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Judges Who Crossed The Line -- Or Erased It

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    Judges Who Crossed The Line -- Or Erased It The Injudicious Judges who crossed the line -- or erased it Gail Diane Cox The National Law Journal 05-05-2003
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2003
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      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
      and embroilment.

      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
      with jurors.

      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
      bench altogether.

      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
      Mt. Sinai.

      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,
      Ark., quit.

      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
      become final.

      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
      of guy."

      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
      respected judge.

      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
      flat at
      judges' conference.

      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
      win re-election.

      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
      dance floor.

      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
      the rules.

      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
      signed up.

      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
      West Virginia.

      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
      the nose.

      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
      lunch room.

      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.



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