When he was a criminal defense lawyer, Bill Ross worked hard to become a judge. In one unsuccessful campaign, he handed out bookmarks with his name on them. But when he finally made it to the Blytheville, Ark., Municipal Court bench, two cases came along that ended it all in his first term.

The details of the misconduct allegations against Judge Ross were sealed as part of a compromise. The state agreed not to hold hearings in exchange for what those in the judicial-conduct biz call a Dracula Clause. Ross promised never to work as any type of judge — putting a stake through the heart of his career plans.

This much was made public last February: In 1997, the judge’s sister Linda French was arrested and charged with being drunk and disorderly. Somehow, he ended up being the judge overseeing her prosecution. Or perhaps we should say: her attempted prosecution, because he kept postponing the case — at least seven times over two years. After it came out that the defendant was the judge’s sister, it was a little easier to understand why a second case also had been mysteriously put off.

This second case was initially in another judge’s court, where a man charged with a traffic offense failed to turn up. Warrants were issued. Fines mounted. Then the man was arrested and the case shifted to Ross, who wiped out the fines and postponed the proceedings repeatedly, even when another judge was free to hear the trial.

The second defendant? Judge Ross’ nephew.


ELLIS WILLARD
RUNNING THE COURT FROM A PAWN SHOP AND TIRE CENTER

At a poignant juncture in the proceedings against him, Judge Ellis “Beaudron” Willard of the Sharkey County, Miss., Justice Court wept.

Yes, he testified, he changed the terms of a legal contract that came before him in a lawsuit — but only because the loan agreement was too much for defendant Valerie Houzah to bear, given that she was “elderly, poor and illiterate.” Not exactly. Houzah, it turns out, is a school teacher and 34 years old. Such a “lack of integrity and candor” defined Willard, according to the commission’s finding, that he “fabricated evidence such as docket pages, arrest warrants, faxes [and] officers’ releases.”

Despite ample testimony to the contrary, the judge denied that he ordered defendants to go to a local restaurant, Chuck’s Dairy Bar, to get their verdicts from a police officer.

He did, however, admit to carrying on court proceedings at a business he owns. Beaudron’s Pawn Shop and Tire Center is a tire warehouse flanked by service bays on one side and a store that holds the judge’s collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia. Because he was there during business hours, his courthouse schedule was erratic. Once, at 11:15 p.m., he asked clerks, who had been at work since 8 a.m., to get him two files. When a clerk said she would get the files the next morning because she was going home, the judge had her arrested, hauled back before him at 1:30 a.m. and sentenced to probation — all without benefit of counsel. Willard explained that conflicts with the staff were exactly why he didn’t like working in the courthouse.

Judge Willard was elected in 1995 and re-elected in 1999. As of October, he has been suspended pending state supreme court action on the commission’s removal recommendation.


CALVIN HOTARD
PANEL SAID HE WOULD CRUISE BY NIGHT AND JUDGE BY DAY

The image is indelible: a dark sedan cruising the mean streets of New Orleans with a powerful man inside handing out cards with his pager number to prostitutes — along with the advice that he could help them if they got in trouble. Bar patrons told investigators that when the man entered the smoky lounges, women flocked to him.

According to a judicial conduct commission report charging him with malfeasance, the man was Judge Calvin Hotard of Jefferson, La.’s 2d Parish Court, and his court traded favors for sex.

In one instance, a woman allegedly was sentenced to community service and was sent to perform it at his house on a quiet bayou. The commission documented five women as having had sexual relations with him, at least one of them repeatedly, in return for dropping cases or modifying sentences.

On Sept. 8 — just a week before a confidential hearing on the matter — Hotard ended the commission’s jurisdiction over him. Suffering from diabetes, the 53-year-old judge announced that he was taking a medical disability retirement at half-salary. He never commented publicly on the allegations.

Judge Hotard was a former police officer and onetime prosecutor.


WOLF A. SAMAY
STATE SUPREME COURT PEERED IN, FOUND A POISONED WELL

“Abuse of power” that “poisoned the well of justice,” as a New Jersey Supreme Court justice put it, was the reason for a 6-0 high court vote that ousted Judge Wolf A. Samay from the Passaic Municipal Court last January.

Two incidents figured prominently in the charge that the judge used his position for “personal vendettas.”

First was a domestic row between an ex-city councilman — a longtime colleague who helped appoint Samay to the bench in 1993 — and his wife. The councilman complained that she had yelled at him, using bad language, two weeks earlier and, more recently, had harassed him by phoning twice and hanging up when he answered. Based on that, Judge Samay approved what was later found to be an inappropriate restraining order that led to the woman being arrested and jailed in the middle of the night.

Second, and more damaging, was a dispute between the judge’s son and the son’s gym teacher.

“The son said something pretty vulgar, and the teacher replied that he was so mad that he could slap the kid,” says Patrick J. Monahan, who prosecuted the case for the state’s judicial conduct commission. The judge went to the school and demanded the teacher’s firing. When that failed, he signed a complaint that accused the teacher of “terroristic threats.” The teacher was arrested, jailed, and required to appear before Samay, who removed himself as the judge only under pressure from the teacher’s attorney.


MORRIS W. THOMPSON
‘EXTRA-JUDICIAL’ INCOME IS A JUDGE’S EXTRA MONEY, RIGHT?

For a while last year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette fretted that Bill Clinton’s disbarment proceeding could be assigned to Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morris W. Thompson. “That’s all Arkansas needs,” the newspaper editorialized. The risk passed when the judge became the first in state history to be removed by supreme court order.

Many of what the court called the sheer volume of violated canons related to the judge’s financial woes. Between 1993 and 1997, the court found, he had bounced 59 checks, had failed to pay income tax and had been caught using bogus automobile tags.

The judge’s attempt to augment his income went awry as well. One attorney testified that Thompson told him it was OK for the judge to continue practicing law on the side because he had “special dispensation” from a “senior judge.” The justices noted acidly that the state has no position called senior judge and that such dispensations don’t exist.

The court also didn’t fancy Judge Thompson’s explanation for why he didn’t report his outside income from legal fees: He testified that he believed he didn’t have to report the money — $150,000 from one case alone — because he interpreted the law that said he had to report “extra-judicial” income to mean that he had to report only income that was connected to a judicial decision.


SUSAN CHRZANOWSKI
DEADLY LOVE STORY HAD A SUBPLOT IN THE COURTHOUSE

It was a soap opera about a love triangle. At one corner of the triangle was a judge.

District Judge Susan Chrzanowski of Warren, Mich., was newly elected when she made friends with a law student clerk, Michael “Mick” Fletcher. Soon, she was divorced and having an affair with Fletcher, even though he had a wife and daughter.

Then the wife, pregnant with a second child, was found dead of a gunshot wound. Fletcher, now a lawyer, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison.

So why is Chrzanowski on leave, pending a state supreme court decision on the conduct commission’s recommendation that she be suspended without pay for a year?

She says she’s a victim of media hype. The commission says there had been a conflict of interest.

Over 18 months, the judge appointed her secret lover to represent indigents in more than 60 cases, approving $17,000 in fees for Fletcher. That’s more assignments than all other attorneys combined. And all the other judges in the courthouse, combined, gave Fletcher only $6,000 worth of assignments. Of course, when he tried a case before her, opposing counsel didn’t have a clue about the relationship between the two.

The judge maintains that she never favored Fletcher. “I kept my court separate from my relationship with him,” she testified.

Don’t try to tell that to prosecutor Carl Marlinga. He says that the judge found a novel reason to toss out a 1998 case in which her lover defended an accused drunk driver. She ruled that the prosecution was fatally flawed if the prosecutor couldn’t produce a manufacturer’s manual for the Breathalyzer.


MARVIN DEAN MITCHELL
FOLLOW-UP CALL TO GIRL, 15, STARTED HIS DOWNFALL

Assigned to truancy court, Justice of the Peace Marvin Dean Mitchell of Amarillo, Texas, believed in making follow-up phone calls. Unfortunately for him, one of them was tape-recorded by law enforcement officers.

A 15-year-old girl who was on probation in his court for truancy complained that he had pressed her in a phone call to her home to talk dirty. Then three other minor girls came forward with their own stories of harassment.

The judicial conduct commission moved quickly, suspending the judge on May 8, 2000, pending a determination of what went on.

At first the judge, through his lawyers, promised to fight. But the cops were after him too. The judge cut a deal before summer: a no-contest plea to two misdemeanor counts of “official oppression” and his resignation, in return for 90 days of community supervision that, when it was completed successfully, left him with no criminal conviction record.

In Texas, however, the conduct commission’s jurisdiction doesn’t stop when a judge steps down. It held hearings on Aug. 11 — Judge Mitchell passed on an invitation to speak — and it issued an Aug. 18 reprimand.

The commission said that the judge had “preyed upon the very persons he was obliged by his oath of office to protect. His actions were willful, persistent and inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties.”


FRED RISOVICH
COMMISSION CLEARED HIM, BUT THE PUBLIC DIDN’T

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