Miss. Com'n On Jud. Perf. v. Bradford

Decision Date01 October 2009
Docket NumberNo. 2008-JP-01989-SCT.,2008-JP-01989-SCT.
Citation18 So.3d 251
PartiesMISSISSIPPI COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE v. Richard BRADFORD, III.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

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

Mark W. Prewitt, Vicksburg, attorney for appellee.

EN BANC.

DICKINSON, Justice, for the Court.

¶ 1. In this judicial misconduct matter, this Court must address whether Justice Court Judge Richard Bradford III, engaged in sanctionable conduct pursuant to section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution and, if he did, the appropriate punishment for such misconduct. This Court conducts a de novo review of judicial misconduct proceedings, but gives great deference to the findings and recommendations of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, provided such findings are based on clear and convincing evidence. Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Gunn, 614 So.2d 387, 389 (Miss.1993). Although this Court gives deference to the Commission's findings, this Court is the trier of fact and has the sole power to impose sanctions in judicial misconduct cases. Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Peyton, 645 So.2d 954, 956 (Miss.1994).

¶ 2. The Commission found that Judge Bradford's conduct should be sanctioned pursuant to Section 177A, in that he engaged in "willful misconduct in office" and "conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute[.]" Miss. Const. art. 6, § 177A (b) & (e).

¶ 3. The following complaints were filed against Judge Bradford regarding inappropriate actions taken while acting in his official capacity as justice court judge: engaging in ex parte communications in a rental-dispute case and subsequently ruling in favor of the party with whom he had the ex parte communications; continuing a case in which all of the parties failed to appear for court without such motion from either of the parties in violation of Rule 2.06 of the Uniform Rules of Procedure for Justice Court; dismissing a case without prejudice in which all of the parties failed to appear for court in violation of Rule 2.06 of the Uniform Rules of Procedure for Justice Court; attempting to have two traffic citations which had been issued to Kacy D. Jones and assigned to another justice court judge dismissed by the county prosecutor; dismissing a profane-and-indecent-language case without motion or proper notification to the prosecutor; dismissing a failure-to-abide-by-a-protective-order case without proper motion or notification to the prosecutor; dismissing second-offense DUI charges without the prosecution being allowed to call the issuing officer as a witness; non-adjudicating a first-offense DUI charge against a minor without notice to the prosecutor after attempting, but failing, to transfer the matter to youth court; ordering contempt warrants issued against individuals in the absence of pending charges against those individuals and in the absence of notice or a hearing for such individuals; and dismissing charges of failure to abide by a protective order without allowing the prosecutor to be present or to present witnesses.

¶ 4. This Court has described behavior that constitutes willful misconduct in the judicial office as:

... 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.... 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.

In re Quick, 553 So.2d 522, 524-25 (Miss. 1989). The Commission determined by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Bradford's actions were in violation of Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(2), 3B(7) and 3(C)1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct and therefore were sanctionable pursuant to Section 177A, finding that said conduct constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute. The Commission recommended that Judge Bradford be publicly reprimanded and suspended from the office of justice court judge without pay for a period of thirty days pursuant to Section 177A, and be assessed costs of the proceeding, which was $100.

¶ 5. Judge Bradford has agreed to the Commission's recommendation and has joined the Commission's motion for this Court's approval of its recommendations. Therefore, Judge Bradford acknowledges that his actions constituted willful misconduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brought the judicial office into disrepute, and this Court need not make any further findings on this issue.

¶ 6. As to appropriateness of the recommended consequences for Judge Bradford's actions, Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, as amended, provides that upon recommendation of the Commission, a judge may be removed, suspended, fined, publicly censured or publicly reprimanded by this Court. Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Walker, 565 So.2d 1117, 1128-1132 (Miss. 1990). Additionally, in In re Bailey, 541 So.2d 1036, 1039 (Miss.1989), this Court held that the sanction "ought to fit the offense."

¶ 7. This Court has held that the appropriateness of sanctions is to be determined by examining the following factors: (1) the length and character of the judge's public service, (2) whether there is any prior caselaw on point, (3) the magnitude of the offense and the harm suffered, (4) whether the misconduct is an isolated incident or evidences a pattern of conduct, (5) whether moral turpitude was involved, and (6) the presence or absence of mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Gibson, 883 So.2d 1155 (Miss.2004). Each of these elements is examined below.

The length and character of the judge's public service.

¶ 8. When the violations occurred, Judge Bradford was in his tenth year as a justice court judge. Otherwise, there is no evidence on the record of the length or character of Judge Bradford's public service.

Whether there is prior caselaw on point.

¶ 9. The complaint addresses ten violations involving: ex parte communications, two counts of violating Rule 2.06 of the Uniform Rules of Procedure for Justice Court, an attempt to "fix" traffic tickets, five counts of improperly dismissing or disposing of charges, and an improper order to issue two contempt warrants.

Ex parte Communications

¶ 10. Judge Bradford's ex parte communications with a litigant were clearly prohibited by Canon 3B(7), and such conduct has been found by this Court to constitute misconduct. See Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Chinn, 611 So.2d 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 Dodds cases involved significantly more numerous and egregious complaints than the case presently before us, and the Commission recommended removal from office in both matters. Furthermore, the Lewis case involved ex parte communications in which the justice court judge was making sexual advances toward the female parties with whom he was having such communication. In each of these cases, unlike the present matter, the Commission proposed the judge be removed from the bench. In each of these cases, this Court adopted the Commission's recommendation.

Rule 2.06 of the Uniform Rules of Procedure for Justice Court

¶ 11. Rule 2.06 states, in pertinent part, "If neither the plaintiff nor the defendant appear on the trial date, the court shall dismiss the case with prejudice." Judge Bradford violated this rule in two instances, one in which he continued the case absent request for such relief by either party, and another in which he dismissed the case without prejudice. In Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Britton, 936 So.2d 898 (Miss.2006), this Court held, inter alia, that a justice court judge had ignored Rule 2.06 of the Uniform Rules of Procedure for Justice Court, and we adopted the Commission's recommendation that the judge be publicly reprimanded. However, this Court added the thirty-day suspension to the recommendation of the Commission. In the present matter, the Commission recommended a thirty-day suspension. Furthermore, Judge Britton, unlike Judge Bradford, previously had run-ins with the Commission. On three separate occasions, Judge Britton had received an instructive letter, a private reprimand, and a private admonishment resulting in a memorandum of understanding. Judge Bradford has had no prior experiences before the Commission.

"Fixing Tickets" and Other Dispositive Actions

¶ 12. Judge Bradford unsuccessfully requested the prosecutor to dismiss traffic offenses in a case pending before another judge. This Court has held that, "Often the sanction for `fixing' tickets is a public reprimand, fine and assessment of the costs." In re Bailey, 541 So.2d 1036 (Miss.1989). See also Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Warren, 791 So.2d 194 (Miss.2001); Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Boykin, 763 So.2d 872, 872 (Miss.2000).

¶ 13. The Commission states that the other instances in which Judge Bradford dismissed or took other dispositive action in cases without notifying the prosecutor or affording the prosecutor the opportunity to present witnesses is akin to "ticket fixing," and cites several cases in which a judge dismissed a case before allowing the prosecutor to present witnesses. See Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Williams, 880 So.2d 343 (Miss.2004), Miss. Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Boykin, 763 So.2d 872 (Miss.2000), and ...

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