“Geauxjudge”: Arkansas Judge Withdraws From Appellate Race After Being Outed As Anonymous Poster

article-charlize8n-5-0307There is an interesting controversy in Arkansas where Circuit Judge Mike Maggio was revealed as an anonymous commenter known as “geauxjudge.” After being outed from online sites, Maggio apologized and withdrew from a race for the appellate court. The controversy however raises the question of whether such comments should be a subject for ethical discipline and whether judges should have the right to comment anonymously on such sites.

The most controversial comments appeared on a Louisiana State University message board called Tiger Droppings. In one comment, Geauxjudge made fun of the name of a University of Alabama football player who is black, Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix. He questioned the wisdom of parents giving such irregular names to their children: “I do agree about names may not be predictors of future success but in reality: How many doctors do you hear named Dr. Taneesha or Ha-Ha? How many bankers do [you] hear named Brylee? So stick with something close to normal. Or come sit in criminal court any day and see the ‘common names.'”

In another comment, Geauxjudge discussed how divorce is too quickly pursued in many cases and later regretted:

“I see it every day. A woman makes [an] emotional decision to divorce because the husband stepped out. When otherwise he was a good provider, father and husband . . . then a year or two later realizes uh oh I am worse off financially, emotionally and relationship wise but hey they showed that SOB. Too many times the women get their advice from other divorced women.”

In yet another comment, he observed that “Men have two needs. Feed me and f— me. Take care of both we will be good. Whichever one you don’t then the man will find. Women have need for security. So man take care of that and will be OK.”

In another comment he described a story about a woman having sex with a dog, as “just a small step” from having “TGGLBS” sex (an apparent reference transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual sex).

There is obviously content in these postings that raise serious questions of prejudice. However, there is also the question of whether a judge, using anonymous identities, should be afforded the same right of expression of others, including obnoxious or juvenile couples. Maggio did not comment under his name or associate comments with his office in most of the comments. I have previously written about concerns that public employees are increasingly being disciplined for actions in their private lives or views or associations outside of work. We have previously seen teachers (here, here, England, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), here, here, students (here and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a prior career in the adult entertainment industry (here).

Judicial ethics rules make clear that judges are subject to scrutiny for public comments:

Rule 1.2. A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
Official Comment [2]: A judge should expect to be the subject of public scrutiny that might be viewed as burdensome if applied to other citizens, and must accept the restrictions imposed by the Code.

Thus, judges are put on notice of this added burden. Rule 3.1 is even broader in prohibiting any “extrajudicial activities . . . that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.”

However, Mastio did not act in public by name in his assuming anonymous status. Indeed, the adoption of such a status could be viewed either as an evasion or a recognition of his unique responsibilities in terms of public disclosure.

Judges are clearly different in that they are expected to uphold the dignity and credibility of their courts in their public actions, including during non-work hours. However, Maggio never used his identity or this courts. His true identity was deduced by piecing together references and asides.

220px-Charlize_Theron_WonderCon_2012_(Straighten_Crop)The most serious ethical concerns were raised in a discussion of how a “judge friend” handled the adoption of a son by actress and Oscar winner Charlize Theron and shared details. Since adoption proceedings are confidential, the comments raise major questions of judicial impropriety and disclosure violations.

In this discussion, Geauxjudge makes fun of Theron’s adoption of a black South African childen (Theron was born in South Africa) and gives details from the case. He discusses how she came to court with an entourage for the single-parent adoption and jokes that “I offered to be the baby daddy.” He also asks “Did she get herself a black baby?” and answers “Yep.”

In his apology, Maggio said that “During my life, I have prided myself in treating all fairly and with respect, both personally and professionally . . . My friends, family and colleagues know me and can appropriately attest to how I have treated others. I stand by their opinion and regret letting them down.”

This is not the first ethical controversy for Mastio. He was previously sanctioned for using campaign funds for personal expenses and was accused of using some type of badge to avoid a speeding ticket. He was first appointed by then Gov. Mike Huckabee. He is a former prosecutor. He is not a graduate of LSU however. He has an undergraduate degree from Millsaps College in Mississippi in 1983. He attended law school at University of Mississippi for three years but actually received his J.D. from University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1989.

The adoption discussion clearly crosses the line where Maggio refers to inside knowledge. Moreover even his anonymous handle, Geauxjudge, refers to being a judge.

Putting aside the adoption disclosures (which necessarily trigger an ethics investigation), I am more interested in the other discussion involving public controversies. Should a judge be held accountable for such anonymous comments even if they are racist or homophobic? I am concerned about free speech implication of such discipline, particularly when someone has used the right of anonymity. I can see the right of individuals in using information to reveal his identity (and such views being weighed by voters). However, the involvement of the bar raises the question of whether it should set aside the majority of comments and only focus on the alleged disclosure of confidential information. I certainly do not like the inclusion of “judge” in the anonymous handle or the references to legal proceedings. However, this case could allow for some usual lines to be drawn between judicial ethics and free speech.

What do you think?


28 thoughts on ““Geauxjudge”: Arkansas Judge Withdraws From Appellate Race After Being Outed As Anonymous Poster

  1. This kind of ‘outing’ makes me nervous. One of the prime ethical rules of the internet is that you don’t reveal the meatworld identity of folks, even if you know it. Being a celebrity or elected official should not make a difference if they choose to remain anonymous.

  2. I have to question whether the usual privacy standards, which I support, should apply to public officials making comments in public media on issues that might reflect on their official conduct.

    I think it is important to distinguish communications intended to be private, such a an email to a specific individual, and comments made for public consumption, such as on a blog.

    One approach might be that judges have a right to make the comments using a pseudonym but they also may be held accountable for the public comments if they are identified.

    Accountability might ranged from recusal in some cases to removal from office if privileged information regarding cases were revealed.

    More generally, such comments might be considered an indicator of a lack of judicial temperament and lack of suitability for office.

  3. There seems to be a divide where sometimes we expect judges and (other) elected officials to behave better than everyone else, to be god-like, but at other times we want to be judged and ruled by our peers – who are just as goofy as we are. In truth judges and elected officials do not, on average, behave better than the rest of us. Why pretend that they do?

  4. Disclosing confidential information about the actress is criminal. No doubt it came full circle to bite him in the ass, though personally I think some prison time would be far more appropriate.

  5. As we all know, those who are anonymous tend to be nastier. Having worked in a juvenile court, where all proceedings are confidential, I find it particularly disgusting this guy betrayed that confidentiality. In my mind, betraying that trust, forfeited his right to confidentiality. Karma is a b!tch.

  6. Privacy…. If he meant to remain private and is not doing anything illegal then leave him the F$@; alone….

  7. On the one hand he should have the same right as the rest of us. on the other I think knowing he was the one who wrote these postings would necessitate a look at his rulings to see if his apparent prejudices and biases effected his decisions.

  8. Of course this should be outed. Opinions like these can have a direcft effect on his “impartial” rulings. Even the asshole juristi in question knew he was wrong. Why else would he withdraw?

  9. The key issue isn’t whether officials or public figures in general ought to be able to rely on the protections afforded by anonymity, or whether their free speech rights are infringed if they’re subjected to professional disciplinary proceedings (or simply to public disapproval) based on disclosure. Rather, it’s whether judges are by the nature of their office differently placed than other public figures, so that any deference we would normally give to the poster’s desire to speak anonymously is outweighed by the public interest in ensuring the integrity of the bench, and in maintaining the public confidence in our judiciary.

    And I think the answer to that question may be a reluctant yes. Judges are expected to be impartial in their application of the law and their conduct of the matters before them, in a way that other public figures are not. When their comments, including (and perhaps especially) their comments off what they expect to be the public record, indicate that their judgement is affected by deeply-held beliefs about the capacities and appropriate roles of women, racial or ethnic minorities, etc., it strikes at the integrity of the entire judicial system. Ideally, you wouldn’t have judges with this kind of bias on the bench — you wouldn’t impanel a juror who admitted to biases of this sort in any case where it might make a difference, and why would you feel otherwise about a judge? — no matter how much deference you gave the free speech rights of individuals. If we don’t hold judges to the same standard, why should anyone have even marginal confidence that the justice system will deliver a fair result?

  10. My comment should be judge by a jury of my peers. Not moderated by a machine or censored by a human, This is supposed to be a constitutional blog.

  11. This judge violated his code of ethics and should be held responsible. Judges do have an added ethical duty when they are speaking in public and this judge crossed the line. It is too bad the Supreme Court justices aren’t held to the same ethical standard.

  12. In their power over a defendant, a jury and judge are interosculant. If a judge has to reveal anonymous comments, written in haste, anger, or passion, then so to a jury.

    Will this lead to an ‘anonymous commenter’ disqualifying box on a future jury summons?


  13. In my view the use of an alias, specifically not one assuming the identity of another, is the preferred way for public officials to make personal comments if they are concerned of an ethical conflict.

  14. When I started using the computer to communicate I adopted a rule for content: Would I be ok with what I’ve said being on page 1 of the NY Times? Now, there is no way anyone cares that much for what I say, but it does give me pause and sometimes emails or blog comments get deleted rather than sent. It might be a good rule for others to consider.

  15. Official Comment [2]: A judge should expect to be the subject of public scrutiny that might be viewed as burdensome if applied to other citizens, and must accept the restrictions imposed by the Code

    has anyone ever pointed this out to scalia?

  16. You left out the comment where this guy jokes about “rodeo sex,” which is a form of rape. Free speech notwithstanding, you cannot have a judge in a position of power over peoples’ lives (predicated on his impartiality) when it is now public knowledge that he thinks (among other things) that wives are fundamentally dependent financially and are obligated to have sex with their husbands on demand, and that the crime of rape is funny and normal.

  17. If the judge wanted to remain anonymous he should not have left enough private details about his life that resulting in piecing together his identity (at least that is how I understand he was “outed”) This was not the case of an ISP or a blog moderator disclosing the judge’s identity.

  18. I’m not going to say it was right to ‘out’ the judge. I will say, however, that because confidence in the legal system is underpinned by the assumption of ethical conduct, there is no way that a judge, once so outed, can continue to serve. Hell, if I were a woman or person of color who had EVER had a negative ruling from this judge, I’d be seeking an immediate appeal.

    I can sympathize with the view that this might be unfair, but one of the requirements of the power of judicial office is strict efforts to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or bias. The judge was sloppy with his identity, and so his impartiality is shot to hell.

  19. Let’s be honest here. We *all* know that there is no real privacy on the net. You *know* that every comment you make could come back someday to bite you. A judge takes an oath, as do a lot of other public officials, to not do stuff that might impact the public’s perception of the role and agency, because it relies on the perception of justice to even work. I’m a lawyer, and I have had to remind many people that when you play, you may have to pay. This man spends his time telling people they should have known better, be it baby daddies, criminals, tortfeasors, and a multitude of others. And now here is is, straight up. It’s his turn to hear those words. I have no sympathy whatsoever, and I think the parents of anyone who believes that you can post online and maintain their anonymity needs to have the “there is no Santa talk” with the poor soul.

  20. well i think it is what he said,how he said what he did..and letting out names in a case that was closed and sealed,this judges own divorce case is a closed cases,not due to his x-wife or kids,but for his own wrong doings,that he him self wonted privacy over,but cant show other the same kind of privacy and respect.
    he also in a case # DR-2007-57,to where to 2 children came out of sexual abuse by their father,DID NOt let in and hear the doctors report and findings,with out proving the mother unfit,and her rights to due prosess,gave the children to their father,
    after a 5 day hearing (with this case was handed off to a another judge)to where the doctor,therapist testified to their findings,that backed up the children story of sexual abuse,along with this mans own nephew testified that when he was 5 years of age this man (the uncle) and a family friend sexual abused him,the family friend is now in tucker prison in Arkansas doing a 2 life term for this crime, case 23-CR-98-499. it was much easier for the courts to believe the children was couched by the mother,than the evadenst layed out before them in court,this judge left them in the home where the father lives,putting the father mother over the well being of the children,,like this help the matter,or resolved it,seeing how the other grandchild (the nephew) abuse happen in her home and on her watch,seeing how she was babying setting him,, even after this judge him self even said he believe the children was abuse and sexual abuse by the father,but the case was so miss handled he would have to put charges on top of charges,and on different ancey in Faulkner county. this mother fight is on going
    maggio and the other judge also both had dealings with case CV-13-202,that land was illegal took from land owners gave to the city,and when the land owners filled to get their land back they where fines for doing so, this case is appealed to the supreme courts of Arkansas. WHY you may ask ?? well lets see..
    1..judge maggio is administrative judge of Faulkner county,
    2, judge 2 would not go agents maggios past rulings seeing how he would go agents a higher judge,and expose him.
    3, judge 2 would not expose ancey of Faulkner county,that whom he works
    4,and judge 2 was appointed by Governor Beebe to over see abused women and children cases and D.H.S. of Faulkner country,he would have to anwer to the governor for the miss handling of a case in 2 children abuse,and maybe others
    caseinfo.aoc.arkansas.gov/‎ — web page you can go look up the cases in Faulkner county Arkansas.
    i pray now that this has all came to light,theses cases see justice,a long with any others yet to have light shed on,i pray more these children get justice,and the help they need for a long recovery..

  21. A judge takes an oath that he will uphold the laws and be impartial amongst other things. He was voted into his position to follow the rules place on him as his office requires. He is held to a higher standard because he holds the lives of all of those who comes before him in his hands. The decisions that he makes about those people who come before him can change the lives of many people who the case that came before him touches. Those decisions should not be made by someone who has over several years expressed his bias whether it is racist, sexist, homophobic, or etc. This judge has touch many lives over multiple years. The bible says that we live by the words that come out of our mouths whether they are anonymous or public. Who out there that will read this wants a judge to place judgment on them who believed that he could say these things about all walks of life and yet be impartial when they come before him. The decisions that he made will affect all of us whether he presided over our case or that of our neighbors. We don’t know who he may have wronged and how he wronged them and what effect that wrong has had on our personal lives. We maybe touched by the life of an abused person who relied on him to make the right decision and he didn’t because he did not have the ability to be impartial. That life may have been ruined because he allowed things to continue to happen and because the abuse continued that life became a casualty that passed the abuse on or even worse.

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