Judges Who Crossed The Line -- Or Erased It
- Judges Who Crossed The Line -- Or Erased
The Injudicious Judges who crossed the line
-- or erased it
Gail Diane Cox The National Law Journal
You'd think they'd learn, what with all the
shattered careers and yuckfests with Jay Leno
For Law Day 2003, The National Law Journal
offers its list of judges behaving poorly -- or
perhaps we should say behaving
They are cause for celebration, because they
were sitting in judgment over the rest of us on May
1, 2002, and this May 1, they weren't.
Each year, some are gone because they
retired early while under investigation, in hopes of
salvaging something. For some, it worked.
The allegations against an Arkansas judge,
Sam Whitfield, were sealed when he agreed to
retire effective Aug. 30, 2002 -- leaving behind only
a notation that there were investigated complaints
of misconduct on and off the bench.
Other judges were ousted by their state
judicial conduct commissions with an embarrassing
press release but their pensions intact. In a few
cases, the judges are sitting out suspensions until
their supreme courts decide what to do with them.
One judge who made this year's list of court
buffoons has been off the bench since June of last
year as a healthful side effect of his being under
house arrest. Ronald D. Bodenheimer Deal gone
bad: 4-year-old for a shrimp contract.
Judge Ronald D. Bodenheimer had a dream.
It revolved around a scruffy brew-and-bait marina
that he owned. Neighbors complained about drug
dealing on the premises.
On the opening day of fishing season, a
15-year-old was electrocuted there because of a
faulty conveyer belt. But the eyesore could be
turned around, Bodenheimer believed, with one
major fishing contract. And Bodenheimer, who sat
on Louisiana's New Orleans District Court, thought
he could use the power of the bench to get it.
A millionaire restaurateur, Al Copeland, had a
child custody case against his ex-wife in
Bodenheimer's court. Using go-betweens, the
judge let Copeland know he could have anything he
wanted -- taking the 4-year-old away from his
mother on Christmas morning was specifically
mentioned -- in return for a healthy contract to
supply shrimp. In one phone conversation, the
judge warned Copeland's brother that he was
planning a rant-and-rave performance for the
courtroom and Copeland should not take it
personally, it was just necessary to keep the wife
from suspecting "the fix is in."
Copeland hasn't been charged in the FBI's
courthouse corruption investigation. Bodenheimer,
a 50-year-old career prosecutor who won election
to the bench in 1999, initially claimed innocence --
until scraps of the FBI bugs of his phone
conversations started leaking out.
When another judge refused to quash the
tapes, he pleaded guilty. Bodenheimer has been off
the bench, and under house arrest, since June
It turns out that even his attempts to
his critics backfired. One of the charges in the
indictment is that he planted three of the painkilling
pills Oxycontin in a neighbor's truck -- only to find
out the neighbor was an FBI informant.
Bruce Van Voorhis This California judge
hasn't heard of Emily Post.
Until judge Bruce Van Voorhis came along
with his Judge Dread routine, California had never
removed a judge for rotten demeanor alone.
But as the state's judicial performance
commission observed, Contra Costa County
Superior Court Judge Van Voorhis took rudeness
to new realms that qualified as abuse of authority
One target was a prosecutor, three months
out of law school, who was nonplused by erratic
evidentiary rulings that the judge forced down her
objecting throat. He later insisted it was a sort of
tough-love session, designed to show her the
importance of anticipating the unexpected even if
one has a slam-dunk case.
Rookie female prosecutors had it the worst.
One noted for the commission that the young
women were the most vulnerable because they felt
they had to show that they could "take it" without
complaining. But others were humiliated as well.
The judge berated a defense attorney,
examining a witness in front of a jury, with, "Now
you need to ask him the question that you learned
in law school is a legitimate question." He told a
deputy public defender who was born in Ecuador
that however "charming" his way of speaking, he
should "lose the accent."
Jurors wrote complaints after they passed a
note to the judge asking for a clarification and
instead he did a number on them for a grammar
error in the note.
The judge said he is misunderstood. He also
admits it's getting worse, not better. In 1992, six
years after Van Voorhis was elected, the
commission sanctioned him for being harsh with
his staff, intimidating with counsel and inflexible
In 1994, there was another reproof. Last year
he was semi-sidelined, assigned to hear only small
claims and fender-bender cases. On Feb. 27, the
judicial conduct commission took him off the
Van Voorhis' attorney said he'll ask the state
supreme court to rule on whether being a jerk -- by
itself -- is ground for a judge to be ousted.
Gerald Trudel A judge with a God complex
and a gulag.
The state's judicial conduct board concluded
in mid-February that Gerald Trudel, a judge in
Michigan Circuit Court, Allen Park, should be
removed from office for abusing county workers,
taking unearned vacations and faking illness.
He's been suspended since July 2002,
pending the Michigan Supreme Court acting on the
conduct board's recommendation.
The judge had a fondness for driving his staff
into opposing camps with arbitrary rewards and
punishments, the board alleges. It says he secretly
used city money, without authorization, to rent a
second courthouse without running water or
working toilets -- and exiled those who were out of
favor to the gulag.
Meanwhile, he set out for palmier climes. The
board reported that he tried to take seven months
vacation in three years, disguising much of it as
medical leave for depression, while taking trips to
Newport Beach, Calif.
We may be seeing a trend here that helps
explain judicial thought. One of the allegations
against Trudel is that he referred to himself as
California's Bruce Van Voorhis explained his
gush of anger in the courtroom as being
comparable to the frustration Jesus felt when he
saw the money changers in the temple. And in
Texas, Richard W.B. Davis -- a lawyer who almost
made our cut -- sent notes about how critics'
comments struck him as being like defecation on
Rodney P. Owens Gaining a pension after
avoiding the tax man.
Rodney P. Owens fought his judicial conduct
commission just long enough -- from his July 2002
suspension until Jan. 6, 2003 -- that it was
irrefutable that he had been on the bench for a
decade and so would have a vested pension.
Then the district judge from Little Rock,
The commission urged his ouster for tax
avoidance. He had bought a 37-foot, 1989 Vogue
IV, a trailer worth about $103,000, and then paid
an extra $1,000 to have it fraudulently registered in
Oregon, which has no sales or use tax on vehicles.
When he discovered the investigation was
under way, Owens paid about $10,000 in taxes,
interest and penalties. Now his attorney is
appealing, alleging six major errors, e.g., that the
trial judge did not give the jury the option of
convicting on the lesser offense of failing to
register a vehicle.
Charles E. Low Jr. Woman kept 'on the side'
while her case was in court.
When April 14 came, so did a reprimand
from the judicial conduct commission against
Judge Charles E. Lowe, a Pike County, Ky.,
Circuit Court judge, for having a sexual relationship
with a litigant.
"The conduct of the judge shocks the
conscience of the commission," said the chairman,
Stephen D. Wolnitzek, adding that Lowe could
have been removed from office if he hadn't already
The judge restricted his resignation to one
sentence, and has not been available to comment
on the sworn declarations that Debbi Mullins gave
the commission. She and her husband had adopted
a baby girl, and were frightened when the birth
mother tried to back out of the agreement. Mullins
said a cousin worked for Lowe and told him she
would do anything to keep the child.
"He took me up on it," wrote Mullins, adding
that she became the judge's "on the side" for five
years, the length of time it took the adoption to
Thomas B. Woodard A 'touchy-feely' guy
where women were concerned.
The competition is always tough for judicial
horndog of the year, but Judge Thomas B.
Woodard, 52, of the Pickens County, Ala., juvenile
court, wins the title going away.
And going away is just what he did,
negotiating his retirement two days before the
state's conduct commission was opening hearings
into the case it had made against him for touching,
hugging and kissing women and girls in his
The judge had served a six-month suspension
for the same thing eight years earlier, and had been
indefinitely suspended again as of August 2002.
In one alleged incident, he held a 10-year-old
girl in his arms for 15 minutes while counseling her,
concluding with a kiss. In another, he questioned a
crying teenager, insisting on knowing how many
people she had slept with. When she finally replied,
he called her a "whore."
And then there was the troublesome case in
which he didn't recuse himself even though he was
dating the defendant; he ruled for her in a child
support case and, in an assault case against her,
sentenced her to probation.
Until the end, his attorney insisted Woodard's
only problem was that he was a "touchy-feely kind
Francis X. Golniewicz Jr. Jurors felt
unappreciated, as did lots of others.
Appointed to the bench in 1991 by the Illinois
Supreme Court, Judge Francis X. Golniewicz of
the Cook County Circuit Court was the son of a
But in less than a year, complaints started
about his bullying, profane ways, like the time he
lectured a black defendant: "When I'm talking to
you, boy, you look at me."
The stories finally made it to the judicial
inquiry board, and Golniewicz was removed from
judicial duties as of June 2002 until his case is
According to the conduct board, he "engaged
in rude, inappropriate, undignified, prejudicial and
biased behavior," toward defendants and
witnesses, including using profanity in open court.
What he said, his lawyer insisted, was
"friggin.' " And for the judge, "boy" is not a racial
Stories about how Golniewicz derided jurors
may pose his biggest hurdle to getting back on the
bench. In one case, according to the judicial board
complaint, the judge said he was not signing the
certificates of appreciation routinely given to jurors
for their service.
Remarking that jurors didn't deserve it,
Golniewicz purportedly tore up the papers and
threw them in the trash in view of the departing
Joyce Julian A ballet with the bottle falls
OK, the rules we set for each year's list of
judicial shenanigans exclude the routine
ticket-fixers and those (re)arrested for drunken
driving -- because there's usually a dozen of each,
and they're pathetic in any case.
But Broward County, Fla., Family Law Judge
Joyce Julian's ballet with the bottle qualifies her as
anything but a garden-variety drinker. And, voters
decided last fall, it also disqualifies her from
in judgment on others. It was the first time in a
decade that an incumbent Florida judge failed to
The incident occurred at the state judges'
annual conference, with 450 attendees, at the posh
Amelia Island Plantation near Jacksonville, Fla.
Security reports describe the 44-year-old
judge cutting quite a figure on the first night:
verbally abusing a valet, crashing a private party,
announcing she wanted to "pick up a cowboy" and
drinking until she was falling down on the lounge
She was spotted at 3 a.m. lying on a floor in
hotel corridor, rising to take off her pants and
trying to hide behind an ice maker. That's when the
really bad stuff started.
By way of cover-up, the half-naked judge told
a Nassau County, Fla., sheriff's deputy someone
had spiked her drink and sexually assaulted her. In
a victim's report, she fingered a man in a long,
dark, leather coat. She recanted it, then refiled it.
After a two-week investigation, the
concluded that the story was a lie. Her attorney,
citing blackout problems, negotiated a stint in
rehab, and all charges were dropped.
James I. Aaron Judge sniffs, others smell a
big stench from the bench.
When Fresno County, Calif., Superior Court
Judge James I. Aaron presided over drug court,
he'd order defendants to approach the bench and
smell their hair to determine if they were playing by
It turned out, however, that the stench came
from the other side of the bench.
Last July, the state commission issued a
public censure that the judge stipulated to as part
of his agreement to step down within five days.
Besides deriding the drug-sniffing, the
censure states that the judge helped run a ponzi
scheme out of his chambers.
A Fresno businessman named Kenneth Roper
recruited the judge and gave him a $20,000 finder's
fee to bring in investors. The judge talked up the
get-rich potential of it, while neglecting to mention
to potential suckers that he hadn't put his own
money in or that he got kick-backs for everyone he
Fresno lawyer David Mudridge said he finally
invested $2,500 -- but not because he expected to
make any money. Mudridge said he'd go for a
court appearance and the judge would take him
into chambers to discuss investments, so
Mudridge finally agreed "to get him off my back."
Aaron told court staff that Roper and any
investors had primo access. If they phoned, they
were put through to the judge even if he was on the
When the scheme collapsed, Aaron agreed to
cooperate with investigators. Roper is now doing
Aaron's attorney says the judge and Roper
went to the same church, and Aaron never thought
the scheme was illegal. He adds that Aaron, 60,
was planning to retire anyway.
Danny Ray Wells A judge puts on the bite in
What is it about West Virginia judges putting
the bite on people during bail hearings?
To celebrate Law Day 1998, The National
Law Journal recounted how Judge Joseph Troisi
lost it -- as well as his job -- when he came off the
bench after a bail proceeding to bite a defendant on
This year, Logan County Magistrate Danny
Ray Wells was convicted of shaking down those
who came to his courtroom to try to help friends
and loved ones.
The way it worked -- from January 2000 to
last summer -- is that he would tell, say, the mother
of an arrestee that she must pay $300 in "special,
nonrefundable bonds" to a mysterious man who
appeared to be a bondsman or the runner for a
Then the judge would free the defendant on a
personal recognizance bond, which doesn't require
any payment, and pocket the cash. The man, John
Nagy, a former court marshal, said that he and
Wells would go into chambers afterward and split
the take down the middle.
The prosecution initially alleged that Wells,
51, accepted not only cash but also sex. A woman
testified that she believed the only way to free her
husband was to take Wells up on his offer to have
intercourse with him at night in the magistrate's
Wells denied all the allegations, insisting
Nagy had run the bond racket by himself. The jury
concluded that the prosecution hadn't proved the
sex part, but convicted Wells of bribery and
The state supreme court suspended Wells
without pay in October 2002. Two weeks after his
March 3 conviction, he resigned.
J.A.I.L. is an acronym for Judicial
Accountability Initiative Law JAIL's very
informative website is found at
www.jail4judges.org JAIL proposes a unique new
addition to our form of government. JAIL is
powerful! JAIL is dynamic! JAIL is America's
ONLY hope! JAIL is spreading across America
like a fast moving wildfire! JAIL is making inroads
into Congress for federal accountability! JAIL may
be supported at P.O. Box 207, N. Hollywood, CA
91603 To subscribe or be removed:
AddRemove@... E-Groups, sign on at
Forum to make your voice heard
JAIL-SoundOff@yahoogroups.com Ask not what
J.A.I.L. can do for me, but ask what I can do for
"..it does not require a majority to prevail,
rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush
fires in people's minds.." - Samuel Adams
"There are a thousand hacking at the
branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
-- Henry David Thoreau <><
Do you Yahoo!?
The New Yahoo! Search - Faster. Easier. Bingo.