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Naughty E-Mail Pics Cost Judge His Bench

National Law Journal Lists Judges Dismissed for "Dishonor"

News date: 04/25/2000

WASHINGTON - The National Law Journal's list of ten judges who won't be on the bench next May 1 includes a Scottsdale, Arizona City Court judge whose sending naked photos by e-mail made him the "first dot com fiasco in the annals of judicial discipline." It's part of the magazine's annual Law Day listing of what they consider the ten biggest miscreants among the nation's jurists.

Judge George Preston resigned last August 31, ahead of the Scottsdale City Council's getting together to strip him of his robes themselves. Judge Preston of the Dot Com was accused - and he never denied it - of sending raunchy material to court personnel by old-fangled and newfangled means, including his e-mail. And this was just months after he went to a mandatory seminar on how to duck sexual trouble in the workplace, the Law Journal said.

But five days after that seminar, Hizzoner used his court computer to e-mail a video clip of nude skydivers. When someone told Scottsdale's human resources officer, he got a warning. Two months later, Preston gave a female bailiff a greeting card showing exposed genitals of three women. "She was not amused," the Law Journal said, "and neither was her husband." She sued for sexual harassment, and the city settled with her.

So what was Preston's comment in his retirement letter? After saying he tried to uphold the bench's dignity over the years, he said he'd committed a mere error in judgment, according to the Law Journal.

Lest anyone think the magazine singled Preston out for top dishonors, however, the journal's top ten list was primarily populated by the like of these extinguished jurists:

Onandaga County (New York) Judge J. Kevin Mulroy. Talking outside court with the prosecution is one thing (and risky business at that, if you'd like to avoid accusations of trying to twist the case a bit). But telling him to be reasonable about plea bargains because the murder victim was just a 67-year-old "nigger bitch" is something else again. The state commission on judicial conduct said as much, and the state Supreme Court agreed, and Mulroy - who also ordered a female prosecutor in a rape case to issue a misdemeanor plea bargain if she didn't want Hizzoner to call a mistrial - now wears no robe but his bathrobe.

Delaware State Family Court Judge Gary Grubb. You can bet Pink Floyd's "Have A Cigar," from their Wish You Were Here album, has new meaning to this now former judge. A Dover tobacconist caught his Grubby little hands in the humidor taking the price tags ($7.10) off top-of-the-line cigars and replacing them with price tags from cheaper stogies. Grubb resigned in March after he was found guilty of shoplifting.

Pierce County (Washington) Superior Court Judge Grant L. Anderson. The state's judicial conduct commission decided Anderson should sit it out for four months because he wheeled and dealed with an estate he controlled. Anderson challenged that ruling, largely on the grounds that Washington's state Supreme Court had never enhanced any judge's sanction. And, technically speaking, he was right this time, too - the state Supreme Court ruled the suspension was too lenient. Can't have judges selling off bowling alleys to friends at 30 percent discounts when they're told by the deceased owner before dying that they want the proceeds going to a hospital. And last July, the court disrobed Anderson permanently. Anderson also drove himself off the bench by buying a new Cadillac Eldorado, with a friend picking up the $800 a month payments and the judge never declaring them on his financial disclosure reports. On the other hand, Anderson did avoid part of the originally recommended sanction - he won't have to go to judicial ethics class, after all.

Potosi (Missouri) Municipal Judge Ronald Hill. Talk about nitpicking - Hill cut all city fines, no matter the crimes, would be cut to a dollar apiece, in a bid to strong-arm Mayor John Byers into agreeing the city should pony up for elected officials' health insurance. Hill swore there was nothing more than a bid to get nonviolent cases off his docket, but the state Supreme Court said two beneficiaries of the dollar fines included two convicted of assault, one of whom had attacked a police officer. Hill might still get the last laugh - after he was ordered to sit out his ninth judicial term, he decided to run… for mayor.

San Bernardino (California) County Judge Fred Heene. Going into Heene's court without your lawyer was hazardous to your mental health - the California Judicial Performance Commission recorded what it called a pattern of abusing such respondents. Before the commission could censure Heene, he agreed not to run for re-election. Perhaps his signature offense was his ordering an alleged rape victim into custody for changing her story while under oath - even though prosecutors pointed out she hadn't been charged with any crime.

Coconino County (Arizona) Superior Court Judge J. Michael Flournoy. In eight years, this judge was reprimanded six times. Perhaps one would expect as much from a judge who - confronted with a slander case in which courtroom audience sang a Beatles song while a medium on the stand channeled testimony from a 15th century Englishman demanding the case end - ended the case right there. That's not what got him channeled off the bench, though. That happened because he tampered with a court transcript in another case, and was suspended through December 2000.

Marshall County (Iowa) Associate Judge Sandra J. Holien. Paranoia strikes deep, wrote songwriter Stephen Stills in 1966. It struck Holien deep enough that she thought - mistakenly - that she was the subject of an investigation that hadn't even been suggested. She mounted a five-year campaign in a bid to get to the bottom of the conspiracy that never did exist, and it ended up getting her suspended in February by Iowa's judicial conduct commission. Apparently, Holien questioned everyone including police officers about their spying on her, and caused clerks to quit regularly. She's challenging her suspension, though.

New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Stephen Thayer III. All it took was a court clerk telling him a lawyer for his former wife was checking financial disclosure forms. Thayer did a little amending of his own, making it read that he got a $50,000 loan from a Manchester attorney - who just so happened to have business before the Court, a bid to disbar another attorney. Thayer, the Law Journal said, recused himself on conflict of interest grounds because he once worked for the Manchester attorney. But there was one little detail - that didn't mean Thayer lacked input; indeed, state officials confirmed Thayer tried to influence two cases before the court after recusing himself from both - including trying to get the Chief Justice to change who he'd put on a special panel to hear an appeal of the terms of Thayer's divorce. Thayer quit on March 31.

Grayson (Kentucky) District Judge William Woods. Returning to the bench last May after doing a 60-day suspension for ethical lapses (sentencing defendants to private programs involving companies where his own family members worked), Grayson got distracted by efforts to get onto the circuit court, was either late or inaccessible, and took retaliatory actions when he lost the circuit court election. That action included ordering a sheriff to arrest himself and accusing a clerk of not voting for him. He's still awaiting Kentucky's first public hearing on judicial misconduct and, thus, inactive.

--- Philo Levin  

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