Com'n On Judicial Performance v. Lewis

Citation913 So.2d 266
Decision Date31 March 2005
Docket NumberNo. 2004-JP-01002-SCT.,2004-JP-01002-SCT.
PartiesMISSISSIPPI COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE v. Joseph LEWIS.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi

Luther T. Brantley, III, Darlene D. Ballard, attorneys for appellant.

Julie Ann Epps, Jackson, attorney for appellee.

EN BANC.

SMITH, Chief Justice, for the Court.

¶ 1. On June 9, 2003, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a Formal Complaint charging Joseph Lewis, Justice Court Judge, District Three, Hinds County, Mississippi, with judicial misconduct constituting willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute and is actionable under Article 6, Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended, and violative of Canon 3(B)(12) of our existing Code of Judicial Conduct.

¶ 2. On January 14, 2004, the hearing on these charges occurred before the Commission's three-member Committee. On April 27, 2004, the Committee filed its Findings of Fact, Conclusions and Recommendations. On May 7, 2004, counsel for the Commission filed written objections to the Committee recommendations. The full Commission rendered its findings, conclusions and recommendations as follows: The Commission found that Judge Lewis had engaged in numerous ex parte communications with litigants in person and by telephonic means. The Commission noted that three females made allegations of sexual advances by Judge Lewis, but these allegations were not considered by the Commission in its findings. The Commission noted two prior public reprimands by this Court against Judge Lewis for one of the same reasons as now under consideration, Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Lewis, 830 So.2d 1138 (Miss.2002), Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Lewis, 801 So.2d 704 (Miss.2001), and that Judge Lewis never paid the fines or costs assessed against him by this Court and was never publicly reprimanded in open court as ordered by this Court.

¶ 3. The Commission found that Judge Lewis violated Canons 1, 2 A, 3 B(1), 3 B(2), 3 B(3), 3 B(4), 3 B(7), and 3 E(1)(a) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Article 6, Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. The Commission recommended to this Court that Judge Lewis be removed from office and assessed costs of the present proceeding in the sum of $2,080.83.

¶ 4. After careful consideration of the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding this case, this Court removes Judge Lewis from office and orders that he pay the costs of this proceedings in the amount of $ 2,080.23 and all costs awarded in prior proceedings.

FACTS

¶ 5. Three different women filed complaints against Judge Lewis. The Commission dismissed the complaint of one of the women's complaint. On June 21, 2002, Judge Lewis engaged in ex parte communications with Jane Doe, a fictitious name, about a judgment he had entered against her regarding a rental agreement. The amount of the judgment against Doe was $1,430 plus interest. After making payments to the plaintiff, Doe, the defendant was confused and upset when her wages continued to be garnished even after she was evicted. When she went to the Courthouse, in hopes of finding an explanation for what she felt was unjust, she came into contact with Judge Lewis, whom she had never met before this specific instance. Once Doe entered Judge Lewis' office so that they could discuss her case, he made several inappropriate sexual advances, all of which she refused. Some of these sexual advances included his suggestion that they go to a private, secluded area in the courthouse. Judge Lewis began their conversation by describing in sexually explicit detail an encounter with another woman. Judge Lewis denied this account. No other witnesses were privy to the conversation. Judge Lewis informed Doe that he would help her and explained that all he had to do was get her back to court to stop the garnishment. When asked if Judge Lewis expected something from Doe in return for his "helping" her, she stated "[t]hat he wanted me to have some type of involvement with him in order for him to assist me in what I needed, because he knew the specifics of what to do, and he had the power to help me . . . I had been evicted, and I was desperate for help. And I felt that he was expecting me to exchange a favor with him for help I needed for my desperation." Judge Lewis also called Doe by telephone at her home, continuing to assure her that he was "helping" her or working on a resolution for her case.

¶ 6. Rhonda Roe, a fictitious name, the second complainant, filed a civil action in Judge Lewis' court which involved another woman stalking her. Roe had never met Judge Lewis prior to filing this civil action. Judge Lewis had numerous ex parte communications with Roe, in person and by phone, and made sexual advances toward Roe while in his office during one of those meetings. Judge Lewis began the sexual conversation with Roe, commented on how attractive Roe was and said that he was interested in her. Judge Lewis further noted how pretty her hair was and how her ex-boyfriend was going to be sorry for leaving her. He thus told Roe that he wanted to come by her house to see the damage that the defendant in her case had done to her car. Roe testified that Judge Lewis did come by her house, but she did not open the door. Again, Judge Lewis denied the allegations, and there were no other witnesses. When asked if Judge Lewis initiated the phone calls, Roe stated "I can't remember, but whenever we would — we would talk on the phone, it was always — it was hardly ever about my case. Always pertaining to him and getting with him." Judge Lewis improperly dismissed Roe's default judgment and proceeded with the hearing of a counter-suit against Roe after numerous ex parte communications with both parties.

¶ 7. Judge Lewis has never been publicly reprimanded in open court and has failed to pay costs or fines assessed against him for his two previous public reprimands involving the same issues as the case sub judice, as ordered by this Court. On January 14, 2004, Judge Lewis openly admitted that he had not paid any of his fines during the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance's Inquiry Concerning a Judge that was heard before the Commission Tribunal. When asked if he was assessed with costs in the amount of $2, 474.52 and if he had paid these costs, Judge Lewis answered "no ma'am." Then, when asked if on January 3, 2002, a mandate was issued by this Court whereby he was publicly reprimanded and assessed costs in the amount of $572.01, Judge Lewis stated "[y]es ma'am, I was aware of that." When asked if the costs had been paid, Judge Lewis answered "[n]o ma'am, nor have I been publicly reprimanded." Finally, Judge Lewis was asked if he agreed with the fact that in December 2002, he received a public reprimand, from this Court, and was assessed costs in that action. He agreed and when asked if the costs, which amounted to $496.40, had been paid, he responded by saying "[n]o ma'am."

¶ 8. The Commission found more than sufficient evidence to meet the burden of proof against Judge Lewis for violation of Counts One and Three of the Formal Complaint, which consisted of ongoing ex parte communications and improper dismissal of Roe's default judgment. The Commission, though not convinced by clear and convincing evidence of claims of sexual misconduct by Judge Lewis against the three women, nevertheless, noted that "the Commission does feel that it is more than mere coincidence that three different women, who are perfect strangers to each other, have made sexual misconduct allegations against the same individual, the Respondent, which allegedly occurred on different occasions, during different times of the year, and even in different years." The Commission did not consider these allegations in making its recommendation to this Court. The Commission recommended that Judge Lewis be removed from office and assessed costs in the amount of $2,080.83.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 9. "The standard of review for judicial misconduct proceedings is de novo." Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Boykin, 763 So.2d 872, 874 (Miss.2000) (citing Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Gunn, 614 So.2d 387, 389 (Miss.1993)). The Commission's findings, based on clear and convincing evidence, are given "great deference." Id. This Court, however, is obligated to conduct an independent inquiry. Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Neal, 774 So.2d 414, 416 (Miss.2000). "Even though the Commission's findings are considered, this Court is not bound by the findings and additional sanctions may be imposed." Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Warren, 791 So.2d 194, 196-97 (Miss.2001) (citing Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Whitten, 687 So.2d 744, 746 (Miss.1997)). The Commission did not consider the allegations of the three women in making its recommendation to this Court. However, we can and have considered the allegations of two of the women, Doe and Roe, which we find are meritorious, credible, and thus aggravating with regards to the disposition of this matter.

ANALYSIS

I. Whether Judge Lewis' Conduct Constitutes Willful Misconduct in Office and Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice Which Brings the Judicial Office into Disrepute Pursuant to Section 177a of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as Amended, and a Violation of Canons 1, 2 a 2 b, 3 b(1), 3 b(2), 3 b(3), 3 b(4), 3 b(7) and 3 e (1)(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct of Mississippi Judges.

¶ 10. The Commission found that Judge Lewis violated the above-cited canons and Section 177A of the Constitution by repeatedly engaging in ex parte communications with litigants based upon the clear and convincing evidence and testimony at the hearing. More critically, Judge Lewis himself admitted these allegations regarding the ex parte communications. We agree with the Commission...

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13 cases
  • Miss. Com'n On Jud. Perf. v. Osborne
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 18, 2009
    ...However, the Commission points to Judge Osborne's prior disciplinary history as an aggravating factor. See Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Lewis, 913 So.2d 266 (Miss.2005). This Court agrees with the Commission that two prior offenses outweigh the character of Judge Osborne's servic......
  • Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Osborne, No. 2008-JP-00454-SCT (Miss. 2/5/2009), 2008-JP-00454-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 5, 2009
    ...However, the Commission points to Judge Osborne's prior disciplinary history as an aggravating factor. See Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Lewis, 913 So. 2d 266 (Miss 2005). This Court agrees with the Commission that two prior offenses outweigh the character of Judge Osborne's servi......
  • Miss. Com'n On Jud. Perf. v. Bradford, 2008-JP-01989-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • October 1, 2009
    ...849, 852 (Miss.1992), Miss. Comm'n of Judicial Performance v. Dodds, 680 So.2d 180, 190-91 (Miss.1996), and Miss. Comm'n of Judicial Performance v. Lewis, 913 So.2d 266 (Miss.2005). In each of the cases cited by the Commission, the judge was removed from the bench. However, the Chinn and Do......
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    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 18, 2009
    ...case. ¶ 22. In addition, this Court has disciplined judges by removing them from office in the past. See Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Lewis, 913 So.2d 266, 273 (Miss.2005); Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Willard, 788 So.2d 736 (Miss.2001); Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Perfor......
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