In a sad and bizarre story, the Illinois Courts Commission ordered Chicago judge Valarie Turner to retire on Friday, after an investigation found that Turner had given her judicial robe to her clerk and allowed the clerk to preside over several traffic court cases in August 2016.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times:
Circuit Judge Valarie E. Turner has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is “mentally unable to perform her duties,” according to a complaint filed Thursday by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board.
Turner allowed law clerk Rhonda Crawford to take her seat behind the bench and rule on several traffic cases last August after introducing her to a prosecutor as “Judge Crawford,” the board contends.
“We’re going to switch judges,” Turner allegedly said during an afternoon court call, before standing up and giving her judicial robe to Crawford.
It appears that Turner’s current mental condition made her forced retirement a fairly straightforward decision for the Board. But it’s entirely unclear why Crawford would play along with this charade, and she has lost her law license as a result.
Palm Beach County judge Dana Santino, who last spring admitted to serious ethics violations during her election campaign last November, is now asking the Florida Supreme Court to reject a recommendation that she be removed from office.
Santino admitted making statements disparaging her opponent’s criminal defense work–statements which were found to impugn the integrity of her opponent and the entire legal profession. After an investigation, the state Judicial Qualifications Commissions recommended that Santino lose her judicial position.
The state supreme court has yet to make a decision, and could still schedule oral arguments on the Commission’s recommendation. Judge Santino remains on the county civil court bench pending resolution of the matter.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, who is serving on the court while simultaneously running for the governorship as a Democrat, made news again this past weekend with a Facebook post in which he claimed to have 50 lovers over the past century, and described two trysts in detail. The since-deleted post read in part:
“Now that the dogs of war are calling for the head of Senator Al Franken I believe it is time to speak up on behalf of all heterosexual males…. In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous personal secretary to Senator Bob Taft (Senior) who was my first true love and we made passionate love in the hayloft of her parents barn in Gallipolis and ended with a drop dead gorgeous red head who was a senior advisor to Peter Lewis at Progressive Insurance in Cleveland.”
As the kids today like to say, OMG.
Everyone is rightly horrified by this post, with some of the harshest criticism coming from those within O’Neill’s own party, and from the court itself. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said in a statement, “I condemn in no uncertain terms Justice O’Neill’s Facebook post. No words can convey my shock. This gross disrespect for women shakes the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”
O’Neill issued an apology on Facebook on Sunday morning, stating: “There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to admit you were wrong. It is Sunday morning and i [sic] am preparing to go to church and get right with God.”
Notwithstanding the apology, O’Neill faces calls for him to resign from the court and end his gubernatorial campaign. His campaign manager has already resigned. But O’Neill insists that he will stay on the court, and will only leave the governor’s race if former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray jumps in.
The people of Ohio deserve much, much better than this.
Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who rose to fame in social media circles for his active and vibrant use of Twitter, was deemed “well-qualified” for a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by the American Bar Association earlier this week. Perhaps appropriately, the decision was tweeted out by another prominent member of the state court Twitterati, Georgia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Stephen Dillard.
Justice Willett has more than 100,000 Twitter followers and was a very active tweeter before his federal judicial nomination drove him to stay off the platform, at least temporarily. But he is no longer a rare exception to the rule that active judges stay off of social media. Chief Judge Dillard has more than 11,000 followers, and tweets several times a day, mostly on general legal issues. He is joined by many other judges around the country with active Twitter accounts.
The legal profession has always been uneasy with judges engaging social media. David Lat took a look at this in 2014, concluding that the judicial use of Twitter to educate the public about the work of the courts was entirely appropriate, and that “judges just need to exercise sound judgment.”
The social media landscape has only grown in the ensuing three years, and the question is worth another look. Is the judicial use of Twitter humanizing or harmful?
Continue reading “Tweeting Judges, Revisited”
Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, who last week publicly announced his intent to run for governor, has now announced that he will recuse himself from all new cases coming before the Court. O’Neill previously indicated that he would continue to hear new cases, a position which drew considerable criticism from the state auditor.
O’Neill is currently the sole Democrat holding statewide office in Ohio. He has said that he will remain on the Court until he formally enters the race in February. In the meantime, he will campaign and raise money for his gubernatorial run.
Justice O’Neill may be legally permitted to campaign for governor while still on the bench. In a series of cases over the past decade, the Supreme Court has affirmed the First Amendment rights of judges to solicit campaign funds and publicly state their general positions on policy issues. But First Amendment rights do not parallel professional responsibilities, and running a political campaign from the bench can do untold damage to the judiciary’s legitimacy. Justice O’Neill is free to seek another elected job, but he should resign from his current one first.
Judge Richard Posner’s new book, focusing in large part on severe inadequacies in dealing with pro se litigation in the Seventh Circuit, has been subjected to criticism for divulging internal court memos, often interspersed with editorial comments. In this article in the ABA Journal, Posner responds to some of the critique and reaction to his new book.
Previous coverage of Judge Posner’s book, and abrupt resignation from the bench, here and here.
I received my copy of the Posner book today. Hopefully the substance of the discussion (especially that concerning pro se litigation and cameras in the courtroom) outweighs the airing of the Court’s dirty laundry. More reactions to come.
In March, I flagged a story about Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino, who was elected last November after running a particularly ugly campaign against his opponent, Gregg Lerman. Judge Santino ran ads suggesting that Lerman, a defense attorney, represents “murders, rapists, child molesters, and other criminals.” She was subsequently investigated by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, and admitted to violating two canons of judicial ethics. The Commission has yet to issue a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court about Judge Santino’s punishment, if any.
In the meantime, there has been an interesting ripple effect. It turns out that before her own election, Judge Santino briefly served as a campaign manager to another Palm Beach County judge, Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo. In light of this fact, Gregg Lerman (Santino’s former opponent) asked Judge Caracuzzo to recuse herself from all cases in which he was representing a party. Judge Caracuzzo agreed.
Although requested by Lerman, the recusal now makes things more complicated for his practice. There are fewer judges available to his clients, which may lead to more delays in the administration of justice.
All involved insist that there are no hard feelings about the earlier campaign. But judicial elections have these sort of ancillary (and ultimately predictable) effects. At minimum, a lawyer in Mr. Lerman’s shoes might think twice before seeking a judicial position in the future.