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)
Friday, September 20, 2013
The New Jersey Supreme Court has held that a "judge's acting and comedy career is incompatible with the Code of Judicial Conduct and therefore [the judge] may not serve as a municipal court judge while continuing that career."
The judge goes by the stage name of Vince August and has played roles in a reality show called What Would You Do? Among the roles were are person engaging in racial profiling, a waiter who refused to serve to serve an interracial father and daughter, and a homophobic bar patron.
The court agreed with the opinion of the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities.
The judge has had a dual carrer as attorney and comedian. He "appeared regularly as a stand-up comedian at a noted comedy club in New York City." (Mike Frisch)
Sunday, September 15, 2013
The Indiana Law Blog has noted a complaint filed against a judge of Marion County who was elected to office in 2009.
The 53-page complaint filed by the Commission on Judicial Qualifications alleges that the judge delayed proceedings in multiple matters, to some extent caused by a policy of keeping files in chambers that made them hard to locate.
The judge allegedly created an enviroment of delay and dereliction of duties.
The judge allegedly expressed hostile feelings directed toward a revolving door of employees. The complaint states that the judge would choose "favorite" employee as a confidante who stayed in that favored position only so long as the employee maintained an attitude of sycophantic subservience.
Then, the favorite was in the same allegedly unpleasant boat as everyone else.
Further, the judge is alleged to created a hostile courtroom environment for attorneys, particularly some public defenders, who the judge allegedly "hated" and thought were "stupid."
Most seriously, the judge allegedly delayed the release on nine criminal defendants through administrative lapses. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, September 5, 2013
A town court justice (who is not an attorney) has been censured by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The justice had reduced a speeding ticket for the daughter of a member of the town board.
He then attended a town board executive session to discuss the board's decision to deny him a pay increase and rebuked the member:
I took care of a ticket for [your] daughter...this is the thanks I get.
Then, he stated, that by refusing a pay raise, the board had "shoved it up [his] ass."
The commission found these words "shocking" and "ill-considered."
A dissent would require a hearing to "evaluate the effect of these statements by respondent on the appearence of impropriety and whether the appearance should disqualify him from further serving as a judge." (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
A former Aiken County Magistrate has been publicly reprimanded by the South Carolina Supreme Court:
At the conclusion of a session of bond court, respondent kissed the clerk who had been working with him on the forehead. Respondent contends that the kiss was a gesture of appreciation for the clerk's hard work and that he in no way intended it to be an amorous gesture. However, respondent recognizes the clerk was offended by the gesture.
The magistrate resigned when the clerk complained to the Chief Magistrate. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, August 22, 2013
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has censured a New York City Civil Court judge who acted as a fiduciary in four matters for non-relatives while serving as a full-time judge.
The conduct took place from 2009 to 2012.
The judge also failed to disclose a foreclosure proceeding against him in a form that required such disclosure.
The commission's press release is linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline found interim suspension without pay appropriate for a traffic court judge under felony indictment.
The court distinguished a prior matter against another judge suspended with pay because the charges against the other judge involve allegations of significantly lesser involvement.
Here, the judge was Administrative Judge of the Traffic Court and not only is alleged to have failed to stop errant behavior of other judges but "as many as six of the overt acts charged in the Indictment to have been personally committed by [the judge]...while he was Administrative judge.
In the case of this Respondent the conduct alleged in the Indictment is inherently disdainful of the laws he was elected to enforce, contemptuous of the law in general, took place over and over again, and became a way of life. And the law became a laughing-stock.
The opinion notes that the judge owned the Fireside Tavern and that the charges alleg that he fixed tickets for "family, friends, Fireside Tavern customers, a former politician and a Philadelphia ward leader." (Mike Frisch)
A town court justice who adjudicated a speeding ticket against his nephew by marriage has been admonished by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct:
The record indicates that respondent's nephew by marriage appeared before him on two occasions with respect to the charge - initially to enter a not guilty plea, and later for sentencing. Seeing his relative, with whom he socialized several times a year, standing before him in a courtroom certainly should have reminded respondent - the defendant's uncle - of the clear conflict. In and of itself, the appearance of a judge's family member before the judge creates a serious apperance of impropriety, and under such circumstances the public can have no confidence in the judge's impartiality in the matter...Compounding the impropriety, the lenient disposition respondent imposed (reducing the Speeding charge to a parking violation and imposing a low fine) could reasonably give the impression that respondent's relative received favorable treatment, nothwithstanding that the prosecutor had recommended the reduction and notwithstanding respondent's assertion that his nephew's ticket was treated no differently than any similar ticket. Even the appearance of such favoritism is inconsistent with ethical standards and undermines public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
The justice is not an attorney. (Mike Frisch)