There are a lot of prickly judges in the world. You can’t really blame someone who reached the pinnacle of their professional career for being insufferable to everyone else. Actually, you can blame someone for doing so, because success is not actually a license to be a prick.
That said, in the annals of judges, luckily, few have to deal with judges who insult and even threaten lawyers while openly undermining the constitutionally guaranteed rights of defendants in the courtroom. That sounds like the worst judge for a lawyer to practice in front of ever. (Well, maybe not the worst judge for a lawyer to practice in front of ever.)
In any event, the thankfully retired judge at the center of this tale left an ample record of his judicial shortcomings. As sanctioned by the state judicial conduct committee, this guy is a true embarrassment to his robes, and darned if he didn’t leave us a legacy complete with video.
And he’s not even a bit sorry for his actions…
Judge Martin McDonald seems like a laid-back guy. I mean, he wears tropical ties in the courtroom! But the guys who wear goofy ties are often the same guys who act like trolls if given half a chance. The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission felt Judge McDonald had some of that behavior in him when they found that he had committed “egregious” misconduct with “reprehensible” actions. For example:
So yeah, threatening to strangle a lawyer and then insulting the public advocate will earn the ire of ethics folks. But I will credit Judge McDonald for adding, “my objective is to get you to be quiet until you’re told to talk” to my personal list of favorite shutdown lines.
Judge McDonald took the news of his discipline very seriously. Nah, I’m just kidding, he basically pissed in the face of the Judicial Conduct Commission:
As far as the public reprimand, McDonald said, “So what? Big deal.” And as for his actions toward public advocate David Barron, which received national attention when a video of the outburst was linked to by the American Bar Association, McDonald said it was a “big nothing.
“Since when can’t a judge verbally chastise a lawyer?” he asked, arguing that lawyers need to have hides “as thick as a rhinoceros.
“It comes with the territory,” he said. “If you are going to go crying and sniveling every time a judge barks at you, you don’t have any business in this arena.”
Tough? Sure. But threatening an attorney for making ex parte contact for the sole purpose of trying to keep his client — in a death penalty case, mind you — from being rousted from jail for no reason is uncalled for. The judge also referred to the death row inmate as a “carcass,” lovely.
Judge McDonald doesn’t have to care what the Commission says about him because he’s already retired:
[Judge McDonald's attorney Tim] Denison went on to say that “the most egregious conduct in this entire matter is not Judge McDonald’s actions, rather it is the continuing waste of taxpayers money to conduct a hearing to “temporarily suspend” a judge who has already retired and conduct a subsequent hearing to “publicly reprimand” the same judge.”
But the Commission might want to issue a decision to provide guidance for the future even if Judge McDonald is beyond the reach of discipline. I guess it’s unsurprising that Judge McDonald may not understand the importance of precedent.
On the next page, check out a video where Judge McDonald cuts off a lawyer pleading, “You’re not going to allow me to confront and cross-examine any witnesses?” Seems like a pretty basic request….