January 2024 Millar’s JurisDiction - Texting Justice

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

I have never fully understood the preference for texting over emails. In part, there seems to be a generational divide with the younger and more technologically comfortable generations preferring texting, while those of us born earlier seem more prone to email. For purposes of these musings, I am leaving out those who eschew any type of electronic communications.

I have read that lawyers, for the most part, are in the email camp, which would be in accord with my experience. I would assume that judges, who by definition are former lawyers, would also lean toward email. Like many of my assumptions, that would be wrong.

At least, in Oklahoma.

One Traci Soderstrom is a District Judge in Lincoln County, Oklahoma. She was elected to her position and started on the bench on January 9, 2023. On October 10, 2023, the Chief Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court filed a Petition seeking her removal.

Where are The Guinness World Records folks? That has to be some type of record. In nine months, I would probably still be trying to find out where to buy a robe. She, on the other hand, is already drawing fire from the Chief Justice.

How did she do it? If nothing else, her penchant for texting was a major factor.

What’s wrong with texting, you ask. The answer is that there is nothing wrong with it in the abstract. However, when you are a judge, you probably should not be doing it in the middle of a trial.

Especially, a murder trial.

And you may want to shy away from discussing the size of a male district attorney’s genitals with your female bailiff.

And you may also want to limit your texts to fewer than 500, which may otherwise lead skeptics to believe you were not paying attention to the evidence.

Under a heading including “Gross Partiality in Office, Gross Neglect of Duty,” the forty-seven-page petition alleges:

“While presiding over a murder trial . . . the Respondent exchanged over 500 text messages with her Bailiff Angela Miller in which they mocked the physical appearances of attorneys, jurors and witnesses and used offensive language to deride the State’s attorneys.”

I would have to say that is about 450 more than my lifetime texts on any subject, but I digress.

“When a police officer took the stand, the Respondent texted, ‘He’s pretty. I could look at him all day,’ to which the Bailiff replied, ‘Same lol.’”

The judge sent her bailiff a text to the effect that the jury was going to hate the Assistant District Attorney to which the bailiff replied, “Absolutely. He’s an arrogant asshole.” The bailiff then “made a crass and demeaning reference to the prosecuting attorney’s genitals, to which the Respondent replied with a ‘Ha Ha’ icon.”

Other texts speculated that one juror was wearing a wig, and another had no teeth, and while a co-defendant was testifying, the judge texted, “Can I please scream liar liar?”

It didn’t help that after a fifty-one-minute partial video of the trial had been made public showing the judge spending an “excessive amount of time on her phone,” she had the courtroom camera moved to exclude her from its view leaving “a gaping hole in the ceiling.”

She also did herself no favors when testifying before the Council on Judicial Complaints that she was, “‘texting about things that were—probably could have waited’ instead of recognizing that these types of communications should never be made at all.”

To be fair, it was not just her texts that raised questions. She also had pictures of men (and no women) photographed on hot pink chairs in her chambers on display in her outer chambers. She posted, on a Facebook group called “Girl Attorney—OK,” about motorcycle gang members in her courtroom and about an attorney who allegedly failed to get prior court approval for service by publication. He, and he was named, made the cardinal error of saying that he had been doing it for forty-one years and had never done it the way the court required. That day she posted that was not something to say to a judge, “especially when you’ve been doing it WRONG.”

The petition asks for her removal and disqualification from service in the future as a judge in the State of Oklahoma. I don’t know when it will be ruled upon, but when it is, . . .

I hope they text it to her.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of FSG Lawyers PC in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.