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In the past dozen years, state and local judges have repeatedly escaped public ability for misdeeds that have victimized thousands. Nine of 10 kept their jobs, a Reuters investigation found — including an Alabama judge who unlawfully jailed hundreds of poor people, many of them Black, over traffic fines. Filed June 30,noon GMT.

Judge Les Hayes once sentenced a single mother to days behind bars for failing to pay traffic tickets.

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The sentence was so stiff it exceeded the jail time Alabama allows for negligent homicide. Marquita Johnson, who was locked up in Aprilsays the impact of her time in jail endures today. One daughter was molested, state records show. Another was physically abused. Fellow inmates found her sentence hard to believe.

There were people who had committed real crimes who got out before me. According to the Judicial Inquiry Commission, Hayes broke state and federal laws by jailing Johnson and hundreds of other Montgomery residents too poor to pay fines.

Among those jailed: a plumber struggling to make rent, a mother who skipped meals to cover the medical bills of her disabled son, and a hotel housekeeper working her way through college. Instead, the judicial commission and Hayes reached a deal. The former Eagle Scout would serve an month unpaid suspension. Then he could return to the bench. This week, Hayes is set to retire after 20 years as a judge. Community activists say his departure is long overdue. Yet the decision to leave, they say, should never have been his to make, given his record of misconduct.

His sudden retirement is years too late. Hayes is among thousands of state and local judges across America who were allowed to keep positions of extraordinary power and prestige after violating judicial ethics rules or breaking laws they pledged to uphold, a Reuters investigation found.

Judges have made racist statements, lied to state officials and forced defendants to languish in jail without a lawyer — and then returned to the bench, sometimes with little more than a rebuke from the state agencies overseeing their conduct. Recent media reports have documented failures in judicial oversight in South CarolinaLouisiana and Illinois.

Reuters went further. In the first comprehensive ing of judicial misconduct nationally, Reuters identified and reviewed 1, cases from the last dozen years — through — in which judges reed, retired or were publicly disciplined following accusations of misconduct. In addition, reporters identified another 3, cases from through in which states disciplined wayward judges but kept hidden from the public key details of their offenses — including the identities of the judges themselves. All told, 9 of every 10 judges were allowed to return to the bench after they were sanctioned for misconduct, Reuters determined.

They included a California judge who had sex in his courthouse chambers, once with his former law intern and separately with an attorney; a New York judge who berated domestic violence victims ; and a Maryland judge who, after his arrest for driving drunk, was allowed to return to the bench provided he took a Breathalyzer test before each appearance.

He was reprimanded but remains on the bench. In Indiana, three judges attending a conference last spring got drunk and sparked a 3 a. In Texas, a judge burst in on jurors deliberating the case of a woman charged with sex trafficking and declared that God told him the defendant was innocent. The offending judge received a warning and returned to the bench. The defendant was convicted after a new judge took over the case. The judge should have been fined, House said, and kicked off the bench. In February, months after Reuters repeatedly asked Chaney and the state judicial commission about those cases, he retired from the bench as part of a deal with state authorities to end the investigation.

State and local judges draw little scrutiny even though their courtrooms are the bedrock of the American criminal justice system, touching the lives of millions of people every year. The nearly 30, state, county and municipal court judges handle a far bigger docket: more than million new cases each year, from traffic to divorce to murder. Their titles range from justice of the peace to state supreme court justice. Their powers are vast and varied — from determining whether a defendant should be jailed to deciding who deserves custody of.

Each U. Judicial commissions cannot change verdicts. Rather, they can investigate complaints about the behavior of judges and pursue discipline ranging from reprimand to removal. Few experts dispute that the great majority of judges behave responsibly, respecting the law and those who appear before them. And some contend that, when judges do falter, oversight agencies are effective in identifying and addressing the behavior. Others disagree. They note that the clout of these commissions is limited, and their authority differs from Just looking for a girl friend on the dl married lonely women Chambers Arizona to state.

To remove a judge, all but a handful of states require approval of a panel that includes other judges. And most states seldom exercise the full extent of those disciplinary powers. As a result, the system tends to err on the side of protecting the rights and reputations of judges while overlooking the impact courtroom wrongdoing has on those most affected by it: people like Marquita Johnson. Reuters scoured thousands of state investigative files, disciplinary proceedings and court records from the past dozen years to quantify the personal toll of judicial misconduct.

The victims cited in disciplinary documents ranged from people who were illegally jailed to those subjected to racist, sexist and other abusive comments from judges in ways that tainted the cases. The is a conservative estimate. In Pennsylvania, the state examined the convictions of more than 3, teenagers sentenced by two judges. The judges were convicted of taking kickbacks as part of a scheme to fill a private juvenile detention center. Inthe Pennsylvania Supreme Court appointed senior judge Arthur Grim to lead a victim review, and the state later expunged criminal records f or 2, juveniles.

Grim told Reuters that every state should adopt a way to compensate victims of judicial misconduct. In another review underway in Ohio, state public defender Tim Young is scrutinizing 2, cases handled by a judge who retired in after being hospitalized for alcoholism. Mike Benza, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University whose students are helping identify victims, compared the work to current investigations into police abuse of power.

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The review, which has been limited during the coronavirus pandemic, may take a year. Most states afford judges accused of misconduct a gentle kind of justice. All are appointed. Their deliberations are secret and they operate under some of the most judge-friendly rules in the nation. The complaint must be notarized, which means that in theory, anyone who makes misstatements about the judge can be prosecuted for perjury.

Complaints about wrongdoing must be made in writing; those that arrive by phone, or without a notary stamp are not investigated, although senders are notified why their complaints have been summarily rejected. Anonymous written complaints are shredded. These rules can leave lawyers and litigants fearing retaliation, commission director Jenny Garrett noted in response to written questions.

Inshe unsuccessfully championed changes to the process and commissioned an American Bar Association report that offered a scathing review of Alabama's rules. In most other states, commission staff members can start investigating a judge upon receiving a phone call oreven anonymous ones, or after learning of questionable conduct from a news report or court filing.

In Alabama, staff will not begin an investigation without approval from the commission itself, which convenes about every seven weeks. By rule, the commission also must keep a judge who is under scrutiny fully informed throughout an investigation.

If a subpoena is issued, the judge receives a simultaneous copy, raising fears about witness intimidation. If a witness gives investigators a statement, the judge receives a transcript. In the U. Alabama judges also are given an opportunity to resolve investigations confidentially.

Sincethe commission has brought 21 public cases against judges, including Hayes, charging two this year. of days Judge Hayes sentenced Marquita Johnson to jail for unpaid traffic tickets. Two of the best-known cases brought by the commission involved Roy Moore, who was twice forced out as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defying federal court orders. Another Alabama justice fared better in challenging a misconduct complaint, however.

Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage. Parker sued the commission in federal court, arguing the agency was infringing on his First Amendment rights. He won. Inthe people of Alabama elected Parker chief justice. Jefferson Davis was inaugurated here as Confederate president after the South seceded from the Union inand his birthday is a state holiday. As was common throughout the South, the city was the site of the lynchings of Black men, crimes now commemorated at a national memorial based here.

Police arrested civil rights icon Rosa Parks here in for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white passenger. City officials have said that neither race nor economics have played a role in police efforts to enforce outstanding warrants, no matter how minor the offense. In AprilMarquita Johnson was among them. Appearing before Hayes on a Wednesday morning, the year-old single mother pleaded for a break. Johnson had struggled for eight years to pay dozens of tickets that began with a citation for failing to show proof of insurance.

She had insurance, she said.

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Even a single ticket was a knockout blow on her minimum-wage waitress salary. He sentenced Johnson to days in jail. A different judge later determined that Johnson actually owed half the amount calculated by Hayes, and that Hayes had incorrectly penalized her over fines she had already paid. To shave time off her sentence, Johnson washed police cars and performed other menial labor while jailed.

Hayes told Reuters that he generally found pleas of poverty hard to believe. Of course, the law demands more of a judge than a gut call. In a landmark decision, Bearden v. Georgia, the U. When Johnson was freed after 10 months in jail, she learned that strangers had abused her two older children. One is now a teenager; the other is in middle school. Angela McCullough, then 40, had been pulled over driving home from Faulkner University, a local community college where she carried a 3.

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