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
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.