Friday, July 1, 2016

Joking About Domestic Violence Gets Judge Suspended

A Louisiana judge was suspended for a year without pay for misconduct that included on-the-bench comments that displayed a joking attitude to domestic violence victims

While presiding over Mr. Williams’s criminal case, Respondent made an inappropriate comment and displayed a joking, jovial attitude toward women who had been abused by men. After being told that Mr. Williams was charged with domestic abuse by strangulation, Respondent and Assistant District Attorney Ken Fabre took part in the following exchange:

The Court: That’s what it was? All right. Domestic abuse battery by strangulation. Is she alive? Yes indeed. Now the victims know exactly what to say. [Assistant District Attorney]: Exactly. The Court: It’s amazing. But, anyway, I digress.... (Emphasis added.)

In his post-hearing brief, Respondent states that he was “simply asking a question in order to better understand the law and to determine whether the charge was a felony and was also pointing out an anomaly, or internal inconsistencies, in the law of domestic battery...” In his judicial misconduct hearing, Respondent testified that he was genuinely confused about the meaning of strangulation in the context of domestic abuse.

In another case

While presiding over Mr. Braxton’s criminal case, Respondent made inappropriate comments and displayed a joking, jovial attitude toward women who had been abused by men.

There were similar comments in a second domestic violence case


 While presiding over Ms. Williams’ criminal case, Respondent made insensitive, discourteous, and injudicious comments, leading to outbursts of laughter. Ms. Williams was charged with, among other offenses, theft of goods from a Wal-Mart store. After Respondent was informed that Ms. Williams had confessed to taking Aveeno lotion, he asked her: “What’s wrong, you was ... What, your skin was ashy? [Laughter] You were ashy trying to get your skin right with some Aveeno?” The comments caused audible laughter in the courtroom. Respondent continued: “Come on ... What was it? ... What did you need that lotion for?

There were a number of similar incidents.

In his brief to the Commission and at his appearance before the Commission, Respondent apologized if his use of slang and facetious language and otherwise unnecessary comments “has either personally offended anyone or offended the dignity of the proceedings in his courtroom.” He explained it was never his intention to be disrespectful of women who are abused. In his brief to this court, Respondent offers his clear, unequivocal, unconditional, and heartfelt apology for his language and his use of slang. He states it was never his intent to offer a conditional apology and, if there has been any confusion in this regard by the use of the word “if,” blame should be placed on his counsel. 

The court noted the judge's prior discipline

After considering the Chaisson factors, some of which may be regarded as aggravating and some as mitigating, the Commission recommended Respondent be suspended without pay for one year. We, too, have considered those factors, and after reviewing the record agree that a one-year suspension without pay is appropriate in this case. We also accept the Commission’s recommendation that Respondent be ordered to reimburse and pay to the Commission $11,098.68 in hard costs.

Justice Weimer

consistency in sanctioning suggests that the one-year suspension imposed by the majority is overly punitive in nature and that a lesser sanction is warranted under the facts of this case, particularly since the charges in this case do not involve misconduct that occurred following the sanction imposed in the prior case of In re Free, 14-1828 (La. 12/9/14), 158 So.3d 771.5

Justice Clark also would impose a lesser sanction. (Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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