A Bush appointed federal bankruptcy judge was arrested for driving drunk and has resigned. A torrent of coverage followed the arrest after it was disclosed that Judge Robert Somma, 63, was dressed as a woman at the time of the accident. The case raises some questions over the treatment of judges who follow alternative lifestyles.
For most drivers, a fender bender is a matter of insurance. However, when Judge Somma rammed his Mercedes-Benz into the back of a truck in New Hampshire, he appeared drunk. Somma, who reportedly was dressed in a black women’s cocktail dress, fishnet stockings and high heels, had been at a well-known gay and alternative lifestyle bar.
The police reported that he smelled of alcohol and had slurred speech. He fumbled for his license and failed a field sobriety test. He later registered a blood-alcohol level of .12. He pleaded no contest to the charge, which is a misdemeanor, and paid $600. He initially agreed to a 12-month suspension of this judicial license but later resigned.
THe fact is that cross-dressing should be a private matter and should have no bearing on Somma’s status as a judge. Indeed, he was generally given good marks as a judge. Given the fact that it is a misdemeanor and that he is a bankruptcy judge who does not handle such cases, it is not clear that the plea itself should be an immediate bar on further service. Judges can make dumb mistakes like other people. This is not to excuse the violation, but one must question whether it was the misdemeanor or the press attention over dress that prompted the resignation. Somma is married.
Given the 12-month suspension, it may be that the resignation is justified on the grounds of loss of service as well as the poor judgment used in driving while drunk. However, tt appears that it was the outcry over his lifestyle that may have prompted the resignation. That would be an unfortunate statement on our level of tolerance if true. I have no idea what Somma’s lifestyle or marriage is like. What I do know is that it is not a criminal matter.