Miss. Com'n On Judicial Perform. v. Boland, No. 2007-JP-00661-SCT.

Decision Date28 February 2008
Docket NumberNo. 2007-JP-00661-SCT.
Citation975 So.2d 882
PartiesMISSISSIPPI COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE v. Nicki M. BOLAND.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Luther T. Brantley, III, Darlene Ballard and Ayanna Batiste, attorneys for appellant.

Alex A. Alston, Jr., attorney for appellee.

EN BANC.

EASLEY, Justice, for the Court.

¶ 1. On December 8, 2005, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission) filed a formal complaint against Nicki M. Boland, Justice Court Judge for Hinds County, District One, Mississippi, alleging judicial misconduct which was actionable pursuant to Article 6, Section 177A, Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended. Judge Boland filed an answer to the formal complaint on February 21, 2006, denying the claims. The Commission held hearings on August 21, 2006, and November 10, 2006, in this matter and filed its Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations on February 20, 2007. Judge Boland then filed an objection to the Commission's findings and recommendation.

¶ 2. The Commission filed Commission Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Recommendation on April 24, 2007, with this Court. Specifically, the Commission found that Judge Boland's conduct violated Canons 1, 2 A, 3 B(4), 3 B(5), and 3 C of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and that it constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute pursuant to Article 6, Section 177A, of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended. The Commission recommended to this Court that Judge Boland publicly be reprimanded and assessed the costs of this proceeding in the amount of $4,108.42. This Court adopts the Commission's recommendation. However, we find that Judge Boland's conduct violated only Canons 1, 2 A, and 3 C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

FACTS

¶ 3. On December 8, 2005, the Commission filed a formal complaint against Judge Boland for a number of statements she allegedly made at a National Drug Court Institute training conference break-out session in Dallas, Texas, on September 16, 2005. The Commission asserted that Judge Boland's conduct violated Canons 1, 2 A, 2 B, 3 B(2), 3 B(4), 3 B(5), and 3 C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Further, the Commission alleged that Judge Boland's conduct violated Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended, since her conduct constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute. Judge Boland filed her answer and affirmative defenses, denying the allegations.

¶ 4. The Commission held hearings over the course of two days on August 21 and November 10, 2006. During the hearings, a number of witnesses for the Commission testified to Judge Boland's actions. Judge Boland also testified and called a number of witnesses to testify on her behalf.

¶ 5. Shirley Jackson-Thomas, a grants manager for Hinds County, attended the conference in Dallas in 2005. Also attending from Mississippi, along with Jackson-Thomas, were: Malcom Harrison, Hinds County prosecutor; Denise Pendleton, drug court coordinator; Jennifer Riley-Collins, an attorney; Patricia Colwell Hinson, a juvenile drug court team member; and Judge Boland. Judge Rogelio Flores from California was the group's facilitator at the conference. In addition, Carolyn Hardin, the drug court institute director, was present at the conference.

¶ 6. Jackson-Thomas stated the group was not progressing fast enough during its break-out session, therefore they worked through lunch. Jackson-Thomas observed that Judge Boland was agitated, anxious, and probably frustrated at this point. She stated that the group was giving suggestions concerning how to structure the program when Judge Boland went into a "tirade" and ceased to be open to any of the group's suggestions. Jackson-Thomas related that Judge Boland told the group about her involvement with the drug court. Judge Boland said she felt that she was not getting any support from other justice court judges or the board of supervisors. In addition, Jackson-Thomas testified that Judge Boland said the members of the board of supervisors were not intelligent and that some justice court judges did not have degrees. Judge Boland told them that she was going to make sure that if the justice court judges did not have law degrees, then they at least should have college degrees. Furthermore, Jackson-Thomas stated that Judge Boland told Pendleton that she needed to find another job because there was not going to be a drug court. Judge Boland told Riley-Collins: "You can go home because you're not on this team anymore." Judge Boland also stated that "[a]nd you African-Americans — all you African-Americans can go to hell."

¶ 7. Jackson-Thomas stated that she was "shocked," "appalled," "embarrassed," and "angry" as a result of Judge Boland's outburst. Thereafter, everyone gathered their belongings and left the break-out session. As a result of the remarks made by Judge Boland, many of the Mississippi participants left the conference and flew home to Mississippi. Jackson-Thomas, however, returned to the conference the next day to pick up reimbursement forms. Later, Jackson-Thomas received an apology letter from Judge Boland; however, she testified that she felt that the letter lacked sincerity.

¶ 8. Hinson testified that when she and other group members asked questions about the drug-court process, Judge Boland challenged their questions. At some point, Hardin entered the room, and Judge Boland became angry. Judge Boland explained that she had worked hard on the project and felt that everyone was fighting her at every turn. Hinson stated that Judge Boland then became red-faced and yelled at Riley-Collins to "get the hell out" of the room. Hinson stated that she was "stunned" and "shocked" by Judge Boland's behavior.

¶ 9. In addition, Hinson stated that Judge Boland said something to the effect that "African-Americans in Hinds County can go to hell for all I care." After this outburst, Hinson stated that she was embarrassed and ashamed to be in the room, as she was the only other Caucasian person present. Hinson stated, "I was professionally and personally embarrassed to be a white person in a room with predominantly African-Americans because — and I did not want anyone in that room to think that anything she said spoke for me in any way, shape, or form." Hinson received an apology letter which she believed to be argumentative, defensive, and insincere. Hinson stated that she had gone shopping with Judge Boland on the previous night. While at the mall, Judge Boland had told Hinson that she did not feel well.

¶ 10. Riley-Collins stated that when Hardin walked into the break-out session, Judge Boland told Riley-Collins, "You know, you can just get the hell out." Shortly thereafter, Judge Boland told Riley-Collins, "Your attitude — your attitude stinks. You know, you're not part of this process. You can just get the hell out." Later, Riley-Collins stated that Judge Boland was frustrated when she said to forget about funding the program and stated, "As far as I'm concerned all African-Americans in Hinds County can go to hell." At this point, Riley-Collins gathered her belongings and left, along with Jackson-Thomas and Harrison. Although Riley-Collins did not mention specific comments, she stated that Judge Boland also made derogatory comments about other justice court judges and the Hinds County supervisors. Judge Boland also wrote Riley-Collins an apology letter. However, Riley-Collins felt that the letter was self-centered and was insincere.

¶ 11. Malcolm Harrison, Hinds County prosecutor, stated that during the break-out session, Judge Boland began screaming and yelling and went into a ten-to-fifteen-minute tirade in which she lambasted everyone. He related that Judge Boland stated that she was not supported by Hinds County and individuals in the county such as the members of the board of supervisors and other justice court judges. Harrison also heard Judge Boland's comment that all African-Americans in Hinds County could go to hell.

¶ 12. Harrison stated that he felt embarrassed by Judge Boland's comments, as an African-American, a lawyer, and a Mississippian. When Judge Boland made her remark about African-Americans, Harrison left the room and changed his travel reservations to return to Jackson the next day.

¶ 13. Denise Pendleton, the Hinds County drug court coordinator, testified that she was a full-time employee for the drug court. She said that, during the session, Judge Boland became agitated and frustrated. At one point, Judge Boland told Riley-Collins that she could leave if she did not want to be part of the program. When Hardin, the National Drug Court Institute representative, entered the break-out session, Judge Boland became upset. Judge Boland asked Hardin why she was there and who had asked her to come to the session. At this point, Judge Boland had her "outburst" and stated that some of the other justice court judges "were on the same level as the people that came before her, which is a GED level." Judge Boland also stated that the members of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors "were ignorant and lacked leadership." Judge Boland also stated that she was going to leave and that she was "through with the drug court." She also stated that all African-Americans in Hinds County could go to hell. Pendleton received an apology letter from Judge Boland. However, like the others, Pendleton did not believe that the letter was sincere.

¶ 14. Judge Flores and Hardin both provided testimony to the Commission via deposition. Their testimony was consistent with that of the Hinds County team members who were present when Judge Boland made her statements.

¶ 15. Testifying on Judge Boland's behalf were: Judge Mike Parker, United States magistrate judge for the Southern District of...

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