Tuesday, December 24, 2013
An opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:
May a judge attend an annual event called “God and Country Day,” organized by a local church which focuses on the laws of the state and country and its foundation in Judeo-Christian values?
Is it permissible for a judge to pose for a photograph with the pastor and other elected officials, knowing that it would be published in a local newspaper?
ANSWER: Yes, unless the judge is aware or has reason to believe that the pastor intends to use the photograph to advance the private interests of the church through solicitation of members or donations.
If asked, may the judge make public religious comments from the pulpit at this event?
ANSWER: Yes, as long as the judge’s comments do not otherwise violate the Canons.
Monday, December 23, 2013
The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed a contempt citation against a county court of common pleas judge for disobeying an order of the court of appeals in a juvenile matter.
The order involved media access to the case brought by the Cincinatti Enquirer.
The court of appeals had allowed the paper into court without conditions. The judge then prohibited publication of names. The paper argued that the judge's order was a prior restriant on its right to publish.
The court here rejected the judge's contention that she had complied with the express mandate of the court of appeals' order.
Nky.com had this report. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
A circuit judge who initiated an electronic mail exchange over an IPAD received a letter of informal adjustment from the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission.
The recipient was "at one time married to an extended family member of [the judge]."
This is Judge [name]. Lynn's IPAD must be delivered to Kelly Underwood's mailbox by 9:30 a [sic] or I will turn the matter over to Prose uting attorney.
Really judge [name] turn it over for what. Looking at my son's IPAD.
Rejoinder from the judge
Choose your actions wisely.
The judge admitted that she should not have used the title in the e-mail. There was "a long history of differences between [the recipient] and [the judge's] family." (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has given a qualified blessing to a judge awarding deserving persons a so-called "challenge coin" for service to the justice system.
...would be given at the judge’s discretion and only as a reward for hard work and dedication to the court or community. The coin would be produced at the judge’s own expense and would bear the judge’s name and judicial circuit, as well as the date of the judge’s investiture. The coin would also bear the words “fiat justitia,” a Latin phrase meaning “let justice be done.”
In reaching its conclusion, the Committee acknowledges that the use of challenge coins varies depending on the organization. Although such coins have been used for many years in the military context to reward behavior and enhance morale, they have also been used by some organizations as proof of membership or to allow admission. Despite this association with membership or admission to a private club or organization, the Committee believes it unlikely that a recipient of a challenge coin bearing the judge’s name could credibly use the coin to convey to others that they are in a special position to influence the judge.
Nevertheless, the judge should exercise caution so as not to run afoul of the Code. The Committee recommends that the judge be mindful of the Code when selecting individuals to commend. For example, the judge should consider whether the selection of certain individuals or a group of individuals for recognition might reasonably be considered inappropriate political activity prohibited by Canon 7, or presents issues of impartiality, lending the prestige of the judicial office, or allowing others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. See Fla. JEAC Op. 94-25 (several committee members suggested that it would be more appropriate to delete laudatory remarks concerning the lawyers in an article to be published, or simply refer to them as trial counsel).
In conclusion, in answering this question in the affirmative, the majority of the Committee advises the judge to avoid presenting challenge coins in a manner that may reasonably be perceived to be a violation of the Code. The Committee also recommends that the judge remain vigilant to ensure that recipients of the challenge coin are not using it in a manner that would reflect poorly on the judge or that would cause ethical concerns for the judge, and in the event such information comes to the judge’s attention, the judge should re-assess the appropriateness of continuing this activity.
A minority is concerned
A minority of the Committee is of the opinion that the inclusion of the judge’s name and investiture date would be perceived or recognized as self-promotion and be demeaning to the judicial office. The spirit of the Canons would be best served by the deletion of the name and investiture date from the coins. The minority, otherwise, agrees with the rest of this opinion.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
A non-attorney town court justice has been removed from office by the New York Court of Appeals.
The misconduct found by the Commission on Judicial Conduct involved two matters.
One was a seat belt violation charge that involved a lifelong friend whose family owneed a company where the justice had been employed. The justice accepted testimony of a ticket error (the friend claimed to be in a different Mercedes Benz than alleged) and dismissed the charges without notice of his personal connection to the defendant. He failed to notify the DA's office (which had no one present) and failed to adjourn the case.
The other matter involved an ex parte communication.
A dissent concludes that the misconduct was not serious enough to warrant removal from office. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
A recent ethics opinion from South Carolina:
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
OPINION NO. 11 - 2013
RE :Propriety of a full-time magistrate’s participation as a dancer at a fund-raiser for a religious organization.
A full-time magistrate inquires as to the propriety of dancing in a fund-raising event that is similar to a popular television show (“Dancing with the Stars”) in which the judge’s religious institution is the recipient of the funds. The judge will be one of five dancers from the congregation performing with a dance professional from a local studio. The judge will not personally solicit donations, and all monies raised go directly to the religious organization. The solicitations will be made by the religious institution through mailed invitations to the congregation and through online voting/donations. While the votes as to the dancers are tallied to determine a winner, the contributions and identities of the persons contributing is not published and will be kept confidential. All thank you notes and follow-up contact will be generated by the president/executive director of the religious organization.
A full-time magistrate judge may participate as a dancer in a fund-raiser for a religious organization where the judge does not personally solicit donations or allow the organization to use the prestige of the judge’s office in fund-raising efforts.
A judge may serve as an officer, director, trustee or non-legal advisor of an organization or governmental agency devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administration of justice or of an educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, or civic organization not conducted for profit, subject to limitations and other requirements of the Code. Rule 501, SCACR, Canon 4.C(3). A judge, as an officer, director, trustee, or non-legal advisor, or as a member or otherwise, may assist such an organization in planning fund-raising and may participate in the management and investment of the organization’s funds, but shall not personally participate in the solicitation of funds or other fund-raising activities, except that a judge may solicit funds from other judges over whom the judge does not exercise supervisory or appellate authority. Canon 4.C(3)(b)(i).
In Opinion 3-2009, we addressed a similar question from a part-time judge, who, as here, was invited to participate as a dancer. In that matter the judge would only request donations from other judges over whom the judge had no supervisory or appellate authority. The Committee found that such participation was allowed since the judge’s solicitation for donations was limited as provided by the Canons.
Here, the inquiring judge would not solicit any donations himself or herself. The religious organization is responsible for the mailings and online donations. Thus, the judge may participate as a dancer. However, as we noted in Opinion 3-2009, the judge is cautioned to abide by all other provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Canon 1 requires a judge to maintain high standards of conduct in all of the judge's activities, and Canon 2 prohibits the misuse of the prestige of the office. Under these Canons a judge has a duty to be aware how his/her participation is being "advertised" in the mailings or the website established by the religious organization. Thus, the judge must ensure compliance with Canons 1 and 2 in order to act as a dancer.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
A decision from the Ohio Supreme Court is summarized by Chris Davey on the court's web page:
Gallia County Common Pleas Court Judge David Dean Evans has received a one-year stayed suspension from the Ohio Supreme Court for failing to disqualify himself from a case in which he had a conflict with defense counsel.
In a 5-2 per curium decision (not authored by any particular justice) announced today, the court rejected the sanction of a six-month stayed suspension that has been recommended by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline and instead imposed a full year stayed suspensions.
Robert W. Bright practiced before Judge Evans representing indigent criminal defendants for the Gallia County public-defender commission. In the case that resulted in this disciplinary complaint, Bright represented a defendant who had initially agreed to enter into a plea agreement but later changed his mind during the plea hearing before Judge Evans. Moments later, the defendant changed his mind again, and Judge Evans refused to accept the plea. Three days later, Judge Evans again refused to accept the plea agreement even though Bright and the county prosecutor jointly agreed to it.
Bright then filed an 18-page motion requesting that Judge Evans accept the plea agreement and stating that the judge’s refusal to do so was “an abuse of discretion” and “unreasonable and/or arbitrary and/or unconscionable.” Bright also criticized some of Judge Evans’s other courtroom practices.
Judge Evans issued an entry overruling Bright’s motion and removing Bright as counsel in the matter. The entry stated in part:
The Court finds that while Defense Counsel’s attitude toward the Court as expressed in the instant motion may not rise to the level of Professional Misconduct or to the level of being contemptuous, it certainly is not acceptable behavior. By such conduct he has created conflict with the Court whereby in this case or for that matter any other case in the future, when he does not agree with a decision or ruling by the Court, instead of being critical by accusation of being arbitrary, unreasonable, unconscionable or of abusing discretion, he simply may accuse the court of being bias [sic] or prejudice [sic] as it relates to him. The Court must not only avoid any impropriety, bias or prejudice but must avoid any appearance of such. The expressions and attitudes of Defense Counsel as exhibited and announced in the instant motion toward this Court compromises [sic] the Court’s ability to avoid any appearance of bias [or] prejudice, or to be fair and impartial as it relates to Defense Counsel regardless [of] how hard it tries or what strides it makes toward guaranteeing that there would be no bias, prejudice and that it would be fair and impartial.
Judge Evans subsequently filed entries removing Bright as appointed counsel in 63 other criminal cases—even though none of the defendants in any case had requested Bright’s removal as their counsel. The entry in each case stated that “Attorney Robert W. Bright is relieved of further obligation due to the conflict he has created with the Court” and “due to the Court’s inquiry to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Supreme Court of Ohio regarding Mr. Bright’s conduct.”
Judge Evans’s actions removed Bright’s entire caseload, and within a month of the judge’s entries, the Gallia County public defender terminated Bright’s employment, reasoning that it had “no other options,” since Bright could not practice in Judge Evans’s courtroom. Disciplinary counsel ultimately decided against filing any charges against Bright based on Judge Evans’s grievance.
The Ohio State Bar Association brought a complaint against Judge Evans. The parties submitted a consent-to-discipline agreement recommending that Judge Evans be publicly reprimanded. The Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline rejected the agreement and remanded the matter for further proceedings before a three-member panel of the board. On remand, the parties waived a hearing and submitted stipulations of fact and misconduct and jointly recommended a stayed six-month suspension. The panel, and later the board, adopted the parties’ stipulations and recommended sanction. No objections were filed before the Supreme Court.
All parties agreed that Judge Evans’s conduct violated Jud.Cond.R. 2.11 (requiring a judge to disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including circumstances in which a judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party’s counsel) and Gov.Bar R. V(11)(E) (requiring that all proceedings and documents relating to review and investigation of grievances be private).
In today’s decision, the court wrote: “Given the judge’s serious ethical violations and the significant harm caused by his misconduct, we impose a fully stayed one-year suspension … Accordingly, Judge David Dean Evans is hereby suspended from the practice of law in Ohio for one year, with the entire suspension stayed on the condition that he commit no misconduct during the suspension. If Judge Evans fails to meet this condition, the stay will be lifted and Judge Evans will serve the entire one-year suspension. Costs are taxed to Judge Evans.”
Joining in the majority were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill.
Justice Paul E. Pfeifer wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said that Judge Evans faces a particular set of challenges as a judge in a smaller jurisdiction that should be taken into account in setting the sanction in this case.
“When a judge in a large county has an irreconcilable conflict with an attorney, that attorney’s cases can be assigned to another judge. In smaller counties, especially those like Gallia County that have only one judge in the general division of the court, that simple resolution is not possible,” Justice Pfeifer wrote. “In the circumstances before us, it is more sensible for the attorney to give way than the judge. Judge Evans was elected by the people of Gallia County to serve as their sole judge; however highly skilled, attorney Bright is an at-will employee. Surely, when an irreconcilable conflict prevents them from working on cases, the elected judge should supersede the at-will employee.” Justice Pfeifer said he would impose the original sanction of a public reprimand that had been agreed to by the parties.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell indicated that he would impose the six-month stayed suspension that the parties agreed to after the case was remanded.
The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, November 18, 2013
An attorney who ran for a circuit court judge position has been charged with running a false advertisment by the Illinois Administrator:
Between 1980 and 1995, [the attorney's opponent] Judge Lopinot was a part-time public defender for the St. Clair County Public Defender's office, and he had no supervisory duties over other part-time or full-time defenders in that office.
The front side of Respondent's campaign mailer referred to a 1989 case in St. Clair County in which Rodney Woitdke ("Woidtke") had been convicted of murder. The mailer stated that Woidtke spent 12 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit, and it cited an opinion of the Illinois Appellate Court for 5th Judicial District in 2000 that reversed the denial of Woidtke's post-conviction petition and remanded for his case for a new trial, on the basis of a conflict of interest on the part Woidtke's trial counsel, then-Assistant Public Defender Brian Trentman ("Trentman"). Respondent's mailer then stated the following:
"Supervising Public Defender VINCENT J. LOPINOT and his Assistant, Brian Trentman ‘were NEGLIGENT in their 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 Public Defenders Office, Brian K. Trentman and Vincent Lopinot, No. 02-4223, May 2003) (sic)"
In the above-quoted text, Judge Lopinot's name was in a very large font and all capital letters, while Trentman's name was in a very small font and with only the first letters capitalized. See Exhibit One.
On the mailer, accompanying the above-quoted text, was a photograph of Judge Lopinot that bore the epigraph "NEGLIGENT" and was imposed over a larger photograph of a man whose wrists and mouth were bound with duct tape. See Exhibit One.
Respondent's representations that Judge Lopinot had supervised Trentman in the Woidtke case, and that Judge Lopinot was negligent in the case, were false. Judge Lopinot had no involvement in the Woidtke case in 1989.
Respondent knew that his representations that Judge Lopinot had supervised Trentman in the Woidtke case, and that Judge Lopinot was negligent in the case, were false, or he made the representations with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity.
Judgepedia reports that Judge Lopinet nonetheless prevailed. . (Mike Frisch)
Friday, November 15, 2013
The Ohio Supreme Court has remanded a disciplinary matter against a judge, rejecting an agreed-upon six-month suspension in favor of consideration of a more severe sanction.
ABC6 reported the charges
The Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court has now recommended Environmental Court Judge Harland Hale should be charged with misconduct.
The official complaint says Hale violated the Code of Judicial Conduct when he dismissed a speeding ticket for a lawyer who had been representing Judge Hale.
The complaint says lawyer Patrick Quinn got the ticket and asked the judge if he could be arraigned without appearing in court.
Hale is alleged to have taken the ticket, and the complaint says he “…dismissed Quinn’s ticket without any involvement from the prosecutor or Quinn”.
The complaint says Judge Hale wrote falsely that the Prosecutor dismissed the charge, and later had improper communication with the prosecutor.
A three Judge panel will be appointed to hear the case.
If they find Judge Hale guilty, the punishment ranges from a reprimand to disbarment.Judge Hale Faces Disciplinary Action
The Columbus Dispatch also reported on allegations against the judge, noting that the speeding ticket involved an attorney who represented the judge
On Jan. 18, one month after Hale dismissed the speeding ticket, Quinn was beside him as his attorney during a deposition in a lawsuit filed by the judge against his accusers, court records show. Quinn shares a law practice with Ric Brunner, Hale’s lead attorney for the civil cases.
The legal battle began in December 2010 when Brenda Williams, a former Spanish-language interpreter for the Municipal Court, filed a federal lawsuit saying that court officials covered up or failed to act on her complaints about Hale’s inappropriate behavior. Her lawsuit did not name Hale as a defendant, because he, along with a group of judges and the Municipal Court administrator, settled out of court.
In November, Hale filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court against Williams; her attorney, Michael Moore; and Lynn Hamilton, a Groveport resident who also had accused the judge of inappropriate behavior. He said that all three defamed him and that Williams and Moore had violated the settlement agreement by discussing the case.
Hamilton filed a federal lawsuit against Hale one week later, accusing him of making unwanted sexual advances after she appeared in his court on a drunken-driving charge.
All of the parties to the suits were in court-ordered mediation yesterday trying to resolve the disputes.
The process could be complicated by an allegation this week that Hale tried to influence a potential witness in Hamilton’s lawsuit.
Hamilton’s attorney, Toki Clark, filed a motion on Wednesday asking a federal judge to schedule a hearing on the matter and to consider sanctions against Hale.
The witness, Sandra Marcum, said in an affidavit that she had “a personal relationship” with Hale from May 2010 to the summer of 2011, after he asked for her phone number when she appeared in his court. She said he called her on April 16 after learning that she was a potential witness in Hamilton’s case and said, “Make sure to tell them we were just friends.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that Harland’s calls to me were to let me know what I should and should not say if I am called to testify,” Marcum said. “I am afraid that, if I am called as a witness and testify truthfully about what happened between us, I will be in danger.”
During a break in the mediation, Clark said she wants the federal judge to take action “to ensure that no other witnesses in this case are going to be intimidated.”
Hale would not comment on the allegation.
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has proposed the removal of an Albany County Surrogate's Court Judge for misconduct in office.
A press release noted that the judge had been publicly censured for giving "evasive and deceptive" and "misleading and obstructionist" testimony in a proceeding before the commission.
Here, the judge
[f]rom 2007 to 2011...failed to disqualify herself from, and took judicial actions 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 represented her in an earlier Commission proceeding that resulted in her censure in 2007.
The commission rejected the suggeastion that the matters were "ministerial" in nature and that her failure to disqualify was an appropriate exercise of discretion.
A dissent notes that the cases were non-adversarial in nature. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, November 7, 2013
A non-attorney town court (and former) village justice has resigned from office after hiring his daughter as the village clerk.
It turned out to be a bad hire.
WRGZ.com had the story of the ensuing criminal charges
A village judge in Genesee County was in court Monday, but this time he found himself on the wrong side of the law. Robert Alexander is accused of approving falsified time sheets turned in by the court clerk - who happened to be his daughter.
Alexander is currently a Pembroke Town Judge, but previously served on the bench in the village of Corfu. He stood before a judge today to be arraigned on fraud and misconduct charges stemming from charges against his daughter, Brandi Watts.
Watts served as the Village of Corfu court clerk and is accused of falsifying her time sheets to receive pay for hours she did not work. The charges against her stemmed from an audit of the Village of Corfu by the New York State Comptroller, which discovered that about $10,600 could not be accounted for.
Watts faces 53 counts including grand larceny. She was held briefly in connection with the charges after her arrest last week, but was released on $10,000 bail.
Alexander is charged with coercion and official misconduct and only faces misdemeanors. He was never held in connection with the charges.
The judge spoke with reporters after his court appearance Monday, but would not comment on the charges against him other than to insist that he wouldn't do something like this.
"I won't say anything about the case I'll only say that I love the people of Corfu, and that I would never do anything as a born again Christian and as a man serving them. I would never think of breaking the law in any way, shape, or form," Alexander said.
Both Alexander and Watts plead not guilty to the charges against them.
The judge will be unable to preside over cases, as the State's Commission on Judicial Conduct has ordered that all cases assigned to Town of Pembroke Justice Alexander be reassigned.
The order bars him from future judicial office.
The audit of the State Comptroller is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
A Tennessee judge charged with ethics violations for allegedly filing a bar complaint against an attorney in retaliation for the attorney's complaint against him has filed an answer denying misconduct and seeking dismissal.
In addition to procedural objections, the judge contends that "retaliation cannot be a basis for Formal Charges and the charges should be dismissed," that "the charges do not provide even a hint" as to the nature of the alleged misconduct and that the Board of Judicial Conduct had not acted promptly.
Further, the judge notes that the bar charges he filed against the attorney were dismissed even though he was never contacted and interviewed. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, October 31, 2013
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has opined that a judge may not be a member of SUNPAC, described in the opinion as a political action committee that promotes stong ties between the United States and Israel.
The committee split evenly on the question whether the judge may attend SUNPAC events:
The Committee is evenly divided in resolving the second inquiry. One half is of the opinion that, due to the SUNPAC’s stated political purpose, the judge would be prohibited from attending any of its functions. To do so would give the appearance that the judge is supporting SUNPAC’s political positions and candidates it endorses. Therefore, the judge would be lending the prestige of judicial office to SUNPAC’s political positions and candidates it endorses, in violation of Canons 2B and 7.
The other half is of the opinion that, although SUNPAC is a political organization, it is not a political party. Therefore, mere attendance at an event may be permissible under very limited circumstances. The judge could attend only if the event was not a political party function (Canon 7A(1)(d)), the judge does not pay a fee to attend (Canon 7A(1)(e)), the judge’s attendance cannot be construed to be a public endorsement of a candidate (Canon 7A(1)(b), and the judge does not actively engage in any political activity (Canon 7D).
Although we cannot prejudge a particular event, in making the determination of whether the event is appropriate to attend, the judge should take into account not only subject of the program but also the advocacy of the organization. The more zealous, and the more one-sided the advocacy of the organization, the more weight the judge should give that factor in deciding whether to attend or not. If an organization had historically taken a very consistent, unwavering position on a highly political issue, that would create the rebuttable presumption that an event they were sponsoring on that issue was not informative but instead was an exercise in advocacy. That presumption could be rebutted by advance publicity concerning the event, the bent of the speakers, the location of the event and the totality of circumstances surrounding the event.
The Illinois Review Board has proposed a suspension of six months of a former judge for misconduct in office:
The Administrator charged Respondent with misconduct arising out of Respondent's actions as an associate judge in Sangamon County in dismissing a traffic citation issued to the daughter of another judge by indicating on the court file that the State had filed a motion to dismiss the citation due to insufficient evidence when Respondent knew that that State had not done so. The Hearing Board found that Respondent engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation in violation of Rule 8.4(c) and in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 8.4(d) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010). The Hearing Board recommended that Respondent be suspended for a period of six months.
The Spring 2013 edition of the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics is now available at this link.
Monroe Freedman has again published with us -- an article entitled "The Unconstitutionality of Electing State Judges."
There are also fine pieces on advising the president by William R. Casto, the development of law firm marketing by Silvia Hodges, the "reason-giving" lawyer by Donald J. Kochan and the forgotten foundations of the attorney-client privilege by Norman W. Spaulding.
Thanks to the authors and editors for this contribution to the legal profession. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, October 25, 2013
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has filed formal charges against a child support magistrate who ordered that a child's name be changed from Messiah to Martin.
The reasoning for the change:
This court finds that it is not in the child's best interest to keep the first name, "Messiah". "Messiah" means Savior, Deliverer, the One who will restore God's Kingdom. "Messiah" is a title held only by Jesus Christ.
The magistrate reasserted this view in a television interview.
The formal complaint alleges multiple violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
A summary from Bret Crow on the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of Ohio today overturned a judicial campaign conduct violation against an Akron judge.
Earlier this year, a five-judge commission upheld a hearing panel’s finding that Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer violated Jud.Cond.R. 4.4(E). At the time of Stomer’s conduct, the rule prohibited a judicial candidate from participating in or receiving campaign contributions from a tiered judicial fundraising event. However, a rule change eliminating the prohibition became effective Jan. 1, 2013.
Judge Stormer’s opponent in the probate court race, Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Alison McCarty, brought the complaint based on a 2012 fund-raising event in which contributions were categorized and recognized by amounts.
The Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline certified the complaint on Oct. 23, 2012. A three-commissioner hearing panel of the board heard the case on Oct. 29, 2012 and filed its report and recommendation with the Supreme Court to find a violation and sanction Stormer on Nov. 5, 2012. The Supreme Court appointed a five-judge commission on Nov. 9, 2012, which filed its decision on Jan. 10, 2013. Stormer appealed the commission’s decision to the Supreme Court on Jan. 29, 2013.
The Supreme Court noted in its per curiam (not authored by one justice) opinion today that “it appears that Stormer is the only judicial candidate to be formally charged with a violation of former Jud.Cond.R. 4.4(E) in the 17 years that it was in effect. The commission’s finding that she violated the rule did not come until January 10, 2013 – ten days after the rule was abrogated.”
“In light of these unusual circumstances, the absence of any need to deter future conduct of this nature, whether committed by Stormer or any other judicial candidate, and Stomer’s exemplary record during her more than 30 years of legal practice, more than 20 of which have been spent on the bench, we conclude the no sanction is warranted,” the opinion concludes.
The court further concluded that Stormer did not “knowingly” violate the former rule and that not every violation warrants the imposition of discipline given the many factors at play in individual cases. The court also ordered the Office of Attorney Services to remove the violation from Stormer’s record.
The opinion is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Monday, October 21, 2013
A recent opinion from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee:
May a judge participate in a local cook-off competition being held at a Jamaican Jerk Festival which does not serve a fundraising purpose and the winners of which will receive a cash award and trophy?
The inquiring judge states is considering competing in a cook-off held during the 12th Annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival as a means of community outreach and levity. The cook-off affords chefs of all distinctions an opportunity to put their culinary skills to the test. The goal of the cook-off is to promote the flavors of Jamaica through the Culinary Arts, and to demonstrate the extraordinary talents and creativity of the participating individual. There is no indication from the inquiring judge that the cook-off serves a fund-raising purpose.
Because the contemplated cook-off does not appear to be a fundraiser and because participation in the cook-off would not appear to exploit the judge’s judicial position or involve the inquiring judge in frequent transactions or continuing business relationships with persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves, the inquiring judge would be permitted to participate in the cook-off competition. However, the judge is cautioned to investigate or verify that the event is not a fund-raiser. As has been previously opined by this committee, if the event is a fund-raiser and the judge’s participation will be advertised or be used in a manner that would lend the prestige of the office for the advancement of the private interests of others, the judge would not be allowed to participate. See JEAC Opinions 2012-36; 2011-14; and 2010-15. Canons 5C(3)(b)(iii) and 2B.
The committee would also like to take this opportunity to reiterate the well-reasoned commentary associated with Canon 5A which provides “[c]omplete separation of a judge from extra-judicial activities is neither possible nor wise; a judge should not become isolated from the community in which the judge lives.”
Information about the festival is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
A part time village court justice was admonished by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The justice had issued an arrest warrant, set bail and issued a protective order in a matter involving rape charges against a defendent (Mr. Justice).
He thereafter met with the victim and her family and was retained to pursue civil claims against the defendant arising from the same facts as the criminal charges.
The justice (acting as a provate lawyer) sent a demand letter to the home of a member of the defendant's family but there was no indication that a suit was ever filed.
Monday, October 7, 2013
The Tennessee Court of the Judiciary has filed charges against a judge of the Shelby County General Sessions Court.
The complaint notes that an attorney who practices in the county had filed a complaint against the judge, which is attached to the charges here.
The allegation is that the judge violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by filing a bar complaint against the attorney "in retaliation" for the complaint against him and, further, asking the Board of Professional Responsibility to investigate another attorney listed as a witness in the complaint against him.
The bar complaint filed by the judge was dismissed. (Mike Frisch)