Monday, April 17, 2017
A staff report from the web page of the Ohio State Bar
The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct today issued advisory opinions on lawyer advertising and the representation of clients by a former magistrate. The opinions update and replace opinions previously issued by the Board under the former Code of Professional Responsibility and the former Code of Judicial Conduct.
In Advisory Opinion 2017-3, the Board provides guidance for lawyers who desire to use unsolicited emails as a form of advertising to attract new clients.
As a general rule, lawyers are not permitted to solicit clients through in-person contact, real-time electronic contact, or by live telephone. However, other forms of non-direct solicitation by lawyers are permissible. The Board advises that email is a form of an indirect communication that may be utilized by lawyers seeking new clients. When using email as a form of advertisement, the lawyer must abide by other conduct rules including avoiding misleading communications, not engaging in unwanted communications or harassment, and adding a disclaimer that the email is an “Advertisement Only.” The opinion also advises that a lawyer may use third-party services to send the emails, as long as the lawyer maintains responsibility for the actions of the service and the content of the emails. The opinion updates and withdraws former Adv.Op 2004-1.
In Advisory Opinion 2017-04, the Board considered the ability of a former magistrate, now practicing law, to represent a domestic relations client, post-decree, in a matter originally heard by the magistrate.
The Board advises that a former magistrate may not represent the client, unless all parties give informed consent, in writing, to the representation. If the former magistrate is not permitted to represent the client, no lawyer in the former magistrate’s firm may represent the client unless the former magistrate is timely and properly screened by the firm, receives no part of the fee, and written notice is provided to the parties and the court.
The Board also advises that under the Ohio Ethics Law, the former magistrate is prohibited for 12 months from representing a client in any matter the former magistrate personally participated before leaving public office. The opinion updates and withdraws former Adv. Op. 2005-5.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
The South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct blesses a magistrate's 911 service
A full-time magistrate is also a certified paramedic. For many years, the judge has worked part-time as a paramedic in a 911 setting in a county different than the one in which the judge presides. However, the judge plans to retire from the 911 service and instead work part time for a non-emergency service that would provide services to several counties, including the one in which the judge presides as magistrate. The job would entail transporting patients from hospital to hospital, home to doctor’s facilities, etc. These would be non-emergency patients who cannot utilize traditional means of transportation. Further, from time to time, the judge may be requested to cover a public event as first aid personnel. The judge does not believe that there will be any situations in which he would come into contact with law enforcement at said events. Furthermore, the events would fall under the jurisdiction of the municipal court, rather than the magistrate court. The judge inquires as to whether he may accept such part-time employment.
Good to go
We have addressed employment by full-time magistrate in previous opinions (See, e.g., 13-2005, 9-2014). The Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit part-time employment by a full-time magistrate. Canon 4D(3) permits a judge to serve as employee of a business entity “if that service does not conflict with the judge’s judicial duties[.]” Rule 501, SCACR. The commentary to that Canon states that a judge’s participation may be prohibited if “participation requires significant time away from judicial duties.” In addition, all of judge’s extra-judicial conduct must avoid activities that cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s ability to act impartially and the judge must avoid the appearance of impropriety. Canon 4; Canon 2.
Here, it does not appear that the accepting part-time employment with a non-emergency medical transport service would conflict with the Canons. However, the judge should regularly re-examine the judge’s activities with regards to employment to determine if it is proper to continue such affiliation.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
The Delaware Superior Court denied a criminal defendant's motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds here the trial judge had recused himself
Ms. Marvel moves for dismissal of the charges brought against her. On October 27, 2015, Ms. Marvel was arrested, and after she waived her right to a trial by jury, her case was scheduled for a bench trial. Within a week of when Ms. Marvel’s trial was to begin, an investigator from the Department of Justice contacted Ms. Marvel’s mother. The investigator asked Ms. Marvel’s mother whether she had worked for the courts and if she had ever worked for the trial judge. The Department of Justice conducted its investigation of Ms. Marvel’s mother without the knowledge of defense counsel.
The trial judge conducted an office conference on February 21, 2017, the day before the start of trial. During the course of that conference, the State informed the trial judge and defense counsel that
about a year and a half ago, November of 2015, when I started trying this case, I met with [defense counsel]. He did mention . . . your Honor had perhaps worked with the defendant’s mother in the past and your Honor had specifically requested as a favor that [defense counsel] take this case. We did contact the defendant’s mother and she indicated that she had worked in Chambers but not with your Honor directly.
When the State made this information known, both the trial judge and defense counsel indicated that they had no recollection of these circumstances. Defense counsel reiterated in his reply brief that he had no knowledge of such a conversation nor did he have knowledge of the trial judge asking him to take the case as the Office of Defense Services appointed him to represent Ms. Marvel. After learning that the Court did not have a concern about a potential conflict of interest, the State consented to a bench trial. Ms. Marvel’s defense counsel informed the Court that he did not see a conflict. After discussing the evidence that both parties intended to present during the trial, the trial judge consented to a bench trial.
The State called five witnesses at the trial. The judge then sent this email
[i]t has come to his attention that the defendant in this case is [a friend’s] daughter. I think this presents a problem with my going forward to the case. Moreover, I do not believe that the problem can disappear simply by having counsel ‘agree that we are satisfied that the Court will be completely impartial’ or any such thing. I am open to hearing any input anyone has on the subject. . . . Since counsel for the defendant first requested a bench trial, I’m a little surprised that this fact wasn’t made known to me before we started. Possibly it wasn’t known by him either. In any event, I certainly do not look at this as a fault of either the State or the Court. Hence, no issue of double jeopardy would come into play.
But after a teleconference, the judge concluded
[b]ecause of the belated understanding of the Court that Defendant Marvel is the daughter of a long time friend of the bench trial Judge, who is, in essence, the entire jury in this case, the continuation of the trial (presently approximately one-half completed) cannot go forward to verdict. To state the obvious, this is the equivalent of all twelve jurors, after the first day of testimony, reporting to the Court that they are friends with the defendant’s mother, but had been unaware of that association until the completion of the first day of trial. Upon application of the State, without comment by the defense, and in concordance with the belief of the Court, a MISTRIAL, not the result of any impropriety on the part of the State or the Court, must be declared.
under the circumstances of this case, the Court finds that the trial judge declared a mistrial out of manifest necessity. As there was manifest necessity, double jeopardy does not bar the State from retrying the charges against Ms. Marvel. This conclusion is not altered by whether defense counsel objected to the decision or not.19 Therefore, this Court does not decide whether the defense counsel’s actions prior to the declaration of a mistrial were sufficient to constitute an objection.
The Ohio Supreme Court has entered an order directing Judge Ralph Winkler to respond to a writ of prohibition
the Court ordered respondent Hamilton County Probate Judge Ralph Winkler to file a response by 10 a.m. Thursday, April 13, 2017, to a motion seeking to prevent him from taking further action in a case regarding former Ohio attorney Stanley Chesley and former Chesley clients seeking to enforce a judgment against him.
The court ruled last year in connection with efforts to enforce the Kentucky judgment in Ohio.
The Boone County, Kentucky, Circuit Court has entered a multimillion dollar judgment against former attorney Stanley M. Chesley. Denied relief from the judgment by the Kentucky courts, Chesley has turned to the courts of Ohio to thwart collection of the judgment and relitigate the case. And Chesley has found a receptive audience in the respondent, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman. In Chesley v. Ford, Hamilton C.P. No. A1500067, Judge Ruehlman has repeatedly acted to shield Chesley and his assets from creditors, despite a patent lack of jurisdiction.
Relator, Angela M. Ford, seeks a writ of prohibition to preclude Judge Ruehlman from continuing to exercise jurisdiction over the Hamilton County case. Chesley and his former law firm, as intervenors, oppose this request on the merits and also based on a claim of mootness. We grant a peremptory writ of prohibition and order Judge Ruehlman to vacate his orders. We deny Ford’s request for a writ of mandamus.
Friday, April 7, 2017
The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed findings of judicial misconduct against a former judge.
This is an original disciplinary proceeding against Honorable Timothy H. Henderson, former District Judge of the Eighteenth Judicial District, sitting in Sedgwick County (Respondent). This is a correlate case to a 2015 proceeding against the Respondent that resulted in a 90-day suspension imposed by this court. See In re Henderson, 301 Kan. 412, 343 P.3d 518 (2015). The present case involves Judicial Code charges that he was dishonest to the tribunal in responding to the violations in the earlier case.
In 2014, a panel of the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications (Commission) initiated an investigation of the Respondent under Docket No. 1197. Following an evidentiary hearing, a separate panel (Panel B) found that the Respondent had violated the Kansas Code of Judicial Conduct and recommended to this court that it discipline him by public censure. The panel specifically confirmed misconduct set out in three counts: a pattern of engaging in inappropriate, sexually themed discourse with members of the Sedgwick County District Attorney's office; exhibiting bias or prejudice against an attorney based on socio-political outlooks, as well as engaging in ex parte communications involving an impending legal action; and abusing the power of his office in communications regarding employment of his wife as a public school teacher. The facts are recited in detail in Henderson, 301 Kan. 412. After the Respondent filed no exceptions to the factual findings of the hearing panel, this court upheld those findings and imposed a 90-day suspension without pay. 301 Kan. at 427.
The court rejected his contention here that he cannot be sanctioned further since he is no longer a judge
The duty to protect the public from malfeasance by judges does not terminate the moment a judge steps down from office. A judge may not evade public responsibility and our jurisdiction based on the misconduct simply by stepping away from the bench when the misconduct is revealed. As the Alaska Supreme Court noted in Johnstone, the purpose of judicial discipline is the protection of the public...
The conduct of which the Respondent is accused, including lying to the hearing panel, took place while he was occupying a position of judicial authority. In his response to the findings of the hearing panel and even after he resigned from his office, the Respondent refused to acknowledge wrongdoing. It would be disrespectful both to the public and to the witnesses whose reputations he impugned if we were to abdicate our responsibility of judicial supervision by dismissing the complaint merely because the Respondent walked away from his responsibilities.
And it did not violate his rights to bring a fresh case
It would have been improper to include the new charges in the earlier proceeding. Because the charges arose out of the Respondent's testimony in that proceeding, the Commission could not have given him meaningful notice of the new charges.
Here, the Respondent's misconduct undermines the public's faith in the very judicial office he took a sworn oath to uphold. Because the Respondent is no longer serving as a judge, the sanctions of suspension or removal are not available.
We conclude the findings of the panel are supported by clear and convincing evidence.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that this opinion shall be published in the official Kansas Reports.
Video of the oral argument linked here. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
A motion to disqualify a Judge of Compensation Claims was improperly denied, according to a recent decision of the Florida First District Court of Appeal
The motion to disqualify was based on a comment allegedly made by the JCC after a lengthy video teleconference (VTC) hearing that was inadvertently picked up by the VTC equipment and overheard by Petitioners’ attorney. Specifically, the motion alleged that "[f]ollowing the dismissal of counsel and the party, the [JCC] turned in his chair, and spoke to an off camera staff member, saying ‘was I nice and sweet and patient to let the attorney talk on and on and on ad nauseam’?" The JCC summarily denied the motion as legally insufficient.
We agree with the JCC that the motion was legally insufficient. The comment attributed to the JCC did not specifically single out Petitioners’ attorney as the loquacious one, and even if it had, that would not establish an objectively reasonable basis for Petitioners to fear that the JCC was biased against them. See Letterese v. Brody, 985 So. 2d 597, 599 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008) (finding motion to disqualify based on judge’s comment that he had heard the parties’ arguments "ad nauseum" to be legally insufficient and explaining that although "[a] judge must not be unduly biased against a party or prejudge a matter , after hearing the evidence and arguments, a judge must be permitted to ‘judge’").
Notwithstanding the legally insufficiency of the motion, we are compelled to grant the petition because the response voluntarily filed on behalf of the JCC by the Office of Judge of Compensation Claims (OJCC) attempted to refute the alleged partiality of the JCC by asserting—without any record support—that JCC "did not interrupt or raise his voice to counsel" and that he "allowed both sides to fully make their arguments, resulting in what would normally be a 5 to 10 minute hearing lasting over an hour." This was improper because it effectively placed the JCC in an adversarial posture with Petitioners by impermissibly suggesting that the allegations in the motion to disqualify were an incomplete account of the factual circumstances bearing on the JCC’s impartiality.
Hat tip to sunEthics. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, March 30, 2017
The North Dakota Supreme Court suspended a judge for lack of diligence in a domestic case
Richard L. Hagar, judge of the district court for the North Central Judicial District, filed exceptions to the Judicial Conduct Commission's recommended findings that he violated provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct by failing to diligently and promptly decide judicial matters assigned to him and by failing to work with the presiding judge. He also objects to the Commission's recommended sanction. We conclude there is clear and convincing evidence Judge Hagar violated N.D. Code Jud. Conduct Rules 2.5 and 2.7. We order that Judge Hagar be suspended from his position as district court judge for three months without pay and that he be assessed $10,118.67 for the costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings.
He had previously been suspended for one month without pay for similar lapses.
On January 26, 2012, eight days after our issuance of the Hagar decision, Judge Hagar began presiding over a two-day divorce trial in the case of Block v. Block, Civil Case No. 51-10-C-02045. Because the parties had agreed to the divorce and to the division of marital property, the central remaining disputed issue in the case was the primary residential responsibility for the parties' two children. During the ensuing months, the plaintiff's attorney contacted district court personnel on several occasions to check the status of the decision. After three months had passed, the attorney sent correspondence to the court again asking about the status of the decision. Judge Hagar's court reporter responded that the judge anticipated the decision would be completed by May 23, 2012. After another four months passed without receiving a decision, the attorney on September 22, 2012, sent a letter to Judge Hagar inquiring about the status of the case and the need for a determination of the primary residential responsibility for the children and the necessity of placing the property settlement on the record. After receiving no response from Judge Hagar, the attorney on November 8, 2012, sent a letter to the presiding judge of the district informing him about the problems obtaining a decision in the Block case. Judge Hagar thereafter issued a decision, and a divorce judgment was entered on November 16, 2012, almost ten months after the trial.
Judge Hagar has been a district court judge for seven years and has been censured for similar conduct in the past. Although this proceeding involves an unreasonable delay in only one case as compared to the 12 delays involved in the prior disciplinary proceeding, it occurred in close proximity to Judge Hagar's censure. The record supports the Commission's finding that "there was detriment to the plaintiff [in Block] from the delay with regard to housing of the children and receipt of property." Judge Hagar's conduct has tarnished the integrity of and respect for the judiciary as evidenced by the refusal of the plaintiff in Block to consider appealing the decision because, according to her attorney, "by that point she was so absolutely, totally disgusted with the system." Judge Hagar offered no excuse for his failure to act diligently on the Block case.
Judge Hagar has shown remorse and a willingness to modify his conduct. However, contrary to Judge Hagar's written plan for meeting docket currency standards adopted in the prior disciplinary proceeding, the record indicates he did not adequately use Odyssey reports or his court staff to remedy the situation. Judge Hagar objects to imposition of a suspension as a sanction because of the "burden" it would impose on his colleagues and the citizens of the state. He offers no alternative recommendation. Judge Hagar cannot escape discipline merely because of its effect on the judicial system and his fellow judges.
This Court's disciplinary orders are not intended to be "'empty noise.'" Disciplinary Board v. Lucas, 2010 ND 187, ¶ 18, 789 N.W.2d 73 (quoting Disciplinary Board v. Larson, 512 N.W.2d 454, 455 (N.D. 1994)). The censure issued in the previous disciplinary proceeding did not deter Judge Hagar from repeating his improper conduct.
Did not see this one coming from the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinion Number: 2017-08
Date of Issue: March 15, 2017
1. May a judge serve as a “judge” for preliminary Miss America pageant competitions?
2. As a corollary inquiry, the inquiring judge seeks a determination whether the Canons prohibit participation at a pageant competition by showcasing a talent, such as singing.
ANSWER: The Canons do not prohibit the inquiring judge from participation at a pageant competition by showcasing a talent, such as singing, subject to the Code’s requirement that the judge act “at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
The inquiring judge seeks guidance as to whether the Code of Judicial Conduct would permit the inquiring judge to serve as a “judge” at preliminary Miss America pageant competitions. Miss America pageant competitions provide opportunities for young women to promote their voices in culture, politics, and the community. Miss America contestants working towards college or postgraduate degrees can earn scholarship awards to help further their education.
Miss America pageant competitions are sponsored by the Miss America Organization. According to its website, the Miss America Organization is the nation’s leading provider of scholarships for young women, awarding millions annually in cash awards and in-kind tuition waivers. The Miss America Organization is an IRC 501(c)4 non-profit organization. The Miss America Organization is comprised of fifty-two licensed organizations, including all fifty states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The inquiring judge would potentially serve as a “judge” in connection with state and local preliminary competitions by one or more of these licensed organizations. The adjudged winner of a pageant competition is awarded a scholarship and moves on to other pageant competitions.
The Miss America Foundation, Inc. is a registered IRC 501(c)(3) organization, which is a separate stand-alone foundation that supports the educational mission of the Miss America Organization of providing scholarship assistance to women, regardless of their background circumstances.
The participation of the inquiring as a “judge” in the pageant competition will not be advertised in advance of the competition, although a biography of the inquiring judge will be included in the competition program. The biography will note that the inquiring judge is a member of the judiciary. It is anticipated the program would include photograph of the judge appearing in a family photograph.
The activities of the inquiring judge would be limited to being an actual judge at the pageant, and no fundraising activities or membership solicitation would be involved in connection with service as a “judge” of pageant competitions. An admission fee will be charged to those who attend the pageant competition, which is used to offset the costs of the venue where the pageant competition is held.
A member of the Committee dissents from the advice provided herein.
Monday, March 27, 2017
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has censured a Supreme Court Justice who gave three interviews in one day about a mistried murder case.
Crimesider reported on the eventual dismissal of the charges brought against a former Cornell student accused of murdering his father.
Tan was charged in February after sheriff's deputies called to the family's home in an upscale neighborhood in Pittsford, a Rochester suburb, found his father dead from multiple shotgun wounds. The elder Tan owned an imaging technology company in nearby Canandaigua.
Prosecutors said Charles Tan killed his father because he was abusive to his wife. The younger man was enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, at the time of the slaying.
The judge's decision to dismiss the charges incensed Gargan and District Attorney Sandra Doorley. Gargan said Piampiano failed to look at the evidence presented during the trial. Doorley said her office is researching whether the decision can be appealed, she said.
During the trial, prosecutors said Charles Tan called a high school friend in early February and had him purchase a shotgun at a Wal-Mart in Cortland, near Ithaca. Authorities said Tan's mother, Qing "Jean" Tan called 911 on Feb. 9 to report that her son had shot her husband.
When deputies arrived, they discovered Jim Tan had been shot as he sat behind a desk in the second-floor office of the family home he also shared with his wife and their younger son. Charles Tan was arraigned on second-degree murder charges the next day.
The order tells the story of the judge's star turn.
...on or about October 8, 2015, at a time when he was a candidate for election to the Supreme Court, respondent gave three separate media interviews during which he made prohibited public comments about People v Charles J Tan, a pending murder case over which he was presiding in Monroe County Court.
...after [a] mistrial was declared, respondent was contacted by personnel from three media outlets: WHEC-TV, Channel 10, the NBC-affiliated television station in Rochester; WHAM-TV, Channel 13, the ABC-affiliated television station in Rochester; and the Democrat & Chronicle, a daily newspaper in Rochester. Respondent agreed to engage in one-on-one interviews about People v Tan in his chambers with reporters from each of the three media outlets.
On or about October 8, 2015, at approximately 4:00 PM, respondent met in his chambers with a reporter from WHEC-TV, Channel 10. The resulting interview was recorded and portions of it were broadcast on October 8, 2015, and subsequently available on the television station's website at http://www.whec.com.
On or about October 8, 2015, at approximately 4:30 PM, respondent met in his chambers with a reporter from WHAM-TV, Channel 13. The resulting interview was recorded and portions of it were broadcast on October 8, 2015, and subsequently available on the television station's website at http://13wham.com/.
On or about October 8, 2015, respondent met in his chambers with a reporter from the Democrat & Chronicle. The resulting interview was recorded and portions of it were posted on October 8, 2015, on the newspaper's website at http://www.democratandchronicle.com/. The audio portion of the interview was posted at the website https://soundcloud.com/democrat-and-chronicle/judge-james-piampianointerview-oct-8-2015.
And in court
On or about November 5, 2015, while presiding over a post-trial proceeding in People v Charles J Tan, during which respondent granted the defense motion for a trial order of dismissal, respondent, as set forth below, failed to be patient, dignified and courteous when he denied Monroe County Assistant District Attorney William T. Gargan's attempt to be heard and threatened to have Mr. Gargan arrested if he spoke.
MR. GARGAN: Judge, may I briefly speak?
RESPONDENT: No, you may not. If you speak I'm going to put you in handcuffs and put you in jail.
Although respondent's comments indicate that he was aware of the ethical prohibition (at one point he stated, "I'm not at liberty to discuss the prosecutor's remarks or this case in particular") and he was also aware that there would be further proceedings in the case, including a potential re-trial, he granted three one-on-one media interviews in which he proceeded to discuss the case at length. While he often responded to the reporters' questions about the Tan case with general statements about procedures and the legal system, he should have recognized that any statements he made in that context would be understood as pertaining to Tan and therefore were problematic. His statements, however, went well beyond general explanations of the law. He discussed legal issues in the case (including his denial of a request for an accomplice charge), and he provided a description of his interactions with the jury and his sense of the jury's deliberations. Especially troubling is his description of the defendant as a "sympathetic" figure. Even if viewed in the context of the reporter's question about the "possible impact" of the defendant's "supporters," his comment could convey an appearance that respondent viewed the defendant sympathetically, raising doubts about his impartiality and thus undermining public confidence in the impartial administration of justice. This is especially so since the case was still before him and since, a month later, he granted the defense motion for a trial order of dismissal. The fact that respondent made these statements in media interviews at a time when he was a candidate for election to Supreme Court raises a question as to whether his public comments were motivated by political concerns...
It was also improper for respondent, in a post-trial proceeding a month later, to threaten to have the prosecutor placed in handcuffs and put in jail when the attorney asked to speak as respondent was announcing his decision on the defense motion to dismiss. (The record indicates that respondent had previously afforded the prosecutor an opportunity to be heard on the motion.) By asking to speak, the prosecutor was simply doing his job, and even if respondent believed that the attorney was interrupting or speaking out of turn, his response was a substantial overreaction to the attorney's conduct...
In accepting the jointly recommended sanction, we note that respondent has admitted that his conduct was inconsistent with the ethical standards and has pledged to conduct himself in accordance with the Rules for the remainder of his tenure as a judge.
The commission's determination is linked here.
WHAM Rochester had a recent story on the appeal of the dismissal in the Tan case. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, March 23, 2017
A circuit court judge must adhere to an agreement to comply with treatment under the supervision of the Kentucky Lawyers Assistance Program ("KYLAP").
The judge was the subject of 13 charges of misconduct and submitted to an evaluation. He disclosed that he drank 2-3 vodkas, 3-4 times a week "alone."
He entered into an agreement in which he admitted ten violations and accepted a period of suspension followed by abstinence and monitoring by KYLAP.
He objected to the supervision and the sobriety requirement.
The Kentucky Supreme Court held him to his bargain, noting that the judge found the agreement "inconvenient and a detriment to the enjoyment of his time off the bench" but was nonetheless enforceable given the admitted misconduct.
The Lexington Herald Leader reported on the ethics case.
At the hearing Monday, Combs acknowledged he made harassing or contentious phone calls to city officials about several things, including a fine against his mother-in-law over a city ordinance, and that he used his official stationery to send city officials requests for information on nonjudicial matters.
Combs said he didn't recall calling city officials derogatory names such as "cokehead" and "dumbo," as the commission charged, but he said there was a good-faith basis for the charges.
He also admitted making improper calls to officers at the Pikeville Police Department, accusing them of making false arrests, hectoring them over people parking in the private lot of the church he attends, and calling police thieves and trash.
The conduct commission charged that in one case Combs told a police captain that the next officer who pulled Combs over would get a "bullet in the head."
Combs said he did not recall that remark or calling officers names, but again acknowledged there was a basis for the charge.
The longtime judge also acknowledged he presided over cases involving Equitable Production, an oil and gas exploration company, without disclosing in the court record that he had a business relationship with the company.
Combs is part owner of a company that leased drilling rights to Equitable. He allegedly made a belligerent call to Equitable at one point, accusing the company of shorting him on lease payments during a time the company had a case in his court, though he gave up that case.
Combs said that his tie to the company was well known and that he thought he had disclosed it properly.
Combs also acknowledged a charge that he improperly took part in political activity, including chastising people for supporting certain candidates.
He criticized city commission members before the 2014 election and expressed an interest in the outcome, but then he presided over a lawsuit challenging the election and disqualified a candidate, according to the charges.
The commission dismissed a charge that Combs posted improper comments on the gossip website Topix, and parts of two other charges were dismissed.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has censured a town court justice
The record before us demonstrates that in performing his judicial duties in several cases in 2010 and 2011, respondent overreached his judicial authority, misapprehended his role as a judge and failed to comply with well-established legal requirements. As respondent has acknowledged, he deserves to be disciplined for his behavior, which was inconsistent with ethical standards requiring every judge, inter alia, to be an exemplar of courtesy, to be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence in it, and to accord to every person with a legal interest in a proceeding the right to be heard according to law (Rules, §§100.3[B], 100.3[B][l], 100.3[B]). Although it appears that in many respects respondent's conduct was well-intentioned and that his errors of law were isolated and unintentional, it is not disputed that he disregarded his ethical obligations and abused the power of his office.
Most serious, we Respondent's remarks regarding Mr. Colbert's appearance, delivered at two believe, was respondent's misconduct in connection with the Colbert and Stuper matters.
Respondent's remarks at two separate court appearances five months apart, were improper and unfitting for a judge. At a time when the young defendant facing serious charges was appearing before the judge to report on his treatment and later for sentencing, respondent commented on Mr. Colbert's nose piercing and ear gauges, remarking, inter alia, "What's that thing in your nose? ... When I was a kid we used to do that to all the bulls on the farm"; "What is going on with your earlobes?"; "Aren't those bigger than the last time I saw you? ... Why would you do that?" Further, in sentencing Mr. Colbert to a conditional discharge on a plea to Driving While Intoxicated in satisfaction of multiple serious charges, respondent advised him, "Additional [sic] ... you don't increase the size of your earlobes for the next twelve months. Because if I do have to look at you again, I don't want to look at that." As the referee aptly stated, "That these comments were aimed at a twenty one year old young man struggling with a substance abuse problem only accentuates their inappropriateness."
The jusge stated that he was merely trying to "relax the atmosphere" of the court.
The second matter
In the arraignment of defendant Matthew Stuper on a Harassment charge, which occurred on the same date that respondent sentenced Mr. Colbert, the transcript of the proceeding indicates that respondent increased the bail from $3,500 to $5,000 with no explanation after Mr. Stuper indicated that he was prepared to post the initial amount, suggesting that respondent increased the amount simply because the defendant could post it.
A concurring opinion by Member Emery
The Commission's Determination fairly describes the mitigating factors which support the result we reach. One of them, however, deserves a bit more elucidation, in my view. The chronology of this case, though long delayed for reasons not in the record, has ironically aided this judge in his quest to remain on the bench. The events took place more than five years ago and the record before us does not reveal any similar misconduct before or, more importantly, since. Because we took so long to bring this case to conclusion, the judge plainly benefited from his, apparently, blemishless record. Ironically, the delay in this case supports the conclusion that Judge Clark has demonstrated that he can perform his duties properly and effectively and thus is not a threat to the public.
By noting this factor in this case, I do not want to imply that we should suspend our process so that a judge can demonstrate her fitness after misconduct has occurred. I do not think there was any intent to allow this case to meander for so long. It is indisputable that delays of this length are bad for the judge, the Commission and the public. It just so happens that in this case, notwithstanding that the charges pending against the judge must have weighed heavily on his mind, the lengthy delay and the judge's ability to function effectively during the pendency of his case worked to his benefit.
Friday, March 10, 2017
The Alaska Supreme Court has dismissed charges against an unnamed judge
Following a disciplinary sanction, a judge was not recommended for retention by the Alaska Judicial Council. Although the judge chose not to campaign, an independent group supported his retention and campaigned on his behalf. After the election the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct filed a disciplinary complaint against the judge and later imposed an informal private admonishment on the judge because he did not publicly address allegedly misleading statements made by the independent group. Because the statements clearly originated with the independent group rather than the judge, and the judge had no knowledge of one statement, the judge had no duty to publicly address any of the statements. Accordingly, we reverse the Commission’s admonishment and dismiss the Commission’s complaint against the judge.
The story after the judge declined to campaign
A close friend of the judge’s wife learned about the Council’s recommendation and decided to fund an independent campaign to support the judge’s retention. She was careful not to share her decision with the judge or his wife. A few weeks before the election she hired a local agent and told him “to put a face to the name and tell folks about [the judge]’s background and experience.” The agent registered an independent expenditure group called “Friends of [the Judge],” and his team produced mailers, billboards, social media advertisements, and a website for the campaign. The friend was the sole financial contributor, and the agent exercised nearly complete control over the campaign’s messaging.
The judge was kept ignorant of the independent campaign, and the judge had no control over the campaign’s activities. The friend stated that she “did not tell [ the judge or his wife] of [her] plans, did not involve them in any way in any of the campaign activities, did not solicit or seek their input, and did not request their review or approval of the plans or any materials.” Likewise, the agent said the judge had “no awareness or influence . . . . He didn’t approve anything that we put out there.” The agent did arrange to meet the judge in person and “snap a couple photographs” for the campaign, but the judge “seemed a little confused as to who [he] was.” The agent told the judge only that he was “a fan of [the judge] and [they had] mutual friends.”
Although the judge was aware that he had supporters, he was not aware that there was a campaign. The judge avoided campaigning himself but understood from his counsel that allowing an anonymous supporter to take his photograph would not be improper. He rejected all other requests, telling supporters who wanted to help that he was not involved in any campaigns.
Shortly after the election, the Commission initiated a complaint against the judge, alleging material misrepresentations in the items circulated by the campaign. The Commission later clarified that it was investigating the judge’s duty to correct the independent campaign’s alleged misrepresentations. The Commission focused its attention on three specific campaign items: a mailer, the website, and a social media advertisement...
The social media advertisement featured an image of the judge tied to a stake and surrounded by flames with the caption: “Witch Hunts are so 18th century.” The agent’s team had digitally altered the judge’s facial expression, added the stake and flames, and come up with the concept and text. The “witch hunt” image was used only online.
The court had the power to consider the merits
As a preliminary matter the Commission argues that we should not exercise our power of review over its informal private admonishments. The Commission makes three arguments: (1) the statute governing the Commission’s disciplinary authority does not contemplate our review of informal admonishments; (2)informal admonishments are an important tool that will be compromised if they are subject to our review; and (3) an informal admonishment is not a sanction and therefore not a formal action to be reviewed. We are not persuaded.
We agree with the judge’s argument that a judicial candidate’s awareness of an independent campaign is not, by itself, enough to impose a duty to monitor and address the campaign’s statements. Such a duty might force the candidate to wade into the fray, creating tension with the candidate’s obligation to “maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office.” Such a duty might also chill others’ protected speech in violation of the U.S. and Alaska Constitutions.
But we do not suggest that a judicial candidate’s failure to address a known third party misrepresentation would never violate a canon. There may be situations where a candidate must address an independent statement in order to uphold judicial integrity and independence, avoid impropriety, or maintain dignity...
This duty is “one of taking ‘reasonable precautions’ to avoid having ‘a negative effect on the confidence of the thinking public in the administration of justice.’ ”
The independent campaign produced a mailer and a website containing two prominent quotes. The Commission found that the quotes gave the false impression that another judge and the Commission endorsed the judge’s retention. Both the mailer and the website stated that they were “Paid for by Friends of [the Judge]” and that the communications were “not authorized, paid for or approved by the candidate.” As required by law, the disclaimer was placed so as to be “readily and easily discernible.”
We conclude that the judge had no duty to publicly address the quotes or these materials. We reject the Commission’s conclusion that the judge knowingly misrepresented facts in violation of Canon 5A(3)(d)(iii); the record contains no evidence suggesting that the judge had knowledge of the mailers before they were distributed, let alone involvement or control in the selection of the quotes.
As to the witch hunt imagery
The independent campaign also produced a social media advertisement featuring an image of the judge tied to a stake with the caption, “Witch Hunts are so 18th century.” The Commission stated that the image was “inappropriate to the dignity appropriate to judicial office.” The judge agrees that the image was “clearly inappropriate” and that the independent group should not have used the image. However, the judge maintains that he did not see the image until well after the election.
We conclude that the judge had no duty to publicly address the image. There is nothing in the record to contradict his claim that he had no knowledge of the advertisement until well after the election; therefore he could not have knowingly misrepresented facts in violation of Canon 5A(3)(d)(iii). We also see no appearance of impropriety; a reasonable person viewing the ad would not believe that the judge had authorized the image or was involved in its production merely because he was the image’s subject. And because the judge did not learn about the image until months after the election, he could not have taken any steps to avoid such an appearance and accordingly could not have violated Canon 2. The judge’s consent to be photographed did not give rise to a duty to seek out and monitor an independent campaign he could not legally control, let alone a duty to stop any independent group from publishing any image. The judge should not be admonished for his failure to publicly address a social media image which he had no duty to address and which he did not even know about until months after the election.
Complaint dismissed. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, March 9, 2017
From the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
Opinion Number: 2017-04
Date of Issue: March 7, 2017
1. May a judge allow law-related organizations and a private law firm to jointly host a free post-seminar reception at the judges’ courthouse?
2. May a judge accept food/drink provided by the organizations/law firm at such an event?
The inquiring judge has organized, for judges and attorneys, a free diversity training seminar which will take place at the judge’s courthouse. Continuing Legal Education and Continuing Judicial Education credit hours are expected to be awarded. The Circuit’s Chief Judge has approved this event and use of the courthouse, as well as approving informative fliers prepared by the inquiring judge which were distributed by the judge and fellow judges in their respective hearing rooms.
Three local law-related organizations and a local personal injury firm have contacted the judge and offered to jointly host a free post-seminar reception for all of the anticipated 200-400 seminar attendees. The organizations consist of a legal aid group, a women lawyers association, and an African-American lawyer association. Both of the latter two groups are open to all Florida attorneys. The judge has not solicited any of these groups or the firm to host the reception, and none of them have any special relationship with any of the judges (federal and state) who will be presenting at the seminar. Light food/drink items (possibly hors d’oeuvres and/or alcoholic beverages) may also be provided.
Diversity training is mandatory for judges; organization and participation in such a free program (as opposed to a fund-raising seminar) is permitted and indeed encouraged. Fla. Code Jud. Conduct, Canon 4B; see also Fla. JEAC Op. 87-3 (A judge may participate in a legal seminar which is sponsored by a private law firm); Fla. JEAC Op. 99-27 (A judge may attend, but not participate, in a bench/bar professionalism seminar when the event includes fund-raising).
Free courthouse seminars are commonplace. As to the use of the judge’s courthouse for this seminar, this Committee sees no impropriety as set forth in Canon 2B (“A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.”).
The judge is also inquiring about the appropriateness of accepting any food/drink provided by the hosts at the reception. Canon 5D(5) of the Code prohibits gifts that judges may receive, with several exceptions. One such exception permits a judge to accept a gift if the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge; and if its value exceeds $100.00, the judge reports it in the same manner as the judge reports compensation in Canon 6B. To the extent that any small food/drink items are consumed by the judge, a majority of this committee feel that such are inconsequential and do not constitute a gift.
Four of the twelve committee members believe that the food/drink provided by the hosts is a gift to the judge pursuant to Canon 5D which may be accepted (subject to the donor “not likely to come before the judge” restrictions set forth in the Canon), and must be reported if the aggregate value of the food/drink exceeds the $100.00 threshold. In Op. 99-3, the committee approved a judge’s former law firm sponsoring and paying for an investiture reception and related expenses, and opined that the total expenses should be reported as a gift. The majority in this committee, however, see a significant distinction between a judge’s personal investiture reception and a judge’s organization of a law-related seminar for purposes of determining what constitutes a gift.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
A judicial misconduct decision of the Wyoming Supreme Court
Judge Ruth Neely objects to the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics’ (Commission) recommendation that she be removed from her positions as municipal court judge and part-time circuit court magistrate because of her refusal to perform same-sex marriages in her judicial capacity as a part-time circuit court magistrate. We conclude, as have all the state judicial ethics commissions that have considered this question, that a judge who will perform marriages only for opposite-sex couples violates the Code of Judicial Conduct, and we hold that Judge Neely violated Rules 1.2, 2.2, and 2.3 of the Wyoming Code of Judicial Conduct. However, we do not accept the Commission’s recommendation for removal, and instead order public censure, with specific conditions.
The judge had sought guidance from the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee by asking
Without getting in too deeply here, homosexuality is a named sin in the Bible, as are drunkenness, thievery, lying, and the like. I can no more officiate at a same sex wedding than I can buy beer for the alcoholic or aid in another person’s deceit. I cannot knowingly be complicit in another’s sin. Does that mean I cannot be impartial on the bench when that homosexual or habitual liar or thief comes before me with a speeding ticket? Or the alcoholic appears before me for yet another charge of public intoxication? No. Firmly, no. I have been the municipal court judge for the Town of Pinedale for over 20 years; and there has not been one claim of bias or prejudice made by anyone who has come before me. Not the homosexual, not the alcoholic, not the liar, not the thief. Not one.
No answer was forthcoming.
The court majority
Our conclusion that Judge Neely’s expressed refusal to conduct same-sex marriages violates the Code of Judicial Conduct is in line with every other tribunal that has considered the question. The judges in In re Matter of: The Honorable Gary Tabor and In re Roy S. Moore, were disciplined for their conduct. Five state advisory commissions offered opinions, consistently stating that a judge may not perform judicial functions for some parties while declining to perform them for same-sex couples without violating the Code of Judicial Conduct: Supreme Court of Ohio, Board of Professional Conduct, Opinion 2015-1, Judicial Performance of Civil Marriages of Same-Sex Couples (August 7, 2015) (a judge may not decline to perform same-sex marriages, and may not decline to perform all marriages in order to avoid marrying same-sex couples); Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee, Opinion No. 15-1 (August 18, 2015) (judge may not decline to perform only same-sex marriages, but may decline performing all marriages); Arizona Supreme Court, Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, Revised Advisory Opinion 15-01, Judicial Obligation to Perform Same-Sex Marriages (March 9, 2015) (judge may not distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex couples); Nebraska Judicial Ethics Committee Opinion, Opinion 15-1 (June 29, 2015) (a judge who is willing to perform traditional marriage manifests bias or prejudice by refusing to perform same-sex marriage); Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania Newsletter, Impartiality in Solemnizing Marriages, by Elizabeth A. Flaherty, Deputy Counsel, Judicial Conduct Board (No. 3 Summer 2014) (judge who decides not to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples must opt out of officiating at all wedding ceremonies). Only in Mississippi Comm’n on Judicial Performance v. Wilkerson, 876 So.2d 1006, 1016 (Miss. 2004), did the tribunal find that a judge’s comments disparaging gays and lesbians did not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct. But there, only the judge’s speech as a private citizen was at issue; not his conduct as a judge, and there was no issue of performing marriages. See Boland, 975 So.2d at 892 (distinguishing Wilkerson on basis that judge in Boland made remarks while acting in her judicial capacity).
Weighing these factors, we find that Judge Neely’s misconduct warrants a public censure. We further find that Judge Neely must perform her judicial functions, including performing marriages, with impartiality. She must either commit to performing marriages regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation, or cease performing all marriage ceremonies. This does not mean, as the dissent suggests, that no judge can now turn down any request to perform a marriage. What it means is that no judge can turn down a request to perform a marriage for reasons that undermine the integrity of the judiciary by demonstrating a lack of independence and impartiality. This is no different than allowing parties to exercise the right to peremptory challenges of jurors for any reason, while prohibiting them from challenging jurors on the basis of race or gender...
We decline to remove Judge Neely from her position as a municipal court judge; such a punishment would “unnecessarily circumscribe protected expression,” and we are mindful of our goal to narrowly tailor the remedy.
Justice Kautz dissented
This case is of the utmost importance to the State of Wyoming. It is a case confronting new and challenging issues, where the parts of the legal landscape recently changed dramatically and rapidly.16 Contrary to the position asserted by the majority opinion, this case is about religious beliefs and same sex marriage. The issues considered here determine whether there is a religious test for who may serve as a judge in Wyoming. They consider whether a judge may be precluded from one of the functions of office not for her actions, but for her statements about her religious views. The issues determine whether there is room in Wyoming for judges with various religious beliefs. The issues here decide whether Wyoming’s constitutional provisions about freedom of religion and equality of every person can coexist. And, this case determines whether there are job requirements on judges beyond what the legislature has specified...
There is no cause for discipline in this case, nor for concern if Judge Neely is not disciplined or precluded from performing marriages. Same sex couples have full access to marriage, all persons before the courts can be certain of an unbiased and impartial judiciary, and religious individuals can remain in public office even if they hold a traditional religious view of marriage. Judicial positions are filled without either side insisting on a religious test for who may serve. There is room enough in Wyoming for both sides to live according to their respective views of sex, marriage and religion.
I respectfully dissent, and would find that Judge Neely did not violate the Wyoming Code of Judicial Conduct.
Justice Davis joined the dissent.
The judge had sought summary judgment in the judicial misconduct proceeding.
The motion explains comments made to a reporter that had led to the action
On Friday, December 5, 2014, Judge Neely was attempting to hang Christmas lights outside her home. Frustrated with the project, she came inside to untangle a hopelessly intertwined strand of lights. Judge Neely checked her cell phone and saw that she missed a call from an unknown number. She almost immediately returned the call, as is her habit because unknown numbers are often from people attempting to reach her about official town work.
Upon dialing the unknown number, Judge Neely reached Ned Donovan. She identified herself, and Mr. Donovan informed her that he was the person who had called her. He told Judge Neely that he was a reporter for the Pinedale Roundup and asked if she was excited to be able to start performing same-sex marriages. Judge Neely, distracted at the time, struggling to remove her bulky winter clothing and holding an armload of Christmas lights, did not immediately recall Judge Haws's earlier guidance to refrain from commenting on the matter. She reflexively and truthfully answered Mr. Donovan's question, telling him that her religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman precludes her from officiating at same-sex weddings. Mr. Donovan then proceeded to ask Judge Neely more about her personal views regarding marriage. During the remainder of that call, Judge Neely told Mr. Donovan that other government officials in town were willing to perform same-sex marriages, that she had never been asked to perform one, and that she had never denied anyone anything. (citations to record omitted)
Friday, March 3, 2017
Among the allegations are harassment of a court clerk that persisted in the face of warnings from judicial officers
In 2012, Judge Hladio demonstrated sulking, vindictive behavior toward N.B. when she refused to go out with him or answer his questions about her personal life.
After learning of N.B.'s relationship with another man, Judge Hladio acted in an angry, retaliatory manner toward N.B.
By his 2010 through April 2014 conduct of persistently inviting N.B. on dates, inquiring about her personal life and showing up at her home uninvited/ despite her rejection of his unwelcome advances and warnings from the President Judge and Court Administration to stop such behavior, Judge Hladio failed to ensure adherence to and compliance with the UJS Policy and failed to ensure that N.B. was treated in a dignified, civil, respectful and non-discriminatory manner.
He disparaged her even after her reassignment and he had turned his attention to other victims from staff, counsel, defendants and the police.
In sum, a jerk to all regardless of status.
On February 24, 2016, Judge Hladio told J.T., a clerk at his district court, that N.B. is not doing her job and cannot follow directions.
On May 6, 2015, Judge Hladio sat at the bench of his courtroom and spoke with L.D.( a court clerk ( criticizing her job performance while a disruptive criminal defendant waited for 40 minutes in the reception area with police officers in attendance.
On May 6, 2015, Judge Hladio told L.D that he was not satisfied with her job performance because she does not make him "number one."
Judge Hladio has repeatedly told L.D. that her first priority is to make him and his needs "number one," and that she is not complying with that directive.
On May 6, 2015, Judge Hladio continued to speak with L.D., criticizing the job performance of Office Manager N.B. while a disruptive criminal defendant waited for 40 minutes in the reception area with police officers in attendance.
On May 6, 2015, Judge Hladio told L.D. that he was displeased with the work performance of J.T., another court clerk, while a disruptive criminal defendant waited for 40 minutes in the reception area with police officers in attendance.
A female prosecutor had the temerity to get the judge reversed on appeal
Judge Hladio's demeanor and attitude toward ADA Elias changed dramatically after she prevailed on appeal from Judge Hladio's ruling in Commonwealth v. Moore.
Judge Hladio openly exhibits anger and dislike for ADA Elias when she appears before him in Central Court...
Judge Hladio routinely puts ADA Elias's cases at the end of the day when he presides in Central Court which causes police officers, witnesses and other attorneys to experience long delays pertaining to their cases.
That is a sampling of the complaint that concludes with this contention
Based upon his numerous meetings with President Judge McBride and Court Administration from 2011-2016, Judge Hladio knew that his court clerks had filed complaints with Court Administration about his conduct in district court.
Based on the January 30, 2015 Board Notice of FIJII Investigation (NOFI), the June 23, 2016 Supplemental NOFI, and the March 10, 2015 and October 26, 2016 Board depositions, Judge Hladio knew that his court clerks had cooperated with the Board's investigation of his conduct.
By his December 1, 2014 through 2016 conduct of refusing to speak to N.B. at times, speaking to her in a sarcastic manner at other times, and ignoring her questions about work related matters, Judge Hladio did retaliate, directly or indirectly, against a person known or suspected to have assisted or cooperated with an investigation of a magisterial district judge.
By his December 1, 2014 through 2016 conduct of yelling, acting in an angry manner, and demonstrating sulking and vindictive behavior toward his court clerks, including N.B., Judge Hladio did retaliate, directly or indirectly, against a person known or suspected to have assisted or cooperated with an investigation of a magisterial district judge.
By his December 1, 2014 through 2016 conduct of criticizing the work performance of N.B. when speaking with other court clerks, Judge Hladio did retaliate, directly or indirectly, against a person known or suspected to have assisted or cooperated with an investigation of a magisterial district judge.
By his December 1, 2014 through 2016 conduct of holding back bills that require his approval from N.B., and thereby interfering with her ability to timely perform her job duties, Judge Hladio did retaliate, directly or indirectly, against a person known or suspected to have assisted or cooperated with an investigation of a magisterial district judge.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
The Florida Supreme Court has suspended a judge for misconduct as an attorney
This matter is before the Court for review of the determination of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) that Circuit Judge Andrew J. Decker, III, has violated certain Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct before his judicial campaign and the Code of Judicial Conduct during his judicial campaign. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 12, Fla. Const. We conclude that, with limited exceptions, the JQC Hearing Panel’s findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence. For the violations in this case, the Hearing Panel recommended a ninety-day suspension, public reprimand, and payment of costs of the proceedings. Article V, section 12(c)(1) of the Florida Constitution provides that this Court "may accept, reject, or modify in whole or in part the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the commission." We modify in part the sanction recommended by the Hearing Panel and impose the following discipline on Judge Decker: a six-month suspension, public reprimand, and payment of costs of the proceedings.
Judge Decker’s misconduct unquestionably warrants the imposition of a serious sanction. In addition to campaign violations, then-attorney Decker (1) violated the Rules of Professional Conduct in failing to advise opposing counsel in the Wells Fargo litigation that he was currently representing the presiding judge in other litigation; (2) violated numerous Rules of Professional Conduct concerning conflict of interest in common representation, including failing to counsel and advise the three clients of the risks and advantages of common representation, failing to withdraw when conflicts were apparent, engaging in representation of one client to the detriment of other current or former clients, reminding opposing counsel in the TD Bank case that even though Judge Bryan was in bankruptcy court, TD Bank could still pursue its claims against Dukes and Woodington; and (3) violated the Rules of Professional Conduct requiring candor to the tribunal by incorrectly stating the status of his representation of Dukes, Woodington, and BWD trust on filings made with the bankruptcy court in Judge Bryan’s case.
When it became apparent numerous times that there was conflict among then-attorney Decker’s clients, then-attorney Decker should have immediately withdrawn from all representation. His inability to understand the serious conflict that existed, and to recognize that conflict when it became apparent on more than one occasion, demonstrates a critical lack of care concerning his clients.
In addition, there were other serious violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, including then-attorney Decker’s failure to advise opposing counsel in the Wells Fargo case that then-attorney Decker had undertaken representation of Judge Bryan, the presiding judge in the Wells Fargo case. All the violations established by the evidence in this case demonstrate a pattern of poor judgment, and lack of concern for jointly represented clients and for other counsel and their clients. Judge Decker violated numerous Rules of Professional Conduct and Canons of Judicial Conduct, as well as a state statute, and has "exhibited a pattern of behavior that evidences a lack of ethical judgment, along with a lack of understanding and concomitant contrition about the harm caused to his clients and to the public’s trust in the legal system," as the Hearing Panel found. The Hearing Panel was also concerned, as are we, by the fact that Judge Decker was reprimanded by The Florida Bar in the past. This prior discipline, along with the numerous violations proven in this case, demonstrate that Judge Decker "evinces a lack of ability to identify situations that lead to the appearance of impropriety."
However, no evidence suggests that any of Judge Decker’s misconduct in the practice of law caused significant harm to a client or another party. Significant harm is, of course, not necessary to establish an ethical violation. But the absence of such harm is a relevant consideration in determining the appropriate sanction to be imposed. Similarly, simple errors should be treated less severely than willful misrepresentations. So Judge Decker’s culpability for bankruptcy court filings containing misstatements is certainly diminished by the fact that the misstatements were inadvertent.
A concurring opinion would find that a charge of unauthorized communication that the court majority rejected had been proven. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
In a matter involving allegations of misconduct against a sitting judge, the Maryland Court of Appeals directed that the Commission on Judicial Disabilities file the record of proceedings leading to a reprimand for the court's limited review
The Commission has the power to reprimand a judge, which it had exercised in the matter.
In this case, we must decide – initially – whether there is any mechanism for this Court to review the fundamental fairness of a proceeding conducted by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities (“Commission”) when the Commission disciplines a judge in the sole manner in which the Constitution authorizes it to do without referring the matter to this Court. We hold that there is such a mechanism – the common law writ of mandamus. Our review in this particular case awaits the provision by the Commission of the record of its proceedings.
The judicial complaint involved a judge-lawyer interaction in a civil case that had led to the judge's recusal.
The judge stated
[B]ecause I am incredulous, because I am in disbelief, because I find myself incapable of believing virtually anything that Mr. Jones has just told me, I’m in the unfamiliar territory of finding that I must recuse myself from any further proceedings in this case because I cannot believe anything that the Reverend Rickey Nelson Jones Esquire – I’m reading off the letterhead – tells me. I think that 99% of what Mr. Jones has told me about his conduct on behalf of his client is pure bullshit[.] So I’m forced to recuse myself and I can’t get past the idea that I cannot believe a darn thing that Mr. Jones tells me now. So I am compelled under … Rule 2.11 [of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct] to disqualify myself in any further proceedings in this case, because I now believe based on Mr. Jones’ conduct and representations in this case, in his discussion and exploration of who struck John in recent days about his request for accommodation, all without following the precise instructions and procedures in the Scheduling Order and the website and resources available to him, I find that I cannot be impartial. I am personally biased or prejudiced concerning Mr. Jones and his conduct. So, I’m going to recuse myself.
Notwithstanding her decision to recuse herself from the trial of the Joyner case, Judge White stated that she would preside over the October 31, 2014, hearing regarding the show cause order she had issued because, as she stated, it was her “responsibility to address it.”
Mr. Jones filed multiple complaints concerning Judge White with the Commission beginning on October 20, 2014. Following an investigation, and with the authorization of the Commission, Investigative Counsel filed charges dated March 31, 2016 against Judge White. Investigative Counsel alleged that Judge White had violated various provisions of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct. All of the charges concerned Judge White’s conduct during the three hearings in the Joyner case during 2014.
A hearing was held by the Commission and a reprimand imposed.
The judge sought review
The immediate question before us is whether there is any mechanism for us to review Commission proceedings when the Commission determines that a reprimand is the appropriate discipline – a form of discipline that the Constitution authorizes the Commission to impose on its own without referring the matter to us. We hold that there is no constitutional or statutory basis for this Court to exercise appellate jurisdiction to review the Commission’s proceedings. We do have original jurisdiction, however, to conduct a limited review, pursuant to a common law writ of mandamus, of Judge White’s claims that the Commission abused its discretion and deprived her of the procedural due process guaranteed by the State Constitution and Maryland Rules. In order to conduct that review, we direct the Commission to file the record of its proceedings with us. To the extent that Judge White asks for review of matters that preceded the filing of charges, she must submit a written waiver of confidentiality to the Commission.
The court held that an accused judge is entitled to due process but
Our review under a writ of mandamus, however, is limited. The Constitution and our rules provide for the Commission to issue a reprimand without approval or review by this Court. The Commission’s decision to issue a public reprimand is properly classified as a non-ministerial discretionary act that is dependent upon the judgment of the Commission members. Once the Commission has provided an accused judge with the requisite due process, it is entrusted to the Commission’s discretion whether to dismiss the charges, reprimand the judge, or recommend other discipline to us. Thus, a writ of mandamus is not available to review a claim that the Commission erred in concluding that a judge committed sanctionable conduct or in its judgment to reprimand the judge as a result of that conclusion...
In order to carry out the review of Commission proceedings for which we have jurisdiction, we direct the Commission to file the record of the proceedings concerning its charges against Judge White, including that part of its record relating to the pre-charging period for which Judge White waives confidentiality. Once the record has been filed with the Court, the parties shall submit additional briefs and an appropriate record extract, according to a schedule set forth by future order of the Court. Such briefing shall be limited to the question of whether the Commission proceedings failed to comply with the Constitution and Maryland Rules and, if so, whether any such failure affected the fundamental fairness of the proceeding.
The charges filed against the judge are linked here.
The oral argument before the Court of Appeals is linked here.
The judge's alma mater Washington & Lee noted that she was named Maryland Judge of the Year in 2014. (Mike Frisch)
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
The Indiana Supreme Court has reprimanded a senior judge
In lieu of Respondent tendering a written response to the charges, the parties jointly tendered a “Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline” in which the parties have stipulated to the following facts. On the night of Saturday, October 1, 2016, a Porter County Sheriff’s Department deputy responded to 911 calls from two different individuals about a southbound vehicle periodically veering into northbound traffic on Indiana State Road 149 in Porter County. The deputy observed a vehicle matching the description provided by one of the 911 callers driving slowly on State Road 149 in the area of C.R. 550 North. After stopping Respondent’s vehicle and approaching Respondent, the deputy noticed an odor of alcohol on Respondent’s breath and person. Respondent’s speech was slurred, his eyes were watery, his manual dexterity was poor, and his balance was unsteady. He failed at least three field sobriety tests, and when he consented to a preliminary breath test, the result was .20 BAC. He then voluntarily gave a blood sample at Valparaiso Medical Center in Lake County.
He pled guilty to charges of operating while intoxicated
Respondent and the Commission agree that by being arrested and convicted for Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated, Respondent violated Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 1.1 requiring judges to comply with the law, and Rule 1.2 requiring judges to avoid impropriety and to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.
The parties cite no facts in aggravation. In mitigation, they agree that Respondent immediately self-reported his misconduct and voluntarily contacted the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP); that he is compliant with all JLAP requests; that he has been fully cooperative with the Commission throughout its investigation; and that he is remorseful for his conduct. They also agree that under the circumstances, the appropriate sanction is a public reprimand. The Court agrees with the parties.
Friday, February 17, 2017
The State of Montana was not liable based on a stipulated judgment between a judge and his harassed court reporter, according to a decision of the Montana Supreme Court.
The facts found by the District Court for purposes of this declaratory action are as follows. In 1991, Berdahl began working as a court reporter for the Sixteenth Judicial District Court, in Forsyth. In November 2012, George Huss was elected as a district court judge in the Sixteenth Judicial District. Huss oversaw Department Two of the District and Berdahl worked directly for Huss as his primary court reporter. In this capacity, Berdahl worked closely with Huss and often traveled with him to locations within the District for official court business.
In February 2014, Berdahl filed a sexual harassment complaint against Huss with the Montana Human Rights Bureau (HRB). Berdahl alleged that Huss, during work time, had made various declarations of romantic interest, love, and undying devotion to her, which Berdahl resisted. Berdahl stated that Huss bought her gifts, offered to make her dinner while his wife was out of town, and expressed his desire to kiss and hug her. Berdahl alleged that Huss retaliated against her in the workplace when she resisted his overtures. Berdahl’s detailed complaint set forth numerous further allegations about Huss’s behavior, some of which was delineated by the District Court.
The judge sought defense and indemnification by the State to no avail and
Berdahl and Huss mediated on September 3, 2014, and although they did not reach a settlement that day, they continued to negotiate and, on September 30, 2014, entered into a “Stipulation and Confession of Judgment Resulting from the State of Montana’s Refusal to Defend and Indemnify.” In this agreement, Huss confessed to judgment in Berdahl’s favor in the amount of $744,371. He assigned his rights against the State to Berdahl and agreed to “cooperate in jointly requesting entry of this Judgment by any tribunal having jurisdiction.” Berdahl agreed not to seek execution of the judgment against Huss.
Berdahl then sought payment from the State
We affirm the District Court’s determination that the State was not obligated to pay the stipulated judgment entered by Berdahl and Huss. Consequently, it is unnecessary to address the issue of whether Huss’s actions came within the course and scope of his employment. Finally, as the District Court correctly noted, Berdahl may pursue relief before the HRB, where the administrative proceeding on her complaint is currently stayed.
Friday, February 10, 2017
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals (reconstituted due to multiple recusals) has suspended a recently-elected judge for his false campaign flyer
Judge-Elect Callaghan approved a direct-mail flyer created by Mr. Heflin emblazoned with “photoshopped” photographs of President Obama and Judge Johnson, along with the caption “Barack Obama & Gary Johnson Party at the White House . . . .” President Obama is depicted holding what appears to be an alcoholic beverage and party streamers form the background of the photographs...
Distilled to its essence, the ultimate question presented to this Court is whether the flyer is “false” and therefore stripped of First Amendment protection, or, as Judge-Elect Callaghan insists, merely the juxtaposition of two attenuated occurrences— coal job losses in Nicholas County and Judge Johnson’s attendance at a federal seminar in Washington, which was “hyperbolized” as “partying” at the White House. We conclude that the “gist” of the subject flyer conveys that Judge Johnson “partied with Obama” at his personal invitation and is therefore simply too far afield from the truth to be considered protected, hyperbolic free speech; it is, in every sense, materially false. Judge Johnson attended a federally-required meeting and conference in furtherance of his service to the State, which meeting and conference was utterly devoid of any meaningful connection to or interaction with the President. Judge Johnson’s attendance at the meeting and conference is exaggerated, repurposed and mischaracterized to the point that it is rendered patently untrue. When viewed in its entirety as instructed by various courts, we have little difficulty finding that the subject flyer contains knowingly, materially false statements in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Rules of Professional Conduct.
We therefore conclude that the First Amendment does not serve to shield Judge-Elect Callaghan from discipline as a result of the subject flyer. We further conclude, as did the Board, that the subject flyer contains a knowingly false statement and that Judge-Elect Callaghan’s actions in approving and disseminating the flyer are therefore violative of Rule 4.1(A)(9), Rule 4.2(A)(1), Rule 4.2(A)(4) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Rule 8.2(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
Majority on sanction
With regard to his attempts at corrective measures and his level of regret, however, we find that although he removed the false assertions from his personal and campaign Facebook pages and ran radio advertisements ostensibly retracting the assertions contained in the flyer, the calculated and intentional timing of his mailings rendered it virtually impossible to engage in meaningful mitigation. As Judge Johnson testified, time constraints prevented him from taking meaningful action in response to the distribution of the flyer. Nicholas County’s only newspaper was a weekly paper, and the timing of the mailing prevented inclusion of any response or countermeasure in that paper. Thus, we find that the removal of the assertions from social media and the radio statements are entitled to limited weight in mitigation...
Judge-Elect Callaghan’s subsequent statements during his testimony continued to reveal a dismissive and cavalier attitude toward his behavior. He stated, “If I had to do it again, I probably would not approve the flier going out just because it’s not enjoyable - politics is not enjoyable in a lot of different ways, but when you cause outrage in somebody, that, I regret.” Moreover, his written response to the initial complaint disingenuously urges that “[s]ome members of the public may have been duly impressed by the fact that Judge Johnson was honored by the White House for the good works he had performed[.]” He further suggested that Judge Johnson could have “easily . . . boycotted this meeting, based upon his disagreement with President Obama’s policies, and he could have publicized such a boycott for political purposes.” In his testimony before the Board, Judge-Elect Callaghan minimized his conduct...
There is an opinion concurring in part by Judge Matish
The majority considers the recommendation of the Judicial Hearing Board of two concurrent one-year periods of suspension without pay to be too lenient, instead ordering two consecutive one-year suspensions without pay be imposed, plus a $15,000 fine, costs, and a public reprimand. While I concur with the majority’s reasoning as to the seriousness of this matter, I respectfully disagree as to the length of the suspension. The entire circumstance merits additional charges and punishment because, after reviewing the record presented and hearing oral argument, it is my opinion that the punishment is still not severe enough, because of the numerous violations that occurred with the so-called Obama flyer alone.
...the majority could have just as easily found violations for each untruthful statement of the so-called “Obama flyer,” which included: (1) the photoshopped pictures of President Obama and Judge Gary Johnson with the beer, since there was no party attended with President Obama where alcohol was served; (2) that Judge Johnson was not invited by the President; (3) that President Obama was not even present;( 4 ) that Judge Johnson did not go to the White House; and (5) none of this had anything to do with Judge Johnson defending jobs in Nicholas County. Each of these violations, having occurred in the so-called “Obama flyer” that was mailed to the voters and having been placed upon two separate Facebook posts, would amount to a multiplier of, at a minimum, three separate postings or publications, for a minimum of fifteen violations, in and of itself, justifying as much as a fifteen-year suspension.
...As a country, we have gone far astray from what is right and what is good. We have become the most connected nation with our cell phones, smart phones, tablets, computers, and social media, while simultaneously becoming the most disconnected nation because of our cell phones, smart phones, tablets, computers, and social media. In trying to one up the next guy at his expense, we fail to realize that we harm ourselves in the process. Once you hit “Send,” it is out there forever, and you cannot take it back.
As a judge or judicial candidate, you are expected to have a standard to live up to, not only in your personal life and how you conduct yourself on the bench, but how you run a campaign to secure the trust of the public in voting to elect you. It is disturbing to me that Judge-elect Callaghan admitted to reading the Code of Judicial Conduct when he decided to run. However, the Code of Judicial Conduct was later changed and adopted December 1, 2015, yet Judge-elect Callaghan, in his testimony, never admitted to stating specifically that he read the new Code of Judicial Conduct nor talked about any Code of Judicial Conduct to the media company he hired. Also, the media company admitted to not having talked with Judge-elect Callaghan about it either.
The falsity used by Judge-elect Callaghan in his campaign perpetrated a fraud upon the voters of Nicholas County, the 28th Judicial Circuit. By his own actions, he has shown that he is unfit to hold a judicial office, and, at the appropriate time, a new election should be held.
Judge-elect Callaghan may very well have won the election fair and square based upon other factors in Nicholas County, or the fact he pointed to in one of his other flyers that after a certain amount of time, things need changed, but instead he resorted to certain falsities, which definitely are not to be tolerated in a judicial election. We may now live in a world of “fake news” and “alternate facts,” but if we cannot trust, honor, and respect our Judges and Justices, who can we trust?
Since Judge-elect Callaghan was first an attorney running for a judicial office, I would give him a one-year suspension as an attorney, followed by a year for each violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, for a total suspension of four years. However, the possibility exists under the facts of this case that the suspension could be for much longer, as stated above. Therefore, I respectfully dissent as to the length of punishment, and would order Judge-elect Callaghan to serve four one-year consecutive periods of suspension from the bench, without pay, in addition to the fines and costs imposed by the majority.
MetroNews - the voice of West Virginia - has the story and the flyer. (Mike Frisch)