More Appellate Court Discord
Posted by judicialethicsforum on Saturday, January, 17, 2009
The same day the Florida Supreme Court decided to publicly reprimand a court of appeal judge for filing a concurring opinion in which he personally attacked a fellow appellate judge (see my previous post), the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct dismissed complaints about the “vitriolic language” and “unprofessional personal attacks” against his colleagues by Chief Justice Tom Gray of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in several dissenting opinions. Public Admonition of Gray (Dec. 18, 2008). The attacks had “became media fodder and were the subject of growing criticism and ridicule in editorials, on internet blogs, and at judicial conferences.” Noting that the judge had acknowledged the problems caused by the tone of his opinions and taken appropriate corrective measures to avoid that conduct in the future, the Commission “determined, in deference to the principle of judicial independence, that Justice Gray should not be disciplined for the content of his dissents.”
However, the Commission did publicly admonish Justice Gray for allowing his acrimonious relationship with his fellow justices to influence his conduct and judgment and failing to treat court personnel in a patient, dignified, and courteous manner. The Commission found that Justice Gray began a “whisper campaign” against Justice Felipe Reyna by telling Republican party leaders that “somebody needs to talk to Felipe. He’s not being a good Republican,” and that Justice Reyna “always votes with a liberal Democrat, [Justice] Bill Vance,” or words to that effect. In addition, a security tape showed Justice Gray unlocking and entering Justice Vance’s private offices without permission and when no one else was present. Justice Gray claimed that he was searching for a file but acknowledged that, after determining that the file was not in the office, he reviewed other papers on Justice Vance’s desk. Justice Gray further testified that he has unlocked and entered the private offices of both Justice Vance and Justice Reyna in the past to look for files while the other justices were not present and had not given their permission.
Justice Vance and Justice Reyna testified about instances when Justice Gray treated court staff in a sarcastic, intimidating, and demeaning manner, including angry outbursts and personal attacks. Justice Gray also commonly made statements implying that the chief clerk would be out of a job after January 1, 2009, and tried to convince the other justices to vote to fire the chief clerk and the accountant. The Commission found that “mistreatment was sufficient to reduce some staff members to tears and has contributed to extremely low employee morale at the Court.”
by: Cindy Gray, Director, Center for Judicial Ethics, American Judicature Society