COM'N ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE v. Carr, 2000-JP-01674-SCT.

Decision Date14 June 2001
Docket NumberNo. 2000-JP-01674-SCT.,2000-JP-01674-SCT.
Citation786 So.2d 1055
PartiesMISSISSIPPI COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE v. Pat CARR.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Luther T. Brantley, III, Irene Mikell Buckley, Attorneys for Appellant.

Paul S. Funderburk, Tupelo, Attorney for Appellee.

EN BANC.

DIAZ, Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. On May 19, 2000, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission) filed a formal complaint against Pat Carr, Justice Court Judge for the Northern District of Lee County, alleging judicial misconduct constituting a violation of Article 6, § 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended. On June 5, 2000, the Commission filed an amended formal complaint which Carr answered on June 28, 2000. In lieu of an evidentiary hearing on the facts, Carr and the Commission submitted an Agreed Statement of Facts and Proposed Recommendation approved by counsel for the respective parties.

¶ 2. The Commission's Findings of Fact and Recommendation were filed with this Court on October 11, 2000. After an extensive investigation and review of the accusations, the Commission found that Carr's behavior constituted willful misconduct in violation of Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3A(1) and 3A(7) of the Code of Judicial Conduct of Mississippi Judges.1 As punishment for these transgressions, the Commission recommended that Carr be publicly reprimanded and pay costs associated with this matter amounting to $100.00. We concur with the joint resolution and adopt the findings of fact and agreed sanctions recommended to this Court by the Commission.

FACTS

¶ 3. The following recitation of facts outlines the offenses Carr committed as reported by the Commission. On or about August 21, 1998, Carr in his capacity as justice court judge, held an arraignment for two suspects each accused of committing murder, setting bail at five million dollars per suspect. Carr allowed the proceeding to be photographed and electronically recorded by representatives of the news media who thereafter broadcast the proceedings to the public.

¶ 4. On October 12, 1999, Carr held an initial appearance for a man charged with felony threatening phone calls, wherein he set bond at $50,000.00. Carr allowed the print and broadcast news media to photograph and electronically record the proceedings and disseminate them to the public. Later that day, Carr again allowed the press to record the initial appearance of a man charged with kidnapping who was held without bond. The news media later aired this recording to the public.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 5. The appropriate standard of review for a judicial disciplinary proceeding is derived from Rule 10(E) of the Rules of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, which instructs as follows:

Based upon a review of the entire record, the Supreme Court shall prepare and publish a written opinion and judgment directing such disciplinary action, if any, as it finds just and proper. The Supreme Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendation of the Commission. In the event that more than one recommendation for discipline of the judge is filed, the Supreme Court may render a single decision or impose a single sanction with respect to all recommendations.

Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Bishop, 761 So.2d 195, 197-98 (Miss.2000). In judicial misconduct proceedings, this Court is the trier of fact and alone possesses the power to impose sanctions. Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Neal, 774 So.2d 414, 416 (Miss.2000). Although this Court has an obligation to conduct an independent inquiry, we nonetheless give great weight to the findings of the Commission. Neal, 774 So.2d at 416.

DISCUSSION

I. WHETHER CARR'S 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.

¶ 6. Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 authorizes this Court to sanction judges for "willful misconduct in office or conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute." We have defined "willful misconduct" as follows:

Willful misconduct in office is the improper or wrongful use of power of his office by a judge acting intentionally or with gross unconcern for his conduct and generally in bad faith. It involves more than an error of judgment or a mere lack of diligence. Necessarily, the term would encompass conduct involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, or corruption, and also any knowing misuse of the office, whatever the motive. However, these elements are not necessary to a finding of bad faith. A specific intent to use the powers of the judicial office to accomplish a purpose which the judge knew or should have known was beyond the legitimate exercise of his authority constitutes bad faith.... Willful misconduct in office of necessity is conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute. However, a judge may also, through negligence or ignorance not amounting to bad faith, behave in a manner prejudicial to the administration of justice so as to bring the judicial office into disrepute.

Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Russell, 691 So.2d 929, 937 (Miss. 1997). This Court can generally recognize examples of willful misconduct when they are presented for review. In re Anderson, 412 So.2d 743, 752 (Miss.1982) (Hawkins, J., specially concurring). The misconduct complained of need not be intentional or notorious; rather negligence, ignorance, and incompetence suffice as grounds for behavior to be classified as prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute and thus worthy of sanctions. In re Quick, 553 So.2d 522, 527 (Miss.1989).

¶ 7. It is uncontested that Carr allowed arraignment and initial appearance proceedings to be photographed and videotaped by representatives of the news media who thereafter printed or broadcast said photographs and tapes to the public in clear violation of both the letter and spirit of the Code of Judicial Conduct, specifically Canon 3A(7). These actions typify the very demeanor we, members of the legal profession, seek to avoid. We agree with the Commission that Carr's behavior constitutes "willful misconduct in office or conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute" as contemplated by our state constitution.

II. WHETHER CARR SHOULD BE PUBLICLY REPRIMANDED AND ASSESSED COSTS PURSUANT TO SECTION 177A OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890.

¶ 8. Sanctions available to this Court in judicial misconduct cases include, but are not limited to, the power to remove a judge from office, suspend a judge from duty, levy a fine and require a public reprimand. Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Walker, 565 So.2d 1117, 1124 (Miss.1990). Of course, the sanction imposed should be commensurate with the offense committed. In re Bailey, 541 So.2d 1036, 1039 (Miss.1989).

¶ 9. The Commission has recommended that Carr receive a public reprimand and assessed costs in the amount of one hundred dollars as punishment for the misconduct. Carr agreed to this recommendation and, in fact, joined the Commission's motion asking this Court to accept the recommended sanctions. In determining whether a reprimand should be public, this Court will consider mitigating factors which weigh in favor of confidential, private action. Those factors are: (1) the length and character of the judge's public service; (2) any positive contributions made by the judge to the courts and the community; (3) the lack of prior judicial precedent on the incident in issue; (4) the commitment to fairness and innovative procedural form on the part of the judge; (5) the magnitude of the offense; (6) the number of persons affected; (7) whether "moral turpitude" was involved. Walker, 565 So.2d at 1125.

¶ 10. In light of Carr's previous private...

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