A new investigation reveals that over the past decade, thousands of people have been victimized by state and local courtroom misconduct. We’ve talked plenty about crooked cops, so what’s the deal with so many judges skirting the law? Legal journalist Mollye Barrows joins America’s Lawyer host Mike Papantonio to discuss this.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             A new investigation reveals that more than decades past and thousands of people have been victimized by state and local courtroom misconduct. We’ve talked plenty about crooked cops. So what’s the deal with what’s happening with these state court judges? Mollye, this, this story is so, so bothersome to me because it, it, it looks like we’ve put them in a position. Some of these judges that we don’t, we, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, and that’s hold them accountable.

Mollye Barrows:                Right. That’s exactly right and it definitely looks like favoritism. It could undermine the average person’s faith in the court system when they see just how unfair and biased really they’ve been treated for their own levels of misconduct.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. Lay this story our for us a little bit.

Mollye Barrows:                So it’s a great investigative piece by the Associated Press. And they had their reporters dig into a lot of cases themselves, as well as address different judicial commissions in States around the country. And what they found is that between 2008 and 2019, there were more than 1500 cases where judges were resigned, retired or basically allowed to, to slide out of something if they were facing a, an improper, an accusation of misconduct or something improper. There were also more than 3000, almost 4000 in that same time period that basically were disciplined, but the details of what they were disciplined for were kept from the public, including their names in some cases, and they have a list of just the most outrageous things that they’ve done. So.

Mike Papantonio:             Give us, give us some examples of how bad this is, according to this.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes, Well, you know, just some real short recaps, real quick. In Utah, a judge sent a picture of a defendant’s scrotum to other members of the court. In another case in California, a judge was having sex with an intern as well as a different attorney in his office. And, and, and, you know, these are not criminal if you will, but they’re certainly misconduct. There are other types of criminal behavior. There were several judges from Indiana that got, went to a conference and they got into a brawl at 3:00 AM in front of white castle. And two of them ended up shot. And the.

Mike Papantonio:             The, the two judges were shooting each other?

Mollye Barrows:                Two of the judges ended up shot. Yes. And so, even though they were all disciplined and said, you know, in that particular instance, the judicial commission said, you’re an embarrassment to the state bench of Indiana. And yet they were all still allowed to go back to work. Or in some cases, like I mentioned before, retire, slide out of it without a lot of consequences.

Mike Papantonio:             So what drives it? I mean, you’ve got a, you do have a judicial commission that’s supposed to look at the facts. They’re gonna, supposed to say, you know, we, we don’t have shootouts in front of a white castle. You’re a judge.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             You got to go back, back home and, and you have to be respectable.

Mollye Barrows:                There was even another one that popped into my head while you were talking and I remember which state this was in, but basically these jury, this jury was debating whether or not a woman had been sex trafficked. And, the judge pops into their deliberations and said, you need to find her innocent. God told me she was innocent and yet, and he received a slap on the wrist. So there’s just, you know, example after example. And it varies by state, but each state and the federal court, they also have their own judicial commissions. And that’s how people file complaints. But the very nature of the way that you do that, and they use Alabama’s example can be intimidating and make it so that people are afraid to come forward, whether they’re attorneys or average citizens, that they feel like they’ve seen some kind of misconduct or abuse of power, the system is set up to make it difficult for them to file a complaint.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. So an attorney knows something in a typical kind of situation.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             An attorney knows that this judge is incompetent. Shouldn’t be on the, on the bench. Has done something totally outrageous.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             But it’s really up to the lawyer to go to the commission and not just report, but actually work towards trying to get rid of that judge. You see, I think, I think it breaks down, I think it breaks down with the, the lawyer most of the time, it’s going to come through a lawyer, the lawyer not doing enough to follow through because they’re terrified. Gee, if I lose, if I lose this fight with this judge, then this judge is not all going to be going after me, but all his pals are going to be going after me too.

Mollye Barrows:                That’s right. And it can affect their clients and, and, and all of that. And that’s exactly what they’re talking about. This one, there was even a case in Alabama and they use Alabama a lot as an example, there was a judge there that basically sentenced a woman to well over a year in jail for parking tickets. And it was a longer sentence than you would get for negligent homicide. During that time, her children were taken away, put in foster care, they were abused. She had to jump through hoops to even attempt to get to see them again. And there was another case of a judge in Alabama who was on their judicial commission to investigate complaints of misconduct against judges who had been found guilty numerous times of nepotism, even benefiting his own son. And yet he was allowed to stay on the bench. And the system they talk about with Alabama, if you wanted to file a complaint as an attorney or a citizen, you’d have to get that complaint in writing notarized. So, because it’s notarized, if you lie, they determined they can even pursue you for perjury. And there’s just a whole bunch of rings of fire that people have to jump through to worry about retaliation.

Mike Papantonio:             How many, how many stories, how many, with the story that you’re talking about, did it, did it give us a number of things that they would say this is serious misconduct that just went completely unattended?

Mollye Barrows:                Yes. I mean, there were literally 3,600 cases and they, the wayward judges, they say we’re disciplined, but the details weren’t released. So they were hidden. And they’re actually also, this was another reason why they say it’s intimidating for people to file complaints, these judges, when the complaints are filed against them, they’re given access to all the information, witness statements, subpoenas things that defendants in a criminal court don’t always get access to right away. So the system, they get favoritism and as a result, they’re being lenient and allowed to behave in ways that undermine our system.

Mike Papantonio:             Mollye, thank you for joining me. Okay.

Mollye Barrows:                Yes. Thanks Pap.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.