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Flournoy suspension sends clear message on conduct

12/22/99



Editorial
If Coconino County Superior Court Judge J. Michael Flournoy had any doubts that his conduct has been outside the boundaries established for jurists in Arizona, his official suspension by the state Supreme Court this week should have put them to rest.

Flournoy has been off the bench since July, when the state Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended an 18-month suspension for tampering with a court transcript and improper outbursts of temper. The Supreme Court upheld the recommendation on all counts, although it will not require Flournoy to complete counseling and education before he returns to the bench next December.

Flournoy and his supporters have contended that he was railroaded by an overzealous staff of the Judicial Conduct panel -- charges the high court rejected. If Flournoy has a fault, they said, it is that he cares about the law and his duties too much, leading to occasional intemperate remarks borne of frustration, not malice.

We don't disagree that Flournoy is a conscientious judge. But as we have noted before, a judicious temperament is a requirement for anyone entrusted with upholding society's laws, and Flournoy had been warned on six prior occasions that his conduct wasn't measuring up. Standards for courtroom demeanor change, and judges must change with them. What was once seen as crankiness is now regarded as a failure to maintain courtroom decorum, and the Supreme Court has clearly told Flournoy what is not acceptable.

As for the tampering charge, the justices were unanimous after reviewing the transcripts that comments Flournoy struck from the final version were not off the record and were, indeed, germane to the case.

"Once recorded and relevant to another legal proceeding, there was no justification for withholding it," wrote Justice Frederick Martone for the court.

In the past, Flournoy and some of his supporters appear to have been in denial over the charges. They are still free to disagree with the conclusions, but the Supreme Court is the law of the land in Arizona, and if Flournoy wants to continue sitting as a judge he would do well to heed the ruling. Judges, like anyone else, are fallible, but Judge Flournoy appears to have run out of second chances.







 
The Arizona Daily Sun
Copyright 1999, Pulitzer Community Newspapers, Inc.

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