Judicial Misconduct Results in Mild Sanctions
by Matt Clarke
In November 2011, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct (TCJC) temporarily suspended Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams after a 2004 video of Adams viciously beating his then-16-year-old daughter, Hillary, went viral. The state Supreme Court reinstated Adams on November 9, 2012. [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.9].
The one-page order reinstating Adams to the bench contained two conditions. First, he will no longer be allowed to preside over domestic abuse cases, which previously had been the majority of his docket. Further, he is not allowed to appeal a public warning issued by the TCJC in September 2012. That warning said abusive conduct would not be tolerated.
No criminal charges were brought against Adams because the beating shown in the 2004 video was outside the statute of limitations. The judge never admitted wrongdoing, saying he was only disciplining his daughter, and continued to collect his $150,000 annual salary while suspended.
Adams is not the only judge to engage in improper behavior and receive light sanctions. [See, e.g., PLN, Aug. 2009, p.1].
In Tennessee, former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, 66, pleaded guilty to state charges of misconduct involving a defendant in his court who provided him with sex and prescription painkillers; he received probation and resigned from the bench in 2011. Baumgartner also was prosecuted on federal charges for lying to investigators, and reported to federal prison to serve a six-month sentence in May 2013. [See: PLN, July 2013, p.32; Sept. 2012, p.50].
In Illinois, Cook County Circuit Judge Cynthia Brim was re-elected mere hours before she was scheduled to appear for a status hearing in a criminal case in which she was accused of assaulting a deputy sheriff in March 2012. Brim allegedly pushed the deputy and threw her keys near a courthouse security checkpoint. Her defense to the assault charges? She was “legally insane” at the time of the incident due to her bipolar disorder. In 2013, Brim was found not guilty by reason of insanity; she was suspended following her arrest but retained her $182,000-a-year job pending the outcome of a judiciary board investigation. She was eventually removed from the bench in May 2014 by the Illinois Courts Commission, which noted she had been hospitalized five times for mental health problems.
Meanwhile, a judge in Detroit, Michigan was reprimanded by the state Supreme Court and later removed from office for bringing shame on the judiciary. Wayne County Judge Wade McCree sent a shirtless cell phone photo of himself showing his buff physique to a female sheriff’s officer. Her husband found the picture and turned it over to a local TV reporter; McCree said he was proud of the photo and had “No shame in my game.”
The Michigan Supreme Court voted 6-0 to accept a recommendation by the Judicial Tenure Commission to close the case against McCree with a censure, but removed him from office on March 26, 2014 due to a separate complaint that accused him of having an affair with a party to a case before his court, Geniene La’Shay Mott, and for “concocting charges of stalking and extortion against her, and then lying under oath about these matters.”
The state Supreme Court also assessed $12,000 in costs against McCree and conditionally suspended him for six years in the event he was reelected, finding that his actions were “prejudicial to the actual administration of justice.” McCree did receive some good news in July 2014, when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that while his behavior was “often reprehensible,” he had judicial immunity from a lawsuit filed by Mott’s husband. See: King v. McCree, 573 Fed.Appx. 430 (6th Cir. 2014).
In most cases even outlandish behavior by judges is only mildly punished, and even that punishment may be shrouded in secrecy. For example, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct has refused to open its records to the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is required by law to evaluate the efficiency of state agencies. The TCJC claimed that “Its meetings are closed to everyone, including the Sunset Commission and its staff.” It also refused the Commission access to memoranda concerning its rulings, claiming attorney-client privilege.
As for Texas Judge William Adams, he lost his reelection campaign in March 2014 – three years after his daughter released the video showing the now-former jurist screaming, cursing, manhandling her and repeatedly hitting her with a belt. The video has been viewed on YouTube almost 8 million times.
Sources: www.h1ntv.com, www.wsmv.com, Associated Press, www.huffingtonpost.com, www.statesman.com, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press
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Related legal case
King v. McCree
|573 Fed.Appx. 430 (6th Cir. 2014)
|Court of Appeals