Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Judging A Judge

In a matter involving allegations against a sitting judge, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered that the judge be publicly reprimanded, publicly admonished, deferred final discipline and probation

the Petition is hereby adopted and the Chief Justice is authorized to execute and to file the Petition in the Court on the Judiciary. 

The petition is linked here. 

The court's order in part

 Judge Coleman's admitted and unexcused violations of the Ethics Commission rules governing campaign financing and reporting are another matter. These rules protect the integrity of the election process. Compliance with these rules is a duty that every candidate, especially candidates for judicial office, owes to the people and electorate of this state. While Judge Coleman's efforts to rectify her delinquent reports is commendable, they do not relieve her of accountability and discipline for this serious violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. In order to deter Judge Coleman and future candidates for judicial office from failing to comply with Ethics Commission campaign rules, we hereby Reprimand Judge Coleman for this violation and will make this Reprimand public by publishing this opinion.

 Judge Coleman's neglect to pay over sixty parking tickets, and similar neglect to attend to various county, state and federal tax obligations for several years, reflect adversely upon her judicial service, because such neglect raises a reasonable concern that she may likewise neglect her judicial duties. While her belated payment of the parking tickets and recent efforts to rectify her tax delinquencies demonstrate a sense of responsibility to attend to important matters, this Court believes an Admonishment is warranted to impress upon Judge Coleman the imperative of timely addressing all personal legal obligations that arise during or reflect upon her judicial service. As in the case of the Reprimand for failure to timely file Ethics Commission reports, this Admonishment is made public by publication of this order.

The last issue this Court must address is the pending felony charge that arose from Judge Coleman's neglect of her state tax obligations. This Court finds that final discipline should be deferred until this charge is resolved. In the meantime, Judge Coleman is on Probation with conditions (1) to report monthly to the Council on Judicial Complaints concerning the status of the various tax delinquencies, (2) to complete at least five mentoring sessions pending final discipline with Retired Justice Daniel Boudreau, Retired Judge April Sellers White, or another experienced judge and (3) to comply with all local, state and federal laws, and the Code of Judicial Conduct. Failure to comply with these conditions for deferred final discipline can be the basis for additional discipline and the Council on Judicial Complaints is authorized to bring any breach of these conditions to this Court through the complaint process provided by the Rules Governing Complaints on Judicial Misconduct.


The disagreement on the relief

REIF, S.J., with whom COLBERT, J., joins, concurring in part and dissenting in part

I concur in the decision to file a petition invoking the jurisdiction of the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary. I believe a trial is necessary to resolve disputed allegations of judicial misconduct on the part of District Judge Kendra Coleman (Respondent). I write separately to emphasize that the allegations of judicial misconduct set forth in the petition are not accusations by this Court, but represent conclusions drawn by the Council on Judicial Complaints, following the Council's investigation of complaints against Respondent...

The first report dealt with Respondent's failure to timely fulfill personal duties regarding parking tickets, tax returns and campaign reporting, and events involving her conduct as a judge. She has not disputed her neglect of the personal obligations or the occurrence of the events involving her judicial conduct. She has, however, steadfastly maintained that none of these instances constitute a willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct or other legal grounds that warrant removal from office. A majority of this Court assumed the truth of the matters set forth in the report and found that Respondent's omissions and conduct did not rise to a ground for removal as a matter of law. The majority did find discipline was appropriate and reprimanded Respondent for failing to timely file campaign reports, admonished her to be diligent in fulfillment of personal obligations and placed her on probation pending resolution of a felony charge related to her failure to file a tax return. One of the conditions of this probation was that Respondent comply with the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The second report presents a wide ranging group of complaints of misconduct and alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. They range from the serious (alleged oppressive treatment of attorneys and parties) to the trivial (wearing a tee shirt to a judges meeting and rearranging chairs in her courtroom). Unlike the first report, assuming the truth of the matters set forth in the second report cannot alone lead to the appropriate disposition of the complaints therein. In her response, Respondent has sufficiently raised a question of whether the Council's findings of fact and conclusions of law are the only outcomes that reasonable minds might reach from the record. In addition, Respondent disputes that many of the events transpired as related in the report. Moreover, the disputed issue of whether Respondent violated any provisions in the Code of Judicial Conduct must be independently determined before any decision can be made that Respondent violated her probation. If the Trial Division of the Court on the Judiciary were to find Respondent committed one or more violations of Code of Judicial Conduct as recounted in the second report, such a violation would terminate her probation and be relevant to the ultimate issue of removal. 

Finally, I dissent to recommending suspension pending trial of the complaints against Respondent. Proceedings for removal are penal in nature and predicated upon wrongdoing. Any judge or other elected office holder who is subject to removal proceedings should have the benefit of being presumed innocent and afforded every reasonable measure of due process prior to any sanction being imposed that interferes with performance of the duties of their office.

WINCHESTER, J., with whom KANE, J. and WISEMAN, S.J., join, dissenting:

The Council on Judicial Complaints thoroughly investigated the numerous allegations of misconduct against Judge Coleman, including a review of all evidence presented and the testimony from several witnesses. The Council found multiple violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct worthy of her removal from office. Pursuant to 20 O.S.2011, ยง 1658, the Council recommended her removal and referred the matter to this Court for further proceedings.

I would refer this matter to the Court on the Judiciary for trial, which is the appropriate next step given the extensive evidence of the appearance of impropriety. I will not minimize blatant misconduct. While the various alleged infractions might not necessitate removal from office when considered individually, accumulatively they indicate a clear pattern of disrespect for the judicial office. I dissent from the majority's decision today because I believe Judge Coleman's actions warrant a trial on the matter.

In her short time on the bench, a span of less than one year, Judge Coleman has been the subject of numerous reports. The Council heard from several witnesses and reviewed all the evidence submitted, determining that the multiple instances of misconduct required Judge Coleman's removal from office. The Council ultimately found that Judge Coleman lacked the judicial temperament requisite of a judge, was guilty of oppression in office, and failed to follow the law and appreciate the importance of a fair and impartial judiciary.

If found to be true, the accumulation and sheer numerosity of the allegations against her reflect a pattern of lack of integrity or respect for the law. The majority's decision shields Judge Coleman's actions from review by her peers and erodes the confidence of her fellow judges and the public in the judicial system's willingness to discipline its own members. Accordingly, I dissent.

Kane, J., with whom Wiseman, S.J. joins, dissenting:

The Council on Judicial Complaints ("the Council") has submitted a recommendation for the Supreme Court to file a Petition to convene the trial division of the Court on the Judiciary ("the Court on the Judiciary") regarding allegations against the respondent judge. A majority of this Court concludes that a more proper exercise of our discretion in this matter would be to divert the subject of the proceedings from the statutory and constitutional processes in place, and proceed, instead, with an ad hoc Order, tailored to the responding judge, based upon the alleged facts suggested in the Council's report, without the benefit of a trial.

While I believe that this Court does have the power to undertake relief in the nature proposed by the majority, I do not believe that this exercise of power has precedence, and I further do not believe that it is a wise or warranted exercise of our power under the facts presented in this case. I believe that a Petition, based upon the concerns expressed by the Council on Judicial Complaints' report, should have been prepared and presented to the Court on the Judiciary for a trial. I therefore dissent.

(Mike Frisch)


Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


Post a comment