Thursday, January 9, 2014

Personal Favors, Prayers in Chambers, Get Justice Censured

A Justice of the New York Supreme Court, Bronx County, has been censured by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The justice entered into an agreed statement of facts in response to a charge that "on numerous occasions [she] asked and/or caused her court staff to perform non-work-related personal tasks for her and to participate in religious and secular activities associated with her religion or church."

The justice had her secretary and court attorney pick up her daughter from school, had her secretary take her to a hair salon three times and had several employees do personal errands and work for her.

The court attorney had to go with the justice to Home Depot "to help respondent purchase potting soil and plants for a function at respondent's church."

The court attorney then assisted in repotting the plants for the church (clearly no Brendan Sullivan here).

The justice also had court staff join her for prayer in chambers and participate in religious activities after business hours. (Mike Frisch)

January 9, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Deleterious Effects Of Alcohol

A village justice who is also an attorney has been censured by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct as a result of a driving under the influence offense that was exacerbated by his behavior when the police arrived.

The justice rear-ended a vehicle that was properly stopped at a traffic light. As the commission noted, the other driver called 911 while the justice called a lawyer.

The conduct was related to a longstanding alcohol that the justice has now addressed through a treatment regime.

Respondent's unruly, self-destructive and at times suicidal behavior at the time of the incident was instigated by the deleterious efects of alcohol, which significantly impaired his clarity and self-control. With the benefit of sobriety, respondent regrets that he did not behave in a manner consistent with the integrity and dignity required of all judges, on or off the bench, and that he was burdensome and recalictant with the police officers.

To his benefit, he did not invoke his judicial office in the incident. (Mike Frisch)

January 9, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Answering For Messiah

The Tennessee Child Support Magistrate charged with ethics violations arising out of her sua sponte changing an infant's name from Messiah to Martin has filed an answer to the allegations.

The answer  substantially admits the factual averments with respect to the conduct and her religious motivation in the name-change but denies that the conduct subjects her to sanctions. (Mike Frisch)

January 7, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Art Of Judging

The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee welcomes the New Year with this opinion


Whether the inquiring judge may display art in  the judge's judicial chambers in connection with a program under which the  local government acquires art for the purpose of display in public buildings,  where the judge does not conduct hearings in the chambers, but in which the  judge regularly is visited  by other  judges, law clerks, interns, clerks, court staff, government officials, and  private guests.




The local government in a county in which the inquiring judge maintains  judicial chambers has a public, governmental art-in-public- places program  under which it acquires art for the purpose of display in public buildings.  Government officials advised the inquiring judge that they consider the judge's  chambers as qualifying for the program. While not an area open to the general  public, in that the inquiring judge does not conduct hearings there, the  judge's judicial chambers is a government office regularly visited by other  judges, law clerks, interns, clerks, court staff, government officials, and  private guests.

The local government appears as a  litigant in the court over which the inquiring judge presides. The inquiring  judge asks whether the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct "would prohibit or  disfavor art from this program being placed in [the judge's]  chambers." 


Under  the facts of this case noted above, the Committee does not perceive the judge’s  decision to permit the use of the judge’s chambers for the display of art  acquired by the local government for display in public buildings pursuant to  its art-in-public-places program as conduct which would require the judge’s  disqualification in cases involving the local government as a participant or  implicating the local government’s interests. That is, such conduct would not create  in reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances that a  reasonable inquiry would disclose, a perception that the judge's ability to preside  in such cases with integrity and impartiality is impaired.   Further  the Committee does not perceive the judge’s participation in this public, local  government program to be information that the parties or their lawyers might  consider relevant to the question of disqualification. Thus, disclosure would  not be required, even when the local government is a participant or interested in  a case before the judge.  

The  Committee finds no distinction between the placement of the art object(s) in  the judge’s chambers or in a courtroom in the courthouse in which the judge  sits. Neither is owned by the judge, and either may be subject to viewing by  members of the public under appropriate circumstances.

(Mike Frisch)

January 6, 2014 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Judges, God And Country

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.

(Mike Frisch)

December 24, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Judge In Contempt

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. had this report. (Mike Frisch)

December 23, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Choose Your Actions Wisely"

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]."

The message

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)

December 17, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Let Justice Be Coined

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.

The coin

...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.”  

The analysis

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.

(Mike Frisch)

December 11, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ticket To Remove

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)

December 10, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Dancing Magistrate

A recent ethics opinion from South Carolina:

  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.

(Mike Frisch)

November 20, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Judge Sanctioned For Conflicts With Appointed Counsel

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)

November 19, 2013 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)

November 18, 2013 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Six Months May Not Be Enough

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.

(Mike Frisch)

November 15, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

That's What Friends Aren't For

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)

November 15, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Family Issue in Corfu

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. 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 of the Commission on Judicial Conduct accepted the resignation is linked here. The stipulation may be found here.

The order bars him from future judicial office.

The audit of the State Comptroller is linked here. (Mike Frisch)

November 7, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Is Retaliation Misconduct?

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)

November 5, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Judge Cannot Join Political Action Committee

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.

(Mike Frisch)

October 31, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Judges Of Sangamon County

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.

(Mike Frisch)

October 31, 2013 in Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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)

October 31, 2013 in Current Affairs, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Magistrate Charged For Changing Name Of Messiah

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)

October 25, 2013 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)