When a town court justice in Jefferson County, New York, resigned after making lewd remarks to a county attorney, he became the latest judicial figure to commit a verbal faux pas in 2018.
John W. Hallett, an attorney on LeRay Town Court for more than a decade, allegedly told Terrence Brennan, a senior assistant county attorney in Jefferson County, that he should commit a sex act on ”Lord of the Rings” actor Viggo Mortensen.
According to a complaint filed by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Hallett said, “You and Viggo Mortensen should get a hotel room and suck each other’s [expletive].”
The complaint also accused Hallett of telling the same lawyer that a local festival featuring Mortensen was “about the gayest thing I have ever heard.”
Here’s a look at some judges who talked their way into trouble this year:
In Texas, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore labeled a case involving two dental companies her “oldest and least favorite,” in a Dec. 12 court opinion accusing attorneys of writing “whiny letters.”
“What’s wrong with you parties/lawyers?” the judge wrote. “Just STOP IT!”
The ruling made the rounds on social media, drawing questions about its authenticity.
Read the full court opinion:
“There will be no extension granted on the motion deadline. DON’T ASK,” Gilmore wrote. “This is my oldest and least favorite case. Please stop trying to become my least favorite attorneys. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!”
Removed from Courtroom
Meanwhile, in Florida another jurist found himself in the spotlight when the state Judicial Qualifications Commission charged Broward Circuit Judge Dennis Daniel Bailey with ethics violations.
The JQC, which investigate alleged misconduct by state court judges, Dec. 13 alleged Bailey violated five rules of judicial conduct by losing his temper with attorneys in a felony criminal trial in April. It claimed Bailey should face a public reprimand for being condescending, sarcastic and intemperate with defense attorneys.
According to the JQC’s complaint, Bailey became frustrated with two defense attorneys while presiding over State v. Genesis Espejo and inappropriately had one of them physically removed before the jury.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stephen Thomas Millan stepped down from the bench in August, after using the derogatory term “moolie” to describe a black defendant and referring to black witnesses and family members in his courtroom as “thugs.”
Millan admitted making the comments during in-chambers discussion with a bailiff, but denied he meant any offense.
In October 2016, an attorney was scheduling a hearing for a black defendant, when the judge “expressed indifference about scheduling, and in doing so, referred to the defendant as a ‘moolie,’” according to the JQC’s notice of formal charges.
“Moolie” is a Sicilian racial slur derived from the Italian word for eggplant. It is a derogatory term for people with dark skin.
“I cannot honestly say that I did not utter the terribly offensive word,” the JQC’s findings and recommendations of discipline quotes Millan as saying. “I am embarrassed and genuinely sorry.”
Also in August, a Broward Sheriff’s Office investigation revealed former Broward Judge Jay Spechler‘s IP address was the source of a menacing post directed at Broward Circuit Judge Michael Lynch.
The message, posted on a courthouse blog, accused Lynch and affiliates of violating elections laws and said, “Your intimidation and scare tactics will come to a screeching halt, just like your pathetic, miserable lives. Waiting is the hardest part.”
In September, California’s Commission on Judicial Performance accused Contra Costa Superior Court Judge John Laettner of nine disciplinary counts, including conduct that it said “could be perceived as sexual harassment or sexual discrimination.”
According to the commission’s report, the judge called female DUI defendants pretty and told them they’ll get scars if they continue to drink and drive. Laettnner is also accused of asking intrusive questions to a Japanese-American public defender about her racial ancestry, background and upbringing.”
Other charges alleged Laettner improperly decided not to recuse himself from cases involving his son, a deputy district attorney, and that he tried to clear a docket backlog by incentivizing defendants to plead guilty in exchange for a 25 percent reduction in sentences and fines.
In Florida, Broward Circuit Judge John Contini agreed to disbarrment in September after he was accused of having his judicial assistant create fake cases and hearings on particular days so that he could avoid work.
According to the JQC, Contini wrote ”Do not set hearings” in various spots on his calendar and sent texts instructing his JA to tell people he was busy.
Joan Kline, town judge in Chenango County, Upstate New York, stepped down in June after defendants in one of her cases claimed Kline was rude to them and improperly chatted with the claimant, according to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
“A judge is obliged to be patient, dignified and courteous to all with whom she deals in her official capacity,” CJC administrator Robert Tembeckjian said in a statement at the time.
Tension on Twitter
U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf and former outspoken blogger in Nebraska caused an internet storm in July, when he compared a group of all-female law clerks seeking sexual harassment policy reform to the Spanish Inquisition on Twitter.
While some Twitter users called for Kopf to resign, others rallied behind him, claiming people had overreacted to the judge’s tweet. Kopf wasn’t disciplined.