A Kentucky judge got drunk and sent private messages on social media to romantically proposition a person enrolled in one of the judge’s court-supervised programs, according to a reprimand handed down Jan. 18 by the Judicial Conduct Commission.
“The messages were flirtatious and expressed the judge’s desire to meet with the individual at the conclusion of the individual’s participation in the program,” the commission summarized.
However, the public will never learn the elected judge’s identity because the commission disposed of the matter with a private reprimand that included no names, dates, locations or other details. The case is now closed.
“In issuing this private reprimand, the commission duly considered that the judge fully cooperated in the investigation and agreed to accept this private reprimand,” according to the two-page document signed by the commission’s chairman, Owensboro attorney R. Michael Sullivan.
Sullivan did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
“The commission does not comment on disciplinary cases unless they are public,” said Jimmy Shaffer, the commission’s executive secretary, in a brief interview. “That order is all the information we can give you.”
In the reprimand, the commission said that, after having too much to drink and improperly sending messages to a court program participant, the judge self-reported the violation. The judge then recused from the person’s case and resigned from oversight of the program, according to the commission.
The judge possibly earned some leniency by turning himself in after sending the messages, said a former commission chairman, Covington attorney Steve Wolnitzek, who was not involved in this case.
“He self-reported, which would indicate that as soon as he did it, he understood that he shouldn’t have done it,” Wolnitzek said.
“The case law says that the commission is supposed to use the least possible discipline to ensure that this sort of conduct doesn’t happen again,” Wolnitzek said. “And the Supreme Court provides for private reprimands of judges if the commission believes that is appropriate.”
Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton Jr. declined to comment on the case Friday, referring questions to the Judicial Conduct Commission.
Records show the commission has previously issued private reprimands to judges at least four times over the past two years, including:
▪ A judge who used courthouse resources to campaign for elected office and who solicited support from the chairman of a county political party, despite judges serving as nonpartisan;
▪ A judge who improperly acted in a child custody case by interfering in a state social worker investigation and taking a child away from the father without evidence;
▪ A judge who wrote a newspaper opinion column criticizing statements made by a local lawyer, calling them “a lie,” and commenting defensively on the specifics of how a case was being handled in the local courts, and;
▪ A judge who defied Supreme Court health directives during the COVID-19 pandemic by actively discouraging lawyers from attending hearings remotely, via computer, such as making cases more difficult for their clients and suggesting they should keep their legal malpractice insurance coverage up to date.