Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘Judicial misconduct’ Category

Recusal Derails Prosser Discipline Case

A third Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman, has recused himself in a discipline case involving Justice David Prosser, making the case “all but dead,” the  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contends.

Gableman joins Justices Annette Ziegler and Patience Roggensack, leaving just three Supreme Court justices in the case. The court would need four justices to make a final decision on whether Prosser engaged in misconduct and to determine discipline. However, with Gableman recused from the case, the three remaining justices cannot make a final ruling, the article strongly suggested.

Milwaukee lawyer Franklyn Gimbel says that Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson can send the case to a special panel of three appeals court judges. Usually, this kind of panel hears judicial ethics cases, determines the facts and recommends action to the Supreme Court, which  makes the final ruling.

Prosser has pushed for his colleagues’ recusal because all of the justices were present during the incident in question, except for Justice N. Patrick Crooks.

To read more about Prosser’s ethics case, see Gavel Grab.

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Justice Melvin to Stand Trial on Seven Counts

uCZ8QDXhaHEp3rvzXRJFdy0KqPHLoMevcTLo3h8xh70Y6N_U_CryOsw6FTOdKL_jpQ-&CONTENTTYPE=image/jpeg”>Suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will be tried  on seven of the nine charges against her, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

District Judge James J. Hanley, Jr. dismissed two charges, one count of official oppression and one count of criminal solicitation, citing a lack of evidence to support them. Melvin’s formal arraignment date is August 14, a day she is also set to be in front of the state Court of Judicial Discipline. The Judges will decide whether Melvin will continue to receive her $195,309 salary.

Melvin’s lawyers maintain that it was not Melvin who directed employees to do political work on state time, but rather her sister, former state senator Janine Orie. Orie faces similar charges, based on accusations that she directed employees to work on Melvin’s campaign.

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, Senator Orie’s chief of staff Jamie Pavolt was asked about who directed the employees to do campaign work. Pavolt replied that although Senator Orie was her boss, “The dynamics of this family is, when you’re working for one member, you’re taking orders from all three.”

Defense attorneys attempted to show that Janine Orie was in fact not Melvin’s campaign manager. When the prosecutor called two women who worked on Melvin’s campaign to the stand, both confirmed that Orie was the office administrator, and “they never dealt with her on important campaign issues like strategy, opposition research, fundraising or polling,” the article said. Rather, they frequently spoke to Justice Orie Melvin herself.

To read more on Justice Joan Orie Melvin, see Gavel Grab.

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Former Employees Testify at Justice Melvin Hearing

uCZ8QDXhaHEp3rvzXRJFdy0KqPHLoMevcTLo3h8xh70Y6N_U_CryOsw6FTOdKL_jpQ-&CONTENTTYPE=image/jpeg”>Three former employees of now-Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin testified at a preliminary hearing yesterday.

Melvin is currently charged with “theft of services, conspiracy, solicitation to tamper with or fabricate evidence, official oppression and misapplication of entrusted property,” according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Molly Creenan, Lisa Sasinoski, and Kathy Squires said Melvin’s sister and office manager, Janine Orie, requested that they distribute literature at polling places in 2003 and do other campaign work. Squires said, “I felt like it would be in my best interests to do what was asked or what was told. I felt like I had no choice.”

Sasinoski testified that Orie had asked her to forge expense vouchers as a way to get “street money,” for paying poll workers. “I was an attorney who had gone to law school and passed the bar exam. There was absolutely no way I was going to duplicate or fabricate expense vouchers to take money from the campaign,” Sasinoski said.

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Complaint Filed Against Judge For “Liking” Facebook Post

Kansas District Judge Jan Satterfield faces an ethics complaint over “liking” a Facebook post by a candidate who is running for local office, the Augusta Gazette reported.

Former Butler County resident Lee White filed a complaint against the judge for clicking on the “like” button of Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s campaign page. The complaint was filed on the grounds that Judge Satterfield violated ethics rules by endorsing a candidate running for public office.

White said liking the post could be interpreted as showing bias:

“Although it seems trivial on the surface, I believe this could be an interesting case and probably the first of its kind in Kansas. With the growth of social media, the court system needs to define how its rules for judges apply in cyberspace. I hope the commission and perhaps even the Kansas Supreme Court will do so in this case.”

Satterfield said she had not been aware of the complaint and has never endorsed a candidate. “I will vote like anyone else, but judges can’t endorse candidates,” she said.

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Judge Dismisses Subpoena for Justice Melvin’s Colleague

Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice Max Baer will not need to testify at the upcoming preliminary hearing of his colleague,  Justice Joan Orie Melvin, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

Justice Melvin’s attorney subpoenaed Justice Baer, Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski and four administrators to testify on the nine counts of criminal charges against Justice Melvin for her alleged use of court staff for campaign work (see Gavel Grab).

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Editorial Urges Politics-Free Wisconsin Judicial Commission

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission “should be free of politics,” a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial declares. It seeks fixes for an appointment system that recently drew headlines about injecting politics into the process of picking commission members.

Last week, an article in the same newspaper disclosed that a  former aide to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser had advised Gov. Scott Walker about appointments to the commission, when it was investigating Justice Prosser (see Gavel Grab).

“Clearly, something is wrong with this system,” the editorial contends. “The Judicial Commission should be free of politics; its members should be using independent judgment, not political bias or connections to make their decisions. This is not a commission on growing business or setting tax policy or reforming social welfare safety nets.”

The newspaper gave space for a responsive op-ed by Eric Esser, Walker’s appointments director.

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Former Aide to Prosser Recommended Ethics Panel Members

A former aide to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser advised Gov. Scott Walker about appointments to a commission that was investigating Justice Prosser, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

Walker relied on those recommendations and appointed three people to the state Judicial Commission who were presented to him by former Assembly Speaker John Gard, who had worked for then-Assembly Minority Leader Prosser in the 1980s.

According to newly released records, Gard said in an email he had found individuals for the panel who were “fiercely conservative” and “will never wimp out.” He had told one of the appointees “what we were looking for and (he) said he would do it if needed,” Gard also wrote.

“To me, it’s aimed directly at trying to get rid of the whole Prosser issue,” said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat.

But Gard told the newspaper he did not talk with the potential appointees about Justice Prosser’s case, nor did he discuss the appointments with the justice.

The commission voted in January to bring an ethics complaint against Justice Prosser before the Walker appointees were seated. Justice Prosser (photo) is accused of putting Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in a chokehold during a disagreement.


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Elected Judges More Likely To Be Disciplined

An article in the California Watch has reported that elected, experienced judges are more likely to face disciplinary action, according to a California Commission on Judicial Performance study.

Violations include judges who failed to recuse from cases when they should have, behaved poorly in the courtroom, or denied citizens their constitutional rights, the article said. Disciplinary actions ranged from receiving an advisory letter to removal from the bench, although this is rare.

The study found that judges who were initially elected to the bench were disciplined much more frequently (3.53 per 100 judges disciplined) than judges who were initially appointed (1.65 per 100 judges disciplined).

The study also found that experienced judges from 2000-2009 were disciplined more often than non-experienced judges. Table 4 in the study shows that judges with 17 or more years on the bench were involved in 2.46 misconduct cases per 100 judges, compared with 1.56 for judges with three to six years of experience.

From 2000-2009, judges in small towns were disciplined at a much higher rate than judges in large courts, the study showed. Table 8 illustrates that small courts with one to two authorized positions had 4.25 judges disciplined per 100 judges, compared with 1.62 judges per 100 judges in large courts with 43-428 authorized positions. Read more

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Texas Judicial Misconduct Cases in the News

Two corruption cases involving former Texas judges made news this week.

A trial began in Collin County for Stacy Stine Cary, accused of giving money to fund a 2008 judicial campaign, in exchange for a judge’s favorable rulings in a child custody proceeding, the Dallas Morning News reported. The case involves former Judge Suzanne Wooten, who was convicted on the same criminal charges last year.

In Brownsville, a federal jury convicted lawyer Ray Marchan of counts arising from a judicial kickbacks probe. He was accused of paying kickbacks that helped then-Judge Abel Limas make his courtroom into a moneymaking enterprise, according to an Associated Press article. Limas pleaded guilty to racketeering last year and has not been sentenced.

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Commission Seeks Panel in Case Against Prosser

A Wisconsin disciplinary commission has asked the state Supreme Court to arrange for ethics case proceedings against one of its own members, Justice David Prosser. He is accused of putting a fellow justice in a chokehold during a disagreement.

The case has been stalled. Justice Prosser has asked most of his fellow justices to recuse themselves, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, because they either were involved in the episode, were witnesses or learned about it a short time afterward.

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission on Friday submitted a request to the high court asking it to name a panel of appellate judges to consider the commission’s ethics complaint against Justice Prosser, the Associated Press reported.


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