Archive for the ‘Judge Discipline’ Category

KC attorney wants equal justice for judges discipline process

October 25, 2013


Frustrated by the secretive way the state of Missouri deals with complaints against judges, Kansas City attorney Michelle Puckett is calling for transparency and revealing the contents of two complaints filed against 43rd judicial circuit court judge Brent Elliot.

When most citizens stand before a judge, the proceedings happen in open court. Judges are treated differently; with closed-door hearings in front of a six-member Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline. The only time this panel can make details of these cases public as after misconduct is found or a judge under investigation gives the commission permission to talk. It is a process Puckett says is long overdue for change.

“I don’t think any type of secrecy in something this important, confidence in our judicial system, should ever be tolerated,” Puckett said. “It should be open. It should be public. And I, as a complainant, should have the right to review. It’s an important issue.”

Puckett’s strong feelings stem from her experiences with two separate complaints filed against Elliot.
The first followed a strange exchange made during an otherwise ordinary divorce court proceeding in January 2012. According to the transcript, opposing council Stephen Griffin asked Elliot to allow a last-minute witness.

Puckett objected saying, “this young lady was not listed as a witness.”

Griffin responded, “I wanted to see what she looked like to see if this was somebody that the guy would want to spend all his time with.”

“Good call,” Elliot said.

The judge overruled Puckett’s objection and allowed the witness to testify.

Offended by that comment, Puckett’s client decided to file a complaint against Elliot for sexist behavior. Puckett says she knew nothing about the complaint.

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KC attorney wants equal justice for judges discipline process

State board recommends public reprimand for Akron judge Oldfield

October 18, 2013

A state disciplinary board is recommending that Akron Municipal Judge Joy Malek Oldfield receive a public reprimand for failing to recuse herself from cases involving a public defender after the two were found together in a parked car in Copley Township.

The same board found that Oldfield did not use her position to try to stop the arrest of assistant public defender Catherine Loya. It also said it was inconclusive whether the women were engaged in sexual activity when a police officer found them parked at a shopping plaza in the early hours of Feb. 5, 2012.

The findings by the Ohio Board of Grievances and Discipline go to the Ohio Supreme Court for final dispensation.

Oldfield and her attorney, George Jonson, declined comment on the report.

The panel found that Oldfield wanted to help Loya avoid arrest because she believed the attorney was sober and to avoid the “adverse publicity that might be associated with the fact that they were together when the arrest occurred.”

However, the panel concluded a lack of evidence existed that Oldfield sought to use her position to influence the officers at the scene.

A Copley police officer testified that he found the women engaged in sexual activity in the car’s backseat. He said he smelled alcohol on Loya’s breath, and she was arrested.

Oldfield and Loya testified at the judge’s disciplinary hearing in August that they were only talking.
The morning after the incident, Oldfield and Loya conferred with Akron Assistant City Prosecutor Gertrude Wilms and Chief Public Defender Joseph Kodish about it. All agreed to allow Loya to remain assigned to Oldfield’s court.

In the days that followed, Loya lived at Oldfield’s house and was driven to and from work for four days until her driving privileges were restored.

It wasn’t until the Beacon Journal reported on Loya’s arrest and questioned Kodish about the arrangement that Loya was transferred.

The panel determined that Oldfield should have recused herself immediately because the assignment created an “appearance of impropriety.”

Oldfield handled about 50 uncontested pleas involving defendants Loya represented.

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State board recommends public reprimand for Akron judge Oldfield

Wayne Co. Judge McCree’s lawyer seeks censure instead of removal

October 10, 2013

Detroit— The lawyer for disgraced Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Wade McCree said removing the judge from the bench is both unprecedented and draconian.

McCree, who is under fire from the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission for complaints of judicial misconduct, should instead be censured and temporarily suspended, said his lawyer Brian Einhorn.

In his written brief in response to the tenure commission’s findings, Einhorn asked to be allowed to make oral arguments in the matter before the Michigan Supreme Court.

McCree got into hot water with the commission while presiding over a 2012 child support case involving Geniene La’Shay Mott with whom he had an extramarital affair.

He also is accused of giving favorable treatment to a relative of Mott’s and for using derogatory remarks to describe some litigants in his courtroom. Last month the nine-member commission recommended to the Michigan Supreme Court McCree be removed from office and also called for a six-year “conditional” suspension for the judge in the event he is re-elected to the bench next year.

During a hearing last month, the executive director of the Michigan Tenure Commission said McCree “suffers from egomania” and is a “narcissist” who is no longer fit to serve as a judge.

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Wayne Co. Judge McCree’s lawyer seeks censure instead of removal

Illinois judges seeking assistance at faster pace

June 25, 2013

SPRINGFIELD — The cocaine-induced death of a downstate Illinois judge in March and the arrest last month of a colleague on drug-related charges comes at a time when more attorneys than ever are seeking help for mental health issues and addiction problems.

According to the most recent annual report of the Illinois Lawyers Assistance Program, which helps find treatment for attorneys, 299 new cases were opened during the most recent fiscal year, the most of any time in the agency’s 32-year history.

Janet Piper Voss, executive director of the assistance program, attributes the increase to a rise in awareness of the program and an acceptance that treatment is a better option than hiding problems.
But, she said, judges often are a different breed.

“They are very concerned about letting anyone know there is a problem,” Voss said. “And they tend to be more isolated in their work setting.”

Joe Christ, 49, had been an associate judge in St. Clair County for less than a month before he died of a cocaine overdose in March. The Illinois State University graduate was a county prosecutor for nearly two decades before his elevation to the bench.

Christ’s body was recovered at a hunting lodge in Pike County owned by the parents of St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook, 45, who has since been charged with possessing a weapon while using a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of heroin.

According to a review of disciplinary action against judges at the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, the behavior of the two men would be considered among the most egregious when compared to cases going back for decades.

Since 1973, there have been 82 cases filed against wayward judges by the inquiry board.
Of them, only one other judge was connected to a drug-related crime.

In October 1996, Cook County Associate Judge Frank Edwards was nabbed for transporting marijuana at an airport in Belize.

A review of inquiry board documents shows 12 judges have been penalized over the past 40 years for allegations of alcohol abuse. Of those, cases against five judges were filed in the past decade.

Other inquiry board findings center on issues ranging from the attempted use of judicial clout to the mistreatment of people in their courtrooms.

In 2006, for example, the board opened an inquiry into Logan County Associate Judge Donald Behle, who was accused of having dated a woman while presiding over her divorce and child custody case. He also faced an allegation that he contacted a witness in a case in which he was the presiding judge.
The case was closed in 2007 after Behle resigned from office.

Among the highest-profile cases of the inquiry board was the 1997 censure of James Heiple, the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Heiple was accused of trying to use his position to keep from being charged with a traffic violation.
But those cases affected judges who remained in office after they were investigated.

Once a judge leaves office, the inquiry board loses jurisdiction over the case. That means a judge accused of a drug-related crime might not be investigated by board.

“There could be others because they left (the job,)” said Kathy Twine, executive director of the Judicial Inquiry Board.

Former Sangamon County Associate Judge Philip Schickendanz serves as an example. He resigned in 1990 after being convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and cocaine possession.

He eventually was stripped of his law license by a separate agency, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

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Illinois judges seeking assistance at faster pace

California: CJP Adopts Rules Amendments Opposed by CJA

May 28, 2013

The Commission on Judicial Performance released amendments to its rules of procedure, including two proposals that were opposed by the California Judges Association.

The commission amended its rules 110 and 111 to incorporate existing practice that provides judges with limited disclosure of complaints. Judges are told in general terms what they are accused of, but do not get to see the actual complaints or learn the identities of the complainants at the investigative stage of the process.

The association’s proposal, made late last year, would have required the commission to provide judges with the names of witnesses and copies of investigative materials before the judge responds. But the commission, in an explanation attached to yesterday’s report, reiterated what it said when it rejected the proposal in January.

The commission said the proposed early discovery—current rules require that such disclosure be made only after formal proceeds are commenced—would have a chilling effect on complainants. It noted that the only state that allows such early discovery is Alabama, and that the number of complaints filed in that state dropped significantly after the rule was introduced a decade ago.

The commission acknowledged that a few states besides Alabama do provide accused judges with either the complaint or the identity of the complainant before the judge is required to respond to the charges. But none of those states provide the full discovery that CJA proposes, the commission said.

The commission also noted that it had received comments in support of the proposed rule from court employee unions and law professors who said the proposal would correctly balance judges’ rights against the need to protect whistleblowers. The CJP also cited Supreme Court rulings upholding its procedures as consistent with due process.

The commission also approved a new rule 111.4 adopting the standard for discipline based on legal error set forth in Oberholzer v. CJP(1999) 20 Cal.4th 371, which held that a judge could not be disciplined merely because the commission believes he erroneously interpreted the law. The standard permits discipline when legal error is accompanied by bad faith, abuse of authority, disregard for fundamental rights, intentional disregard of the law, or a purpose other than the faithful discharge of judicial duty—the so-called “Oberholzer plus factors.”

CJA argued in its comments that the amendment fails to make clear that a judge cannot be disciplined for pure legal error.

“Along with the increase in the number of advisory letters issued by the commission, there has been a corresponding increase in complaints from our membership that the commission is initiating staff inquiries and preliminary investigations, and issuing advisory letters for legal error alone,” CJA President Alan Hardcastle wrote to the commission.”

CJA proposed that the rule permit issuance of an advisory or “stinger” letter based on legal error only if there was “clear and convincing extrinsic evidence that the judge committed that act as a result of” one of the “plus factors.”

The CJP denied it had issued stinger letters under circumstances outside the Oberholzer standard and cited several cases in which judges were disciplined—appropriately, it said—for conduct that would fall outside the CJA’s parameters.

The CJP said in its decision:
At some point, a judge’s obliviousness to the consequences of the means to a given end may override, as a matter of law, a judge’s statement of subjective good intent.”

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CJP Adopts Rules Amendments Opposed by CJA