable questions could be raised about the appearance of impartiality if a Bergen County judge presided over the indictments.
Two indictments are pending against defendant Aakash Dalal. The first charges defendant with a series of offenses directed against four synagogues and a Jewish community center. Many of the charges first appeared in six criminal complaints filed in February and March 2012. The presiding judge of the criminal division at the time initially set bail at $2.5 million. The following month, another judge denied defendant’s request to reduce his bail.
While defendant was in custody, an informant reported that defendant allegedly made threats against public officials and buildings. Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for defendant’s jail cell, where officials found handwritten documents, including a chart of “ENEMIES” that listed the criminal presiding judge as a “high profile” enemy and the assistant prosecutor on defendant’s case as a “tactical” enemy. The words “DEAD COPS, DEAD COPS” appear on another page, which also features a chart of “ENEMIES,” naming the presiding judge and the judge who ruled on defendant’s bail at the top of the diagram. The assistant prosecutor and others are listed as well. As a result, defendant was charged with conspiracy to murder the assistant prosecutor, conspiracy to possess a firearm, and terroristic threats. On August 7, 2013, a Bergen County grand jury indicted defendant on those charges.
Defendant moved to dismiss both indictments and sought to recuse the presiding judge. After the State observed that the evidence provided “a significant reason” for the court to recuse itself, the presiding judge transferred the proceedings to a third judge (the “trial court”). The trial court subsequently denied defendant’s motions to recuse the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and for a change of venue based on pretrial publicity.
Not all threats or efforts to intimidate a judge will require recusal. However, given the serious nature of the threat, the absence of any proof of manipulation, the potential introduction of the evidence in one of the trials, and the relationships among judges within the Bergen Vicinage, a reasonable, fully informed observer could have doubts about a Bergen County judge’s impartiality. In light of recent developments, the matter is remanded to the Bergen County assignment judge for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The remand requires the assignment judge to either bring in an outside judge or transfer the case to another vicinage. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, June 4, 2015
The Mississippi Supreme Court denied a motion to reconsider its prior order that had suspended a judge with pay.
Gawker reported on allegations against the judge
This week, a Mississippi grand jury indicted Justice Court Judge Bill Weisenberger for felony assault on a vulnerable adult after he allegedly struck a mentally disabled black man and yelled, "Run, nigger, run."
According to WAPT, multiple witnesses report seeing the judge attack 20-year-old Eric Rivers while screaming racial slurs at a flea market in Canton, Mississippi last May. Weisenberger claims Rivers made "negative comments to his mother."
Weisenberger also had a lawsuit filed against both him and the county in November. The attorney for Charles Plumpp said Weisenberger arrested and jailed her client, who is African American, on the nonexistence charge of "roaming livestock."
While the judge voluntarily stepped down from his position last June, the Ledger reports that Weisenberger is currently seeking re-election.
The Commission on Judicial Performance had sought suspension without pay. (Mike Frisch)
The Florida Supreme Court has ordered a 30-day suspension without pay of a judge
The violation of the [j]udicial [c]anons in this matter arises from Judge Krause’s single incident of participating in her husband’s judicial campaign. Judge Krause admits that, while her husband was a judicial candidate, she one time used social media to seek the assistance of her friends to help her husband correct perceived misstatements of his judicial opponent.
Judge Krause accepted full responsibility for the conduct, admitted that it should not have occurred, and apologized. She explained that her social media posting followed multiple private but ignored attempts to correct what she and her husband perceived as misstatements about her previous JQC matter. Judge Krause told the Panel that those attempts included seeking counsel from her chief judge, twice sending the same letter to the candidate asking her to refrain from misrepresenting the record (and never receiving acknowledgement or a response,) and enlisting the help of an emissary to speak with her husband’s opponent. All of these attempts proved fruitless.
Judge Krause further explained that she intended her posting, which was a frustrated last effort to correct the record, to be a private message to her friends. Even still, she removed the message within hours of its posting after realizing it could have a reach beyond her circle of friends. Only through the actions of those supporting her husband’s opponent was the posting further disseminated.
The court approved a stipulation of discipline. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Alaska Dispatch News has a report on ethics charges against a recently-appointed judge of the Nome Superior Court.
The News summarizes:
The statements taken from recorded court proceedings and listed in the complaint are as follows:
• On May 29, 2013, Dooley said during a sentencing, “Has anything good ever come out of drinking other than sex with a pretty girl?”
• On Oct. 29, 2013, during a sentencing, Dooley said, “What you’ve done with this young girl, it’s a strange thing, routinely done in Afghanistan where they marry 6-year-old girls. In our society, and in the society of the local tribal communities, supposed to be totally forbidden.”
• On Nov. 5, 2013, Dooley said during a sentencing, where the victim was a 14-year-old girl, “This was not someone who was, and I hate to use the phrase, ‘asking for it.’ There are girls out there that seem to be temptresses. And this does not seem to be anything like that.”
• On Aug. 12, 2014, Dooley said during a civil trial involving parties that did not have attorneys that, “I’m gonna enforce these oaths and they’re enforceable with a two-year sentence for perjury. And I’d be the sentencing judge. I also have a medieval Christianity that says if you violate an oath, you’re going to hell. You all may not share that, but I’m planning to populate hell.”
• On Aug. 20, 2014, Dooley made off-the-record comments to the jury about a soft-spoken witness, according to the complaint. “I’m sorry folks, but I can’t slap her around to make her talk louder,” the complaint accuses Dooley of saying.
Dooley’s statements, according to the accusations, violate the Alaska Code on Judicial Conduct and Alaska statutes, including maintaining “professional competence in the law,” being “patient, dignified and courteous” and acting “without bias or prejudice,” among other aspects.
Now that formal charges have been filed, Dooley will have a hearing before the commission that Greenstein described as a "full trial proceeding." If the allegations are found to have merit, the [Commission on Judicial Conduct] will recommend action to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Thanks to a reader for sending this to us. (Mike Frisch)
A judge who recused herself in a divorce case because she had the same accountant as the wife did not err in declining to recuse herself from a domestic violence matter involving the same parties.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court so held
On March 6, the day of the scheduled hearings, the respondent moved to recuse Judge Carbon from both the domestic violence and the divorce proceedings. He argued that recusal was required from both proceedings because the accountant who was scheduled to testify on the respondent’s behalf during the divorce proceeding also provided financial services to Judge Carbon. The respondent asserted that, although the accountant “w[ould] not testify in the domestic violence proceeding,” an “integral connection” existed between the domestic violence and the divorce proceedings such that Judge Carbon was required to recuse herself from both proceedings.
Following oral argument, Judge Carbon recused herself from the divorce proceeding, observing that the “Court could be accused of either giving undue preference to, or undervaluing the quality of, [the accountant’s] testimony” during the divorce hearing. However, she denied the motion seeking her recusal from the domestic violence proceeding, explaining that there was “no conflict of interest, nor any appearance of possible bias resulting from a shared professional when that person has no role whatsoever” in the domestic violence case. Accordingly, Judge Carbon presided over the March 6 domestic violence hearing, and the parties’ divorce proceeding was assigned to another judicial officer.
Recusal not required
Here, it was the accountant’s role as a witness in the divorce proceeding that caused Judge Carbon to recuse herself from that proceeding. However, because the accountant was not to be involved in the domestic violence proceeding in any manner, we conclude that a disinterested observer, fully informed of the facts, would not, in fact, entertain doubt that justice would be done.,,
Accordingly, we hold that Judge Carbon did not err by denying the motion to recuse herself from the domestic violence proceeding.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
The sanction of a small fine is based on an courthouse hallway confrontation between the judge and a public defender.
The commission found insufficient evidence that the judge punched the public defender in the face but seems to believe that the face was, as they say, punch-worthy
Substantial evidence was offered to the effect that Mr. Weinstock was generally rude, disrespectful, incompetent and a highly unlikeable lawyer.
As to the well-respected judge
Many who observed the June 2, 2014, incident were unable to explain why Judge Murphy became so angry. Judge Murphy’s therapist, Michael Ronsisvalle, testified that Judge Murphy has a strong self-preservation mode that is compulsive, and that, related to his service in the military, Judge Murphy reflects that compulsion onto other people, feeling the undeniable need to protect them, too. In addition to this predisposition to self-preserve and to protect others, Judge Murphy was emotionally affected by the shooting of a defendant in front of the Viera Courthouse just months before the June 2, 2014, incident. Shortly after that, Judge Murphy lost his father. In the three weeks immediately preceding the June 2, 2014 incident, Judge Murphy was away from home for 17 days. The last week of his absence from the Courthouse was spent at a Drug and Veteran’s Court Conference in California. Upon his return to Florida the evening of June 1, 2014, he and his wife hosted guests for a dinner party in their home. Dr. Ronsisvalle described this confluence of events as "a perfect storm" that drained Judge Murphy of emotional energy to cope with Mr. Weinstock on June 2, 2014.
The altercation between Weinstock and Judge Murphy created a remarkable national embarrassment for not only the judiciary of the State of Florida, but for its citizens as well. Statewide and national newspaper and television media reported the public and violent confrontation between a presiding Judge who actually left the bench after saying he would "beat your ass" in the midst of a judicial proceeding, and the Assistant Public Defender who had defied and disrespected the Judge.
The public defender had "some ownership" of the incident. He has resigned from the public defender's office. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
The Illinois Review Board has rejected a First Amendment challenge and recommended a censure of a judicial candidate for statements made in the campaign.
In 2012, Respondent ran for the office of Circuit Judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit. His opponent was Associate Judge Vincent J. Lopinot. At first he planned to run a positive campaign. However, he learned that Judge Lopinot's campaign was allegedly considering turning to negative tactics by publishing an article against Respondent about a prior charge of an "offensive battery". Respondent had read the Seventh Circuit opinion in Woidtke v. St. Clair County, id. He then, along with his campaign manager, decided to respond by sending out a flyer that contained the following language:
Rodney Woidtke spent 12 years in prison for a murder HE DID NOT COMMIT. (Source: People v. Woidtke, No. 5-99-0331, 5th District, 26 April 2000)
Supervising Public Defender VINCENT J. LOPINOT and his Assistant, Brian Trentman, "were NEGLIGENT in the representation of Mr. Woidtke in a 1989 criminal proceeding that resulted in his wrongful conviction of murder of Audrey Cardenas." (Source: Woidtke v. St. Clair County, St. Clair County Public Defenders Office, Brian K. Trentman and Vincent Lopinot, No. 02-4223, May 2003)
Next to the above statement, Respondent placed a picture of Lopinot with the word "NEGLIGENT" in white with a red background underneath the picture. Respondent sent the flyer to 75,000 to 100,000 people. Despite the mailing of the flyer, Respondent lost the election to Judge Lopinot.
The above language was taken from the Seventh Circuit opinion but was not an accurate quotation. The opinion actually read in the opening paragraphs of the opinion, "In Count I, Mr. Woidtke alleged that Attorney Trentman and his supervisor, Attorney Judge Lopinot, had been negligent in their representation of Mr. Woidtke in a 1989 criminal proceeding that resulted in his conviction." Respondent does not deny that he misquoted the Seventh Circuit opinion.
We conclude that the Hearing Board's finding that Respondent intentionally made the false statement in the flyer is not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Respondent admitted that he assisted in designing and writing the contents of the mailer and that he approved its design and contents. Respondent admitted at hearing that he reviewed the various court opinions regarding the Woidtke matter prior to completing the mailer. He did not act in haste. The Hearing Board rejected Respondent's testimony that he believed the mailer accurately quoted the Seventh Circuit opinion as "incredible and false." Respondent had no objective information from which he could have concluded that Lopinot supervised Trentman in regard to the Woidtke case. The Hearing Board, who had the benefit of listening to the witnesses, concluded Respondent deliberately and intentionally changed the language of the quotation to create a false impression. The evidence supports this finding.
The Board found that recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent supported its First Amendment position
Respondent argues that Rules 8.2(a), 8.2(b) and 8.4(c) are unconstitutional as applied to his conduct. He contends that his statements constitute political speech and are protected by the First Amendment even if the statements are knowingly false. We disagree. Respondent has failed to direct our attention to any cases which have concluded that all statements made during a judicial, or any other, election, regardless of their truth or falsity, are protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or any State Constitution.
The United States Supreme Court has never ruled Rules 8.2(a), 8.2(b) or 8.4(c) unconstitutional. Similarly, the United States Supreme Court has never held that knowingly false statements by a judicial candidate against an opponent have First Amendment protection. Even in the most recent case cited by Respondent, United States v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2537 (2012), the Supreme Court pointed out that there are situations in which knowingly or recklessly made false statements are not protected under the First Amendment, citing Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64 (1964) where an appellate district attorney was convicted of defamation for making disparaging statements about the judiciary. See also, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, 575 U.S. ___ (2015)(Court found that a Florida rule prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions did not violate the First Amendment given the State's interest in preserving the integrity of the judiciary).
Friday, May 15, 2015
The Cranston (Rhode Island) Patch has this recent report on criminal charges against a judge
A Cranston Municipal Court Judge and lawyer was arrested by East Greenwich Police on Monday for an alleged domestic altercation in their town.
Thomas Ricci, 51, was arraigned today in Third Division District Court on charges of domestic simple assault and domestic disorderly conduct and released on personal recognizance, court records show.
NBC10 reported Ricci beat and strangled the woman after she confronted him over text messages she found on his phone.
Ricci has served as Senior Associate Judge in Cranston Municipal Court since 2007.
He has also served on the Rhode Island Supreme Court Disciplinary Board, the state Coastal Resource Management Council and Warwick’s Judicial Selection Committee.
He is due to return to court on June 5 for a pretrial conference.
For those interested in recent cases of Rhode Island attorney discipline, GoLocalProv has this article titled Booze, Bribes, And Conspiracy. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, May 11, 2015
The Tennessee Court of Appeals has affirmed the denial of a motion to recuse the trial judge in an accident case.
There was an interesting plaintiff
This Health Care Liability action arose from an incident in which Richard Williams slipped and fell in the parking lot of a restaurant in Memphis. Mr. Williams was seventy-nine years old at the time of the fall. Mr. Williams is a former television and radio personality, who became a local celebrity as a magician performing magic tricks on a local television show, which aired on WMC-TV, the NBC-affiliate in Memphis, from 1966 until 1989. Magicland, Mr. Williams‘ magic show for children, was televised every week for a half-hour before a live studio audience. Mr. Williams, known to his fans as "Mr. Magic," holds a world record for hosting the longest running television magic show.
After Mr. Williams‘ fall, he was treated at St. Francis Hospital for a fractured hip. After a recovery period in the hospital, Mr. Williams was admitted to Appellant HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital North ("HealthSouth"). On his admission to HealthSouth, a nurse performed an initial assessment, spending approximately twenty minutes with Mr. Williams. The nurse oriented Mr. Williams to his room and left him to rest. Approximately forty-five minutes later, Mr. Williams was found on the floor, having fallen from his bed...
Plaintiffs claimed that Mr. Williams should have been restrained due to his allegedly confused state and further alleged that Mr. Williams‘ current dementia and Alzheimer‘s disease were caused by the fall at HealthSouth.
The recusal issue related to a video of Mr. Magic's life that the judge found "charming" and commented
Well, I must say that what we‘ve just seen is an incredibly charming presentation. And I would be less than honest if I didn‘t indicate that at this very moment, I am overcome with emotion. And during the playing, I noticed that Ms. Rezba particularly was having a more difficult time than even I am. I want to take a break to collect myself.
The judge's expressions did not create a basis to recuse
Contrary to popular belief, judges are human and, as such, have feelings and emotions. As set out in context above, Judge Russell concedes as much in his statements from the bench. However, the mere fact that a judge may feel emotion or may sympathize with a party does not, ipso facto, mean that he or she cannot be unbiased. It is the judge‘s bias (actual or perceived), and not his or her emotion, that drives the inquiry of whether recusal is warranted. Generally, the terms "bias" and "prejudice" refer to a state of mind or attitude that works to predispose a judge for or against a party...
HealthSouth‘s primary basis for its motion for recusal was the argument that, because Judge Russell showed emotion after watching the video, he would be partial to Plaintiffs in acting as Thirteenth Juror. In the first instance, the alleged bias in this case arises from events or observations that occurred during the litigation of the case; accordingly, in order to justify Judge Russell‘s recusal, HealthSouth would have to show that the ―bias is so pervasive that it is sufficient to deny‖ a fair trial. Here, HealthSouth won its case, receiving a unanimous verdict from the jury. The motion for recusal was filed before Judge Russell actually acted in his capacity as Thirteenth Juror to review the jury‘s verdict. Therefore, when HealthSouth filed this Rule 10B appeal, Judge Russell had neither reached a "prejudged conclusion because of interest, partiality, or favor," Bean, 280 S.W.3d at 803, nor had he rendered "an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from participation in the case." Alley, 882 S.W.2d at 821. In short, HealthSouth has failed to meet its burden to show the type of pervasive bias that would warrant Judge Russell‘s recusal.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
An opinion from the South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 2-2015
RE: Whether a Family Court judge is required to include another attorney’s assumption of judge’s mortgage payments on judge’s disclosure statement.
Prior to being elected, a Family Court judge had an office sharing situation with Lawyer #1 and Lawyer #2, in a building owned by the judge and Lawyer #1. The judge agreed that if the judge was elected to the family court bench, the judge’s interest in the building would be transferred to Lawyer #2, who would then assume the judge’s portion of the mortgage debt. After being elected, the Judge learned from the bank that the mortgage was not assumable and that Lawyers #1 and #2 would have to re-finance the debt. Because of some complications arising from Lawyer #1’s financial and tax circumstance, the re-finance could not take place. Since the judge’s election approximately 3 years ago, the judge has tried diligently to divest the judge’s interest in the building, but the transfer has not yet taken place.
Since the election, the judge has not paid any mortgage payments or monthly expenses (except for property taxes for the year the judge was elected, where the judge actually practiced in the building for 6 months prior to election). The judge has not received any rent from Lawyer #2 or any tenant in the building. The judge has raised the issue of whether the Judge needs to report the monthly mortgage debt that has been paid by Lawyer #2 as income, as it may be considered that the judge is renting the judge’s portion of the property to Lawyer #2, who pays the judge’s portion of the mortgage as rent. The judge’s accountant has not claimed any income from the building or deductions from the mortgage debt.
A family court judge does not need to report another party’s assumption of mortgage payments on property owned by judge as income on the judge’s disclosure statement, but the judge should disclose the mortgage debt in judge’s name.
The judge is not receiving money for services rendered or monetary payments for rent. Lawyer #2 has effectively (albeit informally) assumed the mortgage, but the judge receives no money or rent, and does not claim the mortgage as a tax deduction. Thus, the judge is not required to report Lawyer’s #2’s payment of the mortgage as income on the judge’s disclosure statement. The judge should, however, disclose the existence of the mortgage in judge’s name and provide an explanation of Lawyer #2’s assumption of mortgage payments.
The title to the post honors my late friend Professor Steve Goldberg, who liked that easy-to-understand explanation of who was who in the mortgagor-mortgagee relationship. (Mike Frisch)