Thursday, October 20, 2022
The Kentucky Supreme Court has removed a judge from office for a host a violations including involvement in her son's criminal matters
Prior to her election in 2016, Judge Gordon was an attorney and served as a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) in Daviess County. She served as GAL for a child named Dalton since he was a young child, approximately a decade. After years of Dalton being moved around the state with no permanent home or family, Judge Gordon resigned as his GAL and she and her husband Sale adopted him in 2013, just after he turned eighteen. Dalton suffers from substance abuse and mental illness issues. He also has criminal history dating back to 2017.
Throughout 2021 and 2022, the Commission received a series of complaints alleging Judge Gordon engaged in numerous instances of judicial misconduct. Between 2017 and 2021, Judge Gordon inappropriately inserted herself into at least three of her son’s Daviess County criminal cases. Judge Gordon was the complaining witness or victim in each of those cases, placing her in the difficult position of concurrently being a parent, victim and judge in the same county in which Dalton’s criminal cases were adjudicated. Given the nature of the accusations, the Commission authorized a preliminary investigation pursuant to Kentucky Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 4.170(1). The Commission notified Judge Gordon of the allegations on July 6, 2021, and she responded with a twenty-seven page sworn statement.
An unusual directive
Judge Gordon took it upon herself to administer drug tests using her secretary, her case manager, and others to conduct such testing, creating conflict and calling her impartiality into question. The validity of the drug testing was questionable as urine tests were stored in chambers in a refrigerator Judge Gordon purchased and on occasion the samples left the courthouse with Judge Gordon’s staff overnight, compromising the chain of custody.
The court rejected her claim that her conduct was permissible under a victim's right provision
Although Judge Gordon argues that she was permitted to participate in the proceedings, she completely overlooks the fact that her ex parte communications were wholly inappropriate and, as a member of the judiciary, she should have known they were inappropriate. SCR 4.020, Canon 2, Rule 2.9(A). While Marsy’s Law gives victims the ability to speak at pleas and sentencing, it certainly does not give victims a direct line for ex parte communications with the presiding judge.
The court quoted the Judicial Conduct Commission
Judge Gordon’s conduct violating the Canons was not isolated but was a pattern of repeated conduct over an extended period of time and over her entire tenure as a judge and in a variety of ways. Her conduct violating the Canons was extensive and frequent and provided personal benefits to her and her adult son. The conduct occurred inside and outside the courtroom, and in her official capacity. . . . Based on the totality of the evidence presented, including acts admitted by Judge Gordon and conduct she cannot deny she engaged in, and based upon a reasonable and reasoned application of the Rules, it is clear that Judge Gordon lacks fitness to continue on the Bench.
Based on Judge Gordon’s numerous violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, we hold that the sanction of removal was appropriate.
Tuesday, October 18, 2022
The Ohio Supreme Court has suspended a judge from office and the practice of law.
The judge had received attention for refusing to comply with court orders regarding the COVID pandemic
Respondent, Pinkey Suzanne Carr, of Cleveland, Ohio, Attorney Registration No. 0061377, was admitted to the practice of law in Ohio in 1993. Since January 2012, she has served as a judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. She previously served for 13 years as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County.
In a March 2021 amended complaint, relator, disciplinary counsel, charged Carr with five counts of judicial misconduct. Each count set forth numerous instances of misconduct that occurred over a period of two years and shared common elements that fall into one or more of the following categories: (1) issuing capias warrants and making false statements, (2) engaging in ex parte communications and improper plea bargaining and rendering arbitrary dispositions, (3) using capias warrants and bonds to improperly compel payment of fines and court costs, (4) exhibiting a lack of decorum and dignity in a judicial office, and (5) abusing contempt power and failing to recuse herself from contempt proceedings in which she had a conflict.
The parties entered into 583 stipulations of fact and misconduct that span 126 pages and submitted more than 350 stipulated exhibits. The hearing before a three-member panel of the Board of Professional Conduct was bifurcated to afford Carr additional time to develop mitigating evidence.
The panel accepted the parties’ stipulations of fact and misconduct and issued a 58-page report recounting limited—but representative—examples of Carr’s admitted misconduct. The panel found that Carr “ruled her courtroom in a reckless and cavalier manner, unconstrained by the law or the court’s rules, without any measure of probity or even common courtesy” and that she “conducted business in a manner befitting a game show host rather than a judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court.” The panel concluded that Carr’s actions “could not help but seriously compromise the integrity of the court in the eyes of the public and all who had business there.” After weighing the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors, the panel recommended that Carr be suspended from the practice of law for two years and that certain conditions be placed on her reinstatement to the profession. The board adopted the panel’s findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommended sanction. The board further recommended that, in accordance with Gov.Jud.R. III(7)(A), Carr be immediately suspended from judicial office without pay for the duration of her disciplinary suspension.
Carr raises three objections to the recommended sanction. She argues that the board applied the wrong legal standard and failed to accord proper mitigating effect to her mental-health disorders. She further contends that the circumstances here support the imposition of a two-year suspension with 18 months conditionally stayed.
We adopt the board’s findings of misconduct. For the reasons that follow, we overrule Carr’s objections, reject the two-year suspension recommended by the board, indefinitely suspend Carr from the practice of law, and immediately suspend her from judicial office without pay for the duration of her disciplinary suspension.
Improper use of warrants
Carr admitted at the disciplinary hearing that her use of capias warrants and incarceration as a means to compel the payment of fines and costs by tying the bond to the amount of the fine and costs essentially created a modern-day debtors’ prison. The board found that Carr eventually discontinued this approach to enforcing the payment of fines and costs and that she gave a “characteristically colorful explanation for doing so” in open court:
You notice I’m no longer the bill collector for the Clerk’s Office. I’m not your b-i-t-c-h. See, you get it? Collect your own money. There you go, player, mm-hmm. Collect your own money, player, mm-hmm. I’m not your b-i-t-c-h. Run tell that, mm-hmm. Mmhmm. How you like them apples? Suckas.
Despite the dress and decorum expectations for the general public, Carr presided over her courtroom wearing workout attire, including tank tops, t-shirts (some bearing images or slogans), above-the-knee spandex shorts, and sneakers.
During a series of proceedings in open court, Carr maintained a dialogue with her staff and defendants about the television series P-Valley, which is set in a Mississippi strip club. Carr routinely referred to one of her bailiffs, Alicia Gray, as “Ms. Puddin” (or some variation thereof) in open court, and she asked one defendant if he knew “Ms. Puddin from P-Valley.” She teased another bailiff about driving to P-Valley to “find him that little girl with the curly blonde hair.” And in another display of inappropriate humor, she announced from the bench in open court, “You know what my P-Valley, my name gonna be Passion. I got to go to that class though so I can learn how to climb that pole.
On multiple occasions, Carr joked that she would be amenable to some form of bribe in return for a lenient sentence. In open court, she engaged in dialogues with defendants about accepting kickbacks on fines and arranging “hookups” for herself and her staff for food and beverages, flooring, and storage facilities.
A misdemeanor assault case that blossomed into a contempt is described at length
During her disciplinary hearing, Carr admitted that charging A.B. with the first contempt for rolling her eyes in court and cursing in lockup was an abuse of her discretion. She further admitted that she had antagonized A.B. from the bench, acted in a rude and discourteous manner, and instigated the incident that led her to cite A.B. in contempt for the second time. Carr offered no real explanation for failing to recuse herself from the contempt cases.
On the facts presented here, we conclude that Carr’s refusal to comply with Judge Earley’s administrative order during the COVID-19 pandemic, improper ex parte communications, improper plea bargaining and issuance of arbitrary dispositions, improper use of capias warrants and bonds to compel the payment of fines, falsification of entries, failure to recuse herself from a case in which she became personally embroiled with a defendant, and lack of proper courtroom decorum—namely, her dress, her unkempt bench, her undignified and demeaning treatment of defendants, and her efforts to obtain free or discounted goods and services—warrant a greater sanction than the 18-month partially stayed suspensions that we imposed in Medley and Parker.
...Carr’s unprecedented misconduct involved more than 100 stipulated incidents that occurred over a period of approximately two years and encompassed repeated acts of dishonesty; the blatant and systematic disregard of due process, the law, court orders, and local rules; the disrespectful treatment of court staff and litigants; and the abuse of capias warrants and the court’s contempt power. That misconduct warrants an indefinite suspension from the practice. of law
The court rejected mental health issues as a basis for mitigation, noting that a character letter from a court employee opined that her depression was the result of the adverse publicity, rather than the cause of the misconduct. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, October 13, 2022
A decision of the Ohio Supreme Court is summarized by Dan Trevas
A Portsmouth judge was publicly reprimanded by the Supreme Court of Ohio today for independently investigating a juvenile court matter, failing to recuse himself from the case, and failing to perform the duties of judicial office fairly and impartially.
On Jan. 12, 2017, D.M., a father of five children, was arrested on a charge of corrupting a juvenile with drugs and held in the Scioto County Jail. At the time, D.M. had legal custody of his three oldest children. A grandfather also lived with them. Another relative had custody of the two youngest children. The children’s mother was incarcerated.
Childrens Services Agency Says Children Should Remain at Home
When D.M. was arrested, a caseworker for Scioto County Children Services Board (SCCSB) visited the home where D.M. lived and, as an alternative to removing the children from the home, made an in-home safety plan for the children.
The following day, a school resource officer contacted a staff member of Scioto County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Richard Lemons. The resource officer expressed concern for the well-being of the children. The member of the judge’s staff and a probation officer went to the home. The staff member reported the water was turned off, the toilet was overflowing with human waste, the floor was littered with dog feces, the refrigerator was not working, and the children had no beds. He reported his concerns to the judge and SCCSB, which sent a caseworker to the home. SCCSB did not remove the children from the home.
Judge Visits Children’s Home
The next day, Judge Lemons, accompanied by law enforcement officers, conducted his own investigation of D.M.’s residence. In addition to confirming what his staff member saw, the judge observed the grandfather had a wall heater with an open flame within a few feet of his oxygen tanks and a child was using the oven to warm himself, among other concerning conditions.
Judge Lemons returned to his chambers and issued an entry, “[u]pon the court’s own motion” and without a case number, finding that two of the children in D.M.’s home were in imminent danger and ordering SCCSB to place the children in its temporary custody and to investigate the matter. Court staff notified SCCSB of the emergency order but did not notify D.M. or the children’s mother, whose notification is required by statute.
Within the week, SCCSB filed a new complaint alleging all five of D.M.’s children were dependent because their parents were incarcerated, and no other relatives could care for them. SCCSB’s filing said the relative who had legal custody of the two youngest could no longer care for them. The agency asked for an ex parte order giving it custody of the children until the cases were resolved.
Judge Fails to Disclose Actions
Judge Lemons granted the order and presided over the probable cause hearing , where no evidence was presented about the conditions of the home. Both parents, though incarcerated, appeared for the hearing. Judge Lemons mentioned the conditions of the home but did not inform the parents he had been there.
Judge Lemons continued to preside over the hearings involving custody of the children in 2017 and 2019 and never informed the parties or their counsel he had personally visited their home, triggering the entire custody action.
During his disciplinary hearing, Judge Lemons said he investigated because he did not trust SCCSB’s judgment. He was upset with SCCSB for refusing to remove the children and wanted to “force [SCCSB] to do their job.” He explained that as the opioid epidemic worsened in Scioto County, he felt the agency was not investigating or filing enough cases and its inaction had the court flooded with calls from grandparents, schools, and hospitals asking the court to act. Judge Lemons said his frustration got the better of him.
Judge Violated Conduct Rules
The Board of Professional Conduct found Judge Lemons violated three rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct, including prohibiting a judge from independently investigating facts in a matter, rather than considering only the evidence presented, and requiring a judge to disqualify himself from any proceeding in which his impartiality might be reasonably questioned. And the board found Judge Lemons usurped SCCSB’s legal authority by disregarding its decision and conducting his own investigation, violating the rule against failing to apply the law and perform his duties fairly and impartially. The board concluded that no matter how well intentioned the judge was, he “could not be both the source of a private referral based on his knowledge and an impartial arbiter of the issues as a judge.”
The board found Judge Lemons engaged in multiple disciplinary offenses, which was an aggravating factor. However, Judge Lemons had a clean disciplinary record, lacked a dishonest or selfish motive, and cooperated with the board’s investigation, which were all mitigating factors.
In a 7-0 decision, the Supreme Court concluded that the judge’s good intentions do not excuse him from complying with the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, in a concurring opinion, wrote that she agreed with the public reprimand, which will remain a part of the judge’s disciplinary record. She wished to “go a step further and observe that his actions ultimately benefited D.M.’s children by removing them from a dangerous environment devoid of capable caregivers that left the children at risk of a tragedy occurring at any minute.” And the chief justice emphasized that, standing alone, Judge Lemons’s disciplinary record will not inform the public that Judge Lemons was not acting in self-interest but in the best interests of D.M.’s children.
The chief justice noted that the judge felt compelled to act only when others neglected their duty to the children, which was the responsibility of the children services board.
The SCCSB has since disbanded, and there is a new children’s services agency in Scioto County. Judge Lemons agreed to recuse himself from any remaining dependency cases involving D.M.’s children.
The Court ordered Judge Lemons to pay the costs of the disciplinary proceedings.
Tuesday, October 11, 2022
A censure has been imposed on a town court justice by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct on agreed facts
Charge I of the Complaint alleged that from September 2020 through July 2021, on his LinkedIn profile which identified him as a judge, respondent liked, shared and/or commented on publicly-visible LinkedIn posts that cast doubt on his ability to be impartial in matters involving law enforcement; related to partisan politics; commented on matters of public controversy; constituted public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in another court within the United States; and appeared to lend the prestige of his judicial office to advance a private fundraising appeal. Charge II of the Complaint alleged that from 2012 until April 2022, when he received the Complaint in this matter, respondent cast doubt on his ability to act impartially in matters involving law enforcement by serving as a “peer support member” of the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office’s Critical Incident Stress Management (“CISM”) Team.
The stipulation sets out his Back the Blue views.
In November 2021, respondent promptly removed the LinkedIn posts after receiving a letter from the Commission inquiring into the matters herein...
Respondent avers that during the time he liked, shared and/or commented upon the LinkedIn posts, he was inexperienced with LinkedIn’s privacy settings. He further avers that he did not, at the time, realize or consider how others could perceive his activities as casting doubt on his ability to be impartial as a judge. He now recognizes the appearance of impropriety created by his actions and regrets having ever participated in it.
Friday, October 7, 2022
An elected judge may not employ a spouse as the judicial assistant according to the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee
The inquiring judge’s judicial assistant position is vacant. The judge asks whether the Code of Judicial Conduct would allow the judge to hire the judge’s spouse as the judicial assistant.
That's a "no"
The inquiring judge maintains that since the Legislature did not include “judge” under the example of public officials covered under §112.3135(1)(c), the judge is not subject to the Statute’s prohibition. The inquirer feels Fla. JEAC Op. 15-09 wrongly assumed that a judge was covered by the Statute. The inquirer’s interpretation of the application of the Statute is not correct. It is clear that the above Statute applies to any “office, agency, or other establishment in the judicial branch.” § 112.3135(1)(a)(3), Florida Statutes. When the Florida Statutes refer to an “office or officer,” such reference “includes any person authorized by law to perform the duties of such office.” § 1.01(6), Florida Statutes (emphasis added). Additionally, Article V, § 8 of the Florida Constitution provides that “[n]o person shall be eligible for office of justice or judge of any court unless...” Therefore, a judge is unquestionably an officer of the judicial branch. As such judges qualify as “an officer ... in whom is vested the authority by law, rule, regulation ... to employ ...” § 112.3135(1)(c), Florida Statutes. Moreover, the Legislature’s choice to use the word “including” to list some of the “officers” to whom the definition of “public official” applies, does not mean that other persons or entities, like judges, would be excluded. “Generally, it is improper to apply expressio unius to a statute in which the Legislature used the word ‘include.’ [citations omitted]. This follows the conventional rule in Florida that the Legislature uses the word ‘including’ in a statute as a word of expansion, not one of limitation. [citations omitted].” White v. Mederi Caretenders Visiting Service of Southeast Florida, LLC, 226 So. 3d 774, 781 (Fla. 2017).
Lastly, independent of the above discussed statute, Canon 3C(4), Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, clearly prohibits the inquirer from employing the spouse as the judicial assistant. This Canon requires judges to “avoid nepotism and favoritism.” The commentary to Canon 3C(4) specifically lists “secretaries” as a type of appointee the judge should refrain from appointing or employing if nepotism would be involved. And to make it very clear that this Canon’s prohibition is analogous with the above statute, the Commentary to Canon 3C(4) alerts judges to “see also Florida Statute § 112.3135 (1991).” Therefore, judges are prohibited from employing or appointing any relatives and are subject to the prohibitions contained in Florida Statute § 112.3135 (1991).
Tuesday, October 4, 2022
The South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct blesses a Supreme Court Justice's limited participation in a church matter
The inquiring judge is a Supreme Court Justice who also is a member of a local church. The Justice is the chairperson of the church council, which is essentially an administrative board. The church’s Book of Discipline sets forth the duties of the church council and its chair. The Book of Discipline is also the authority for the governance of each local church, as well as national governance.
The church now faces a potential split over issues pertaining to the ordination of clergy who are practicing homosexuals and pertaining to clergy presiding over same-sex marriages inside or outside the walls of the church. The Book of Discipline currently prohibits these practices. If a local church disagrees with the foregoing prohibitions in the Book of Discipline, and if the local church wants to “disaffiliate” from the national church organization, there is a very involved process the local church must follow. There is a great degree of confusion among local churches in South Carolina and nationwide as to the ability of local churches to “disaffiliate” from the national church organization when a local church disagrees with the provisions of the Book of Discipline regarding the foregoing particulars.
The Justice believes that the responsibility of the chair of church council is not to take sides in the merits of the disputes between the members of the church who have competing views, but rather to educate the congregation (and the church council) about what the Book of Discipline says about the procedure of disaffiliation. In other words, the Justice intends to merely read and explain the procedure as set forth in the Book of Discipline. The Justice seeks an opinion as to the propriety of communicating with the congregation, without taking a position on the merits, as to what the Book of Discipline says about disaffiliation or whether the Justice should abstain from involvement in this issue.
That's a "yes"
A Supreme Court Justice serving as chairperson of a church council may inform other council members and inquiring church members about the procedure for disaffiliation from the national church organization.
Thursday, September 29, 2022
The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission has ordered the removal of a judge on multiple findings of misconduct
In the Commission’s view, maintaining the integrity of the judicial process requires that Respondent be removed. As set forth in this Decision and Recommendation, Respondent’s multiple and distinct acts of pervasive on-the-bench misconduct comprising the first five counts of the seven-count Second Amended Formal Complaint (“SAFC”) are each egregious in their own right. Respondent incorrectly and incompetently applied contempt law, abusing her power and, in the process, ordering thousands of dollars to be unjustly paid and jailing another who was later released by the Chief Judge of the 36th District Court after spending a night in jail and ultimately acquitted. (Count I.) Respondent developed the personal opinion that a particular process server (Myran Bell) was untrustworthy, so, in prejudice of the actual administration of justice, Respondent formulated a process of dismissing or adjourning each and every case brought before her in which Mr. Bell was the process server irrespective of the merits of the plaintiffs’ cases, even after Chief Judge Blount ordered Respondent to stop, at which time Respondent began using thinly veiled pretexts to continue her obstinance. (Count II.) Respondent’s routine tardiness, missed days of work, and poor job performance resulted in the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) stepping in with assistance from 36th District Court Chief Judge Blount and others to address the issues and make a performance plan for Respondent’s improvement, but Respondent defensively refused participation and instead attacked those assigned to help her with discourteous and unprofessional written threats and barbs, including biblical quotes insinuating that her colleagues and the administrators should or would go to Hell. (Count III.) Respondent further prejudiced the actual administration of justice by intentionally disabling the video equipment in her courtroom because she did not want those aforementioned colleagues or court administrators watching her, even though she had no court reporter, meaning that she knowingly conducted court proceedings with no official record and, in most cases, no record at all. (Count IV.) Respondent’s incredible “backup” plan was to unofficially record some (but not all) proceedings with her personal cell phone, which she improperly published on Facebook Live on at least one occasion. (Count V.)
These first five counts of the SAFC regard Respondent’s on-the-bench conduct, but there was more. When Respondent was not prejudicing the actual administration of justice or missing work or incorrectly applying the law or disrespecting her colleagues and administrators or conducting unrecorded proceedings, Respondent tried using her status as a judge while out in the public for improper personal gain, including to illegally park in a handicap loading and unloading zone at her gym (blocking the driver’s side door of a disabled person’s car who was legally parked in a handicapped spot), while also displaying a Detroit police “official business” placard (falsely) and showing her judge’s badge to the responding officer when the citizen whose car was blocked rightfully complained. (Count VI.)
And if all of this, as alleged and proven through the first six counts of the SAFC, was not bad enough, Respondent repeatedly lied under oath about her intentional disabling of her courtroom’s video equipment necessary for making official recordings of the proceedings in her courtroom and her motivations for doing so. (Count VII.) Besides these lies, the Commission learned during these proceedings that Respondent submitted a sworn but false affidavit of identity in support of her candidacy for reelection as a judge, which resulted in the Secretary of State being prohibited by statute from certifying Respondent’s name for inclusion on the general election ballot pursuant to MCL 168.558(4).
Hell is in fact a place in Michigan.
I know, having been to Hell and back. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, September 23, 2022
The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has proposed removal of a village court justice charged in a
Complaint [that] alleged that in late 2015 or early 2016, inside the Whitehall Village Court, respondent brandished a loaded semi-automatic handgun at Brandon Wood ("Wood"), a defendant whose criminal case respondent was scheduled to hear that day. The Complaint further alleged that in late 2015, respondent gave an informal interview to his cousin, a journalism student, in which he described his practice of carrying a concealed firearm while presiding on the bench and stated that he had brandished his handgun in court at a defendant; that at an October 2018 meeting of the Washington County Magistrates Association, respondent, while seeking advice, told other judges that he had once brandished his handgun in the courthouse at a person he described as a "large Black man" and in February 2019, respondent was counseled by his supervising judge about brandishing his gun in court.
This press release describes the matter
Commission Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian made the following statement.
“The courthouse is where threats or acts of gun violence are meant to be resolved, not generated. But for the fact that it happened in this case, it would otherwise be unfathomable for a judge to brandish a weapon in court, without provocation or justification. To then brag about it repeatedly with irrelevant racial remarks is utterly indefensible and inimical to the role of a judge.”
Monday, September 12, 2022
The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee generally approves a judge's co-authorship of a children's book about judging, sharing in any profits and promoting the book
The inquiring judge has co-authored a children’s book with an attorney who does not practice in Florida. The book is intended to educate its readers about the role of a judge and to inspire children to dream of becoming judges, regardless of race, gender, or ethnic background. The judge advises that (a) the book will be marketed to parents and the general public, and not directly to lawyers, (b) the book will identify the author only by name, that is, it will not mention that the author is a judge, (c) the judge will not market or give public readings of the book during business hours, (d) profits from sales of the book will not go to any organization, person, or other entity apart from the authors themselves, and (e) for every book sold on Amazon.com, one will be donated to a school, community center, or a child in need. The judge has read the several opinions by this Committee regarding judges who wish to become authors, but asks several questions not expressly addressed in those opinions.
The judge may not wear a judicial robe while promoting the book or comment on any pending matters. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, September 9, 2022
A censure has been imposed by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct of a non-lawyer Town Court Justice
Charge I of the Complaint alleged that on April 17, 2019, in connection with Romelus v. Kennedy, a small claims matter in the Catskill Village Court in which respondent’s wife was the named defendant, respondent lent the prestige of his judicial office to advance his and his wife’s private financial interests, in that he appeared in court and, although he is not a lawyer, acted as his wife’s advocate and asserted his judicial office during the proceeding.
Romelus had filed a small claim against the spouse in Respondent's court over payments on a pre-lease agreement; he recused himself from the matter.
The case was moved to the Catskills and he - not a lawyer - represented her
After respondent’s cross-examination of Mrs. Romelus, he continued to advocate for his wife by presenting her case and offering what he described as his own “testimony” about his wife’s interactions with the Romeluses, notwithstanding that he was neither present for nor a witness to all of those interactions. In describing the decision not to rent the property to the Romeluses, respondent claimed it was also his decision, stating, “At this point, we refused to deal with them and terminated the agreement with them.”
During the proceeding, respondent gratuitously asserted his judicial office by stating, “Your Honor, I’ll state that to the court that it’s no secret I’m a judge in another locality, and prior to that, I was a state trooper for 30 years.” Respondent further asserted his judicial status and cast irrelevant aspersions on Mr. Romelus, by stating that “he showed up at my court, and he threated [sic] my court clerk . . .” who “called for assistance from my other judge . . ..” Respondent thereafter made two references to “my court” during his narrative.
Respondent and his wife paid the $3,000 judgment on June 13, 2022, proof of which respondent provided and is annexed as Exhibit E to the Agreed Statement. Mrs. Romelus has confirmed receipt of the judgment.
As Henny Youngman famously remarked "Take my wife...please" (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
A reprimand has been imposed by the South Carolina Supreme Court for two instances of judicial misconduct
During the first incident, which occurred in September 2021, Respondent was presiding over a jury trial when defense counsel requested that a motion be heard outside the presence of the jury. Respondent agreed to hear the motion, and after the jury was escorted out, plaintiff's counsel and Respondent engaged in a heated exchange during which counsel challenged how Respondent knew of defense counsel's motion. Respondent scolded plaintiff's counsel for not listening and directed him to "get the f**king wax out of his ears." Judge then cleared his throat, apologized, and asked plaintiff's counsel to "take the wax out of his ears." At the conclusion of the hearing, Respondent again apologized for using profanity and immediately self-reported the misconduct to ODC.
The second incident occurred in November 2021 after the Greenwood County clerk staff notified Respondent late in the afternoon that he was assigned to preside over a jury trial the following morning at 9:30 a.m. Respondent subsequently
complained to the Chief Magistrate in a loud and agitated manner and yelled at the scheduling clerk for failing to provide him timely notice of the jury trial. After the Chief Magistrate intervened, Respondent returned to his office and subsequently apologized to both the scheduling clerk and the Chief Magistrate.
The court noted mitigation in significant pressing family health issues. (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Excessive judicial tardiness drew a reprimand and 90-day suspension without pay from the Georgia Supreme Court
Judge Gundy’s tardiness was described by several witnesses and confirmed by access-card records. These records showed that from September 1 through December 31, 2015, Judge Gundy arrived well after 9:00 a.m. for her 8:00 a.m. calendars on approximately 69 days, arriving after 10 a.m., when her second calendar was scheduled to begin, on approximately 62 of those days. Records showed that from January 1 through June 1, 2016, Judge Gundy arrived at the courthouse after 9:00 a.m. for her 8:00 a.m. calendars on approximately 80 days and, on approximately 57 of those days, did not arrive at the courthouse until after her second calendar was scheduled to begin. From July 10 to December 31, 2017, Judge Gundy arrived late on approximately 62 days, 33 days after 9:00 a.m. and four days after her 10:00 a.m. calendar was scheduled to begin. And from January 1 through February 22, 2018, Judge Gundy arrived late on approximately 18 days, five of those after 9:00 a.m.
More than just late
Much of the misconduct at issue here has gone unexplained by Judge Gundy. Although the agreement indicates that health issues explain Judge Gundy’s absences from the beginning of November 2016 through the end of April 2017, that does not necessarily explain all 40 of her absences in 2016 and leaves unexplained 33 absences in 2017 and 19 absences in less than the first seven months of 2018. Although the agreement suggests that Judge Gundy sometimes was late for her 8:00 a.m. calendars because lawyers asked to engage in negotiations before she took the bench, that does not explain why Judge Gundy on many occasions arrived at the courthouse after 9:00 a.m. or even 10:00 a.m., even when she had court. And the agreement is silent on Judge Gundy’s response to the counts based on the March 2017 incident that kept six defendants in jail days beyond when they should have been released, except to suggest that
she does not concede that events transpired as alleged by the JQC (although she agrees that the allegations could be proved). This last incident is particularly concerning to us.
While the court accepted the proposed sanction
Nevertheless, the Court now accepts the agreement with Judge Gundy approved by the Hearing Panel and filed with this Court on July 25, 2022. We do so with some hesitation; the allegations, all of which Judge Gundy either admits altogether or agrees that the JQC could prove, are serious, especially the refusal to follow the law — over objection by both the State and defendants — that led to six defendants each spending an unnecessary week in jail. But this case has been pending for over three years, both Judge Gundy and the people she serves deserve a resolution (which would be delayed even further if we reject this agreement), and a 90-day suspension is among the most serious sanctions we have ever imposed short of removal from office.
Friday, August 19, 2022
The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission recently received a Master's report in a matter involving multiple allegations including abuse of the contempt power.
Oral argument before the Commission is scheduled for September 12.
The Master sustained some but rejected many of the allegations.
After an eviction notice was posted prior to court action
the respondent court made the statements that “somebody’s going to pay” and expressed her general displeasure with the practice of prematurely posting notices on tenant’s doors that a writ had been issued. The respondent inquired as to who was the owner or other person in charge of the plaintiff’s company and was given the name of Joanne Eck.
Eck was ordered to pay $3,000 in punitive damages without explanation.
The Respondent levied an extra judicial sanction in this case because punitive damages are not authorized by court rule or statute. Additionally, any levy of monetary compensatory damages requires factual and legal justification and there was none. This was legal error on the part of a very new judge.
The more concerning behavior is threatening the plaintiffs with incarceration as an apparent means of controlling the courtroom when Ms. Sanders asked questions and requested an adjournment. This behavior rose to the level of violation of MCR 9.202(B)(2) and MCJC 3(A)(12), for a severe attitude toward witnesses, especially those who are excited or terrified by the unusual circumstances of a trial, all of which tended to prevent the proper presentation of the cause and the ascertainment of truth.
Respondent was removed from administrative responsibilities by the Chief Judge
Respondent sent several emails to [District Court] CJ Blount, Judge Paruck and Ms. Moore (36th District Court Administrator) beginning November 2, 2017, containing Biblical passages. The emails evidenced the time of transmission and origin of the transmission and were, therefore evidence of when the respondent reported to the building. Judges Blount and Paruck found them to be threatening and baffling. CJ Blount responded in writing that each communication was “unacceptable.”
The Master rejected these charges
The respondent, Judge Paruck and CJ Blount had high conflict relationships. The Petitioner argues that the series of emails containing Biblical passages, and emails including, “find someone else to harass “, prove judicial misconduct as charged. Sharp and conflicted communication is seldom effective, but these writings did not include direct threats nor from this record where they published so as to subject the judiciary to censure or reproach. They were internal communications regarding differences of opinion between court systems professional. Additionally, the petitioner has not demonstrated how the requirement that respondent uses her court email to report illness could have been met with the technology in play in 2018-2019. The petitioner’s proofs fail as to these issues.
There are also allegations and findings with respect to recording court proceedings
Finally, Respondent allegedly misused handicapped parking
The respondent committed an ordinance violation. She was slow to pay her ticket. However, these facts alone do not support a finding that she violated Canon 3B. If Canon 3B is applied to this case every parking ticket would be a per se violation of the Canon.
The respondent has continuously averted that her vehicle was legally parked at the LA Fitness in a loading and loading handicap zone. Clearly the zone was for active loading and unloading. At formal hearing she and her counsel took the position that so long as she had a device to load and unload and a handicap sticker she was legally parked. This is a statement of an opinion, albeit one contrary to law. It is not a statement of fact. She has not misrepresented that she was not actively loading. She has admitted her vehicle was parked.
The petitioner fails to prove that she made an intentional misrepresentation of fact as to her vehicle parking in the unloading zone.
Respondent had sued the Chief Judge in federal court
Plaintiff alleged that Defendant continued to interfere with her by, for example, removing her email access, not allowing her to use sick days, not allowing her to use the staff restroom, and not allowing certain bathroom fixtures in Plaintiff's chambers' restroom.
After reassignment from landlord/tenant to small claims court
After reassignment, Plaintiff asked Defendant for a courtroom closer to her chambers because she needed to be closer to her restroom. Id. Defendant denied the request, and later removed "Plaintiff from hearing all cases." Id.
In sum, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's motion to dismiss. The Court will grant the motion as it relates to the federal claims and deny the motion as it relates to the state law claim. The Court will, however, decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The 36th District Court's motion to dismiss is denied as moot. And finally, the Court will deny Defendant's requests for attorneys' fees.
Yes, it sounds like a "high conflict relationship." (Mike Frisch)
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
The Arkansas Supreme Court ordered sanctions of a judge
Judge Bourne has served as a district judge since 2001. Recently, several complaints have been filed against Judge Bourne involving his conduct toward unrepresented litigants. This conduct includes demeaning comments toward Spanish-speaking defendants and negative comments to defendants who are not from Pope County (Count 1). Other complaints concerned Judge Bourne’s failure to conduct proper indigency determinations and failure to keep adequate records (Count 2)
The conduct was conceded
We suspend Judge Don Bourne from the bench without pay for ninety days, with seventy-five of those days held in abeyance if he completes or adheres to the agreed remedial measures, including, but not limited to:
• Spend the two-week suspension attending and observing other district court judges and write reflective reports on each visit;
• Obtain and maintain a digital-audio recorder in his courtrooms prior to the end of his suspension and preserve audio recordings of court proceedings;
• Allow the Commission to monitor his courtroom and allow access to staff and documents as needed;
• Attend an approved online judicial-ethics class; and
• Read a report and complete online training about bullying and harassment in the legal profession.
Additionally, Judge Don Bourne shall never again hold a judicial office after his current term expires. This court notes that in addition to the public signal that a suspension without pay sends, the suspension also imposes a financial penalty of several thousands of dollars in lost pay. The suspension will begin on August 16, 2022. The mandate shall issue immediately. Expedited petition granted; order of suspension without pay imposed; mandate to issue immediately.
Thursday, August 4, 2022
The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission has recommended the removal of a judge for misconduct involving her abused grandsons and the investigation of the abuse
The totality of the evidence shows that Respondent was aware that her grandsons were being abused by her son, she covered it up, and she lied about knowing about it. Within two days after the boys were finally rescued in late June 2018, Respondent told the CPS investigator, Ms. Apple, that Respondent had not realized that “it” (meaning the abuse) was “this bad.” (Tr. pp 1305-1306.) Respondent’s statement to Ms. Apple revealed that Respondent knew her son was abusing her grandsons. Respondent now denies this. (Tr. p 2034.) She claims that, subjectively, she was referring only to civilized punishments her son imposed – banishing the boys to their rooms or prohibiting them from using their iPads. (Tr. pp. 20752076.) However, Respondent admits she did not say anything like that to Ms. Apple, (id. p. 2034/16-20), nor does she explain why she would regard such non-physical discipline as so “bad” in comparison to everything else she knew about. Again, her after-the-fact explanation is a thinly veiled attempt to escape a finding of misconduct in this proceeding.
The preponderance of evidence establishes that Respondent committed misconduct as alleged under Counts I and II of the Formal Complaint, as amended. That misconduct included multiple knowingly false statements under oath while she was a judge. The misconduct occurred before Respondent became a judge and continued after she became a judge. Brown observed that “[t]he most fundamental premise of the rule of law is that equivalent misconduct should be treated equivalently.” 461 Mich at 1292.
The precedent of the Michigan Supreme Court discussed above establishes that judges who lie under oath seeking to manipulate legal proceedings in their self-interested favor, which is exactly what Respondent did, must be removed.
Friday, July 29, 2022
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has suspended a judge for 30 days.
One set of allegations involved his public comments in opioid litigation where he took on the role of public advocate rather than impartial judge.
A second set involved his communications with a woman in an adoption matter which ranged from "flirtatious to sexual before, during and after" the proceeding.
He requested intimate photos and had sex with her in a hotel in Cookeville. He also requested she use an app that would automatically delete their communications.
He nonetheless did not recuse himself and entered an order granted the husband's adoption and had failed to respond to the notice of charges.
The order notes that he had been previously reprimanded for his social media communications with multiple women.
Ten News reported on the prior matter
Young presides in the 13th Judicial District, which includes Putnam and Cumberland counties. He often handles family matters.
An investigation by the board in August found Young sent inappropriate messages to various women from 2015 to this year. Besides sending flirtatious and even sexual messages, he sometimes asked for photographs, the investigation found.
Most of his communications on the social media platforms occurred while he used a photo showing him in his black judicial robes.
Among the women who got his messages were one whose firm has business in his court and an unnamed litigant who had a child custody case before him, the investigation found.
His activities at times put lawyers in awkward positions of having to seek counsel on whether they needed to disclose to their clients what they knew about Young, the board found.
In at least one case alluded to in the reprimand, board Chairman Dee David Gay noted that a party knew about the judge's activities and used it to their "strategic advantage."
Judges are supposed to act professionally and personally in a way that is above reproach. They're supposed to conduct themselves in a way that instills confidence by the public.
The board said Young's behavior failed to follow that standard of conduct.
Young cooperated with the investigation and admitted what he'd done, the Oct. 5 letter from Gay states. That worked in his favor.
Mercifully, his term of office expires on August 31, 2022. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, July 21, 2022
The Idaho Supreme Court had accepted the resignation pending charges of an attorney and former judge who pled guilty to a count of felony assault in the third degree with sexual motivation and a gross misdemeanor.
The offense occurred when he was a sitting judge.
He had been arrested at the county courthouse on suspicion of crimes committed against two female court employees.
The plea involved an admission that he "unlawfully and intentional assaulted" both of the employees for his sexual gratification. The misconduct "ranged from inappropriate sexual comments to unsolicited and non-consensual shoulder rubs."
The order provides that he may seek dissolution or amendment if the conviction no longer stands.
KLEW reported that the judge was sentenced in the very courtroom where he had presided. (Mike Frisch)
Thursday, July 7, 2022
A judge's handling of a difficult defendant drew a proposed 60 day suspension without pay and reprimand from the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission
As this Court has repeatedly instructed: Unprofessional conduct by a lawyer or litigant does not justify or excuse inappropriate conduct by a judge.
In this instance, the Court was admonishing the litigant to refrain from interrupting the petitioner. Judge Culver told the respondent that the Court's words were "the most important words you'll ever hear as long as you live as an organism on this planet." The Court followed that up by telling the pro-se respondent that if he continued to interrupt the petitioner, the judge would send him to jail for so long that the litigant would "have to have the jail re-named after [him]". The Commission finds that Judge Culver's decision to use sarcasm and mockery to communicate with the pro-se litigant was, itself, inappropriate and violative of the Code of Judicial Conduct. While Judge Culver explained that in making those comments he was trying to grab the litigant's attention, the Commission believes, and Judge Culver now agrees, that rather than de-escalate and restore order to the proceeding, the judge's sarcastic and undignified comments served to raise the level of tension in the courtroom.
Later during the hearing, when the Court does actually find the litigant in direct criminal contempt, Judge Culver failed to provide even the minimum of due process required to the respondent, by failing to conduct the legally required colloquy. He also failed to enter a signed judgment of guilt with the required findings as required by the Rules of Criminal Procedure, failed to advise the litigant of his right to appeal, and unlawfully imposed three consecutive contempt sentences totaling 537 days in jail. Shortly after imposing the sentences, Judge Culver modified the sentences to three concurrent contempt sentences totaling 179 days in jail. Subsequently, on May 12, 2022, Judge Culver vacated the contempt order, and set aside the three criminal contempt convictions and all related sentences.
The judge stipulated to the misconduct. (Mike Frisch)
Friday, June 24, 2022
The Ohio Supreme Court (C.J. O'Connor) denied an application of judicial disqualification in a divorce matter .
Ms. Ansbro alleges that Judge Leach’s actions in two prior cases demonstrate his disdain for her and female litigants. Regarding the first of those matters, she argues, the judge exhibited bias in several different ways, including by scheduling trial immediately after her return from parental leave, which required her to prepare for trial during her leave time, and by denying her and her female client’s requests to continue certain days of the trial due to family and medical issues. Ms. Ansbro further alleges that during one day of the trial, Judge Leach berated her regarding her presentation of certain evidence and demanded that she create a spreadsheet summarizing the evidence for him by the following day. Ms. Ansbro says that at the time, she was breastfeeding every two hours and that Judge Leach nonetheless denied her requests for additional time to create the summary for him. Regarding the second matter, Ms. Ansbro alleges that the judge attempted to proceed without the presence of an interpreter for a female litigant who did not speak English and that Judge Leach again berated Ms. Ansbro during that proceeding.
The judge's response
Judge Leach asserts that in the first matter, he scheduled trial for after Ms. Ansbro’s parental leave had ended and for a date agreed to by counsel. He also says that he made several accommodations for Ms. Ansbro and her client during trial, and he has explained why he initially denied their requests for continuances before he ultimately granted them. The judge acknowledges that in an attempt to move the case forward, he admonished Ms. Ansbro—outside the presence of her client—for poor organization of her trial notebooks and suggested that she prepare summary pages for the court. Regarding the second matter, Judge Leach says that without a transcript, he cannot recall the exact details of the case, but he believes he would not force any party to go forward without an interpreter.
Here, Ms. Ansbro has offered her affidavit and a few emails to support her claims of gender bias, even though many of them, if true, could have been substantiated by transcripts or other evidence—including her allegations that the judge had berated her in two prior cases. For his part, Judge Leach has thoroughly addressed each allegation and denied that he acted improperly or in a biased manner. A “presumption of impartiality” is accorded all judges in affidavit-of- disqualification proceedings.
Justice O'Connor reached the same result in an unrelated pending murder case
A judge’s isolated comments made during or at the end of a lengthy trial are generally insufficient to prove that the judge is biased or prejudiced. A trial judge will often conduct proceedings with an eye toward preserving a complete record for appeal, and nothing here suggests that Judge Holbrook’s comments in this regard demonstrate bias or prejudice or give the appearance thereof. Likewise, the judge’s use of the terms “victims” and “murder,” while unfortunate, does not warrant his disqualification. Judge Holbrook says that these terms were spoken in error, and nothing in the record undermines that assertion or the judge’s ability to ensure that the parties receive a fair trial. See In re Disqualification of Ambrose, 110 Ohio St.3d 1220, 2005-Ohio-7154, 850 N.E.2d 722, ¶ 5.
There is, however, the allegation that Judge Holbrook referred to the defendant as “the killer.” Judge Holbrook admits that during an in-chambers meeting with counsel, he “sarcastically” referred to the defendant as “The killer, Dr. Husel.” The judge maintains that he immediately regretted the comment and advised those present of his regret. Before this court, Judge Holbrook states that he recognizes that his comment was in poor taste and incredibly insensitive, but he assures the court that notwithstanding that comment, his words and conduct do not reflect a manifestation of a preconceived notion of the defendant’s guilt or innocence, which, as he notes, are within the jury’s purview.
Judge Holbrook’s attempt at humor was ill-advised, and his comment was undignified and improper. The Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct requires that a judge be dignified and courteous to litigants and others that the judge deals within an official capacity. Jud.Cond.R. 2.8(B). That said, improper comments alone do not always reflect judicial bias or preclude a judge from fairly and impartially presiding over a case.
The opinion was issued on April 7 and released today.
WBNS 10 reported on the acquittal two weeks later
Former Mount Carmel Dr. William Husel was found not guilty on all 14 counts of murder after nearly two months of trial.
Prosecutors alleged Husel's doses of fentanyl and other drugs hastened the deaths of the patients. Initially, on Monday, the jury told the judge they were at an impasse.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
The Georgia Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded a circuit court judge
On July 5, 2019, the Athens Banner-Herald published an article about a defendant who had an outstanding bench warrant for failing to appear in court for the retrial of his rape charges. Judge Norris had presided over the first trial, which resulted in a mistrial, and released the defendant on his own recognizance. On that same day, Nathan Owens, a bail bondsman who works in Clarke and Oconee counties, reposted the story to his personal Facebook page and to a large Facebook group called “Overheard at UGA”; Owens included his thoughts of Judge Norris’s handling of the case and his opinion that the defendant should not have been released on his own recognizance. Owens’s post gained a lot of attention, eventually prompting Judge Norris to contact another bondsman, John Elliott, in an effort to get in contact with Owens. On July 9, at the suggestion of Elliott, Owens texted Judge Norris, and Judge Norris told Owens to meet him in his office at 9:00 a.m. the following morning.
On the morning of July 10, Owens went to the courthouse with Elliott and another bondsman, Scott Hall. When the trio arrived at Judge Norris’s chambers, an armed deputy took their cell phones. Judge Norris then arrived, visibly upset, and instructed Elliott and Hall to remain in the lobby while Owens went into Judge Norris’s office. A deputy stood in the only apparent doorway. With his lip quivering and hands shaking, Judge Norris instructed Owens to “sit down and listen to what I have to say.” In a raised voice, Judge Norris began reading from the statutory bondsman code of conduct, which he had printed out in preparation for the meeting. Becoming nervous, Owens requested to have his lawyer present, but Judge Norris ignored this request. Instead, Judge Norris allowed Elliott and Hall to come into his office, and Owens asked them to witness that he wanted to leave or have his attorney present. Owens felt that he was not free to leave, sat quietly, and did not respond to Judge Norris’s berating. Ultimately, Judge Norris went on for about 30 minutes, chastising and lecturing Owens, implying that Owens did not have “good moral character,” insinuating that Judge Norris had the power to affect Owens’s livelihood as a bondsman, and reprimanding Owens for attacking him online and spreading “fake news” about the rape case.
Owens filed a judicial complaint.
While we are also unable to find a Georgia case where a respondent like Judge Norris exhibited planning or pre-meditation before his or her intemperate behavior, courts in other jurisdictions have imposed a range of sanctions against judges for acts of intemperance where the conduct required some planning, including public reprimand, censure, and suspension...
Here, Judge Norris’s violations were based on non-habitual conduct, with no evidence that he used vulgar language or engaged in any sort of physical altercation on the occasion in question. But Judge Norris’s deliberate and conscious planning of this confrontation is particularly problematic, as his misconduct was not the result of a sudden or brief loss of temper. In fact, Owens’s Facebook post was posted a full five days before the meeting with Judge Norris, Judge Norris had to reach out to another bondsman to get in contact with Owens, Owens and Judge Norris exchanged multiple texts to arrange the meeting, Judge Norris set the meeting in his chambers, during business hours, Judge Norris printed out the statutory bondsman code of conduct, and then Judge Norris delivered an angry 30-minute monologue in a raised voice while
Owens was required to sit and listen with an armed deputy standing in the doorway. Judge Norris also denied Owens’s request to leave or have an attorney present and intimated that Judge Norris could harm Owens’s position as a bail bondsman. Moreover, Judge Norris “offered various justifications for his meeting with Owens,” but the Panel found the testimony “inconsistent and contradicted by other evidence.” Panel Report at 10. Thus, unlike the judge in Hays, Judge Norris has not fully accepted responsibility for this incident.
The court declined to order the judge to apologize
Judge Norris’s failure to apologize to Owens on his own initiative suggests that a public apology compelled by this Court, even if permissible, would be insincere at best.
The worst, most intense chambers tongue-lashing I ever received was for being late for a chambers conference by District Judge C. Stanley Blair.
Still smarting after 47 years! (Mike Frisch)