“Geauxjudge” is Gone: Judge Maggio Removed From Court For Anonymous Postings

article-charlize8n-5-0307We previously discussed the bizarre case of Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio who was identified as an anonymous commenter known as “geauxjudge” in a an an interesting controversy in Arkansas where Maggio was was outed from online sites. Maggio previously apologized and withdrew from a race for the appellate court. The controversy raised 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. Now Maggio has been permanently removed from the bench for his discussion of a confidential adoption of a child by actress Charlize Theron. He agreed with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission about the lifetime ban. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected the recommendation because it included Maggio being suspended with pay until the end of the year when his term expires.

The Supreme Court ruled that “We deem any further suspension with pay to be inappropriate. Therefore, we order the removal of Judge Maggio from judicial office, effective as the date of this opinion. By this order, Judge Maggio is henceforth prohibited from holding any judicial office in the state of Arkansas.”

In a footnote in the opinion below, the Court also noted that “There also was a sixth complaint lodged against Judge Maggio, based on rulings he made in a case styled Estate of Martha Bull v. Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and also involving certain campaign contributions and campaign activities of the judge.” However, that matter was not addressed and is now closed.

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.

Here is the opinion: Maggio Opinion.

The decision comes on the heels of another cases that we previously discussed of a New Orleans prosecutor who anonymously posted material on a case on the Internet. Sal Perricone has now blamed his use of Ambien and heavy workload for the postings.

Source: ABA Journal

24 thoughts on ““Geauxjudge” is Gone: Judge Maggio Removed From Court For Anonymous Postings”

  1. Those who accept the job must accept the conditions that attach to it (the Code seems pretty clear to this reader). It’s fairly easy to unmask an anonymous blogger. Burdensome as it may be, shouldn’t the profession as a whole aspire to being Caesar’s wife? Beyond reproach? Pompeia probably didn’t fool around with Publius Clodius, but Caesar divorced her anyway.

  2. The unknown truth is that all judges have prejudices and that some of them will be unacceptable to large sections of the community. Respect for the law is largely pretense, as long as judges don’t advertise their prejudices the public pretends to respect the law, knowledge of prejudices either because of open statements or the discovery of the identity of an anonymous judge blogger makes the latter pretense impossible.

  3. something not mentioned in any of the comments is that some people don’t use nicknames but choose to use real name but how do we know the name they are using is their actual name? i mean i can fill out the register information and thus put up any name i choose how will anyone know the difference? i can fill it out saying my name is liza james yet my real name is far from it…

    1. shakingmyhead – actually there is at least one person who uses a first name that is not their real first name. At the same time there are others who use their full name who are exactly who they say they are.

      btw, sorry you lost your old handle. They can be like old friends. 🙁

  4. For all we know Johnathan Turtley could have an alter ego on these blogs… Maybe its Sqeaky Fromm or Nick Spineli!

  5. I can see why chat rooms that require full names would be the most civil. However an inherent danger of having a public presence on the Internet is the possibility of a stranger who disagrees with you on the blog suddenly showing up and trying to interfere with your private life or your job. Professor Turley has remarked on employees getting terminated or otherwise punished for posting remarks privately, outside of their job.

    What was an acceptable opinion 20 years ago is no longer acceptable today, and the same will likely hold true about today’s opinions 20 years from now. It is common nowadays to get revenge on people for their opinions when they differ from the party line.

    It’s a bit of a dampener on free speech.

  6. A believe that one’s legal matters have been heard by an unbiased judge is of major importance. The importance of that belief remains long after the legal proceeding has been resolved. Many decisions require someone to do something or refrain from doing something years after the decision itself. Given the obvious potential that an anonymous commenter will be identified at some point, I don’t think it’s unfair to hold a judge to the same standard for anonymous comments as for those contemporaneously acknowledged. Arguably, finding out the judge who ruled against you was making anonymous comments disparaging a group of which you are a member would leave a greater impression of corruption than openly acknowledged views. At least statements made openly give the litigants an opportunity to consider and take action if they believe it is warranted. By making such comments anonymously, the judge prevents parties from taking action which they might otherwise take given the content of the remarks.

  7. As for the anonymous posting of the adoption that is a clear violation in my view. Whether or not it was not in his name is irrelevant as he caused the information to be disseminated.

    For the question about anonymous postings regarding significantly prejudicial issues, if he entered into objective discussion about how third parties act or behave I would not have an issue with that, he is simply reporting in a sense. But if the person is not portraying a role as an actor does in studio, if he offers that these are his core beliefs and professes issues that are deeply contrary to an ability to hold such a position in the judiciary.

    As far as most other issues I would object to muzzling a public servant or officer’s free speech rights. The pseudonymous approach provides a vehicle to convey this speech to others without the taint and worry the individual has about possible repercussions.

    I have concerns about the effect the Hatch Act and other policies have on curtailing speech, especially in that whistleblowers are often targeted because of their ties to a particular entity.

  8. I think he was traumatized because he has a cleft pallet and should be excused for his behavior.

  9. The guy is a disgrace to the human race, to Arkansas and to Italian Americans. Tank Dog he is not a Dog.

  10. I assume he gets to keep his law license, so not that big a punishment. The good ol’ boys network will take care of him. I worked in a juvenile court. While there is nothing that is truly confidential, the people I worked w/ took confidentiality very seriously and it was a pretty tight ship.

    There is little doubt that using ones real name keeps you honest and more temperate. Imagine if I chose to comment anonymously. My wife is an author and subscribes to an authors blog where anonymity is not allowed. MAN, it is civil and substantive. Anonymity brings out the worst in some folks. I always have sources, anonymous and on the record, as a PI. The on the record are MUCH more reliable. Anonymity creates an environment where people lie, embellish, retaliate, etc. My aforementioned wife and daughter were victims of a vile series of attacks by an anonymous stalker. I do see the assets of anonymity. I just don’t think they outweigh the anonymity.

  11. As a securities licensed professional under the scrutiny of the SEC and FINRA, I was prohibited from participating in on line discussions of securities, either under my real name or a pseudonym. The reasoning behind this was that since I might benefit from such discussions by raising or lowering the price of some securities by either hyping or dumping on the stock/company it would be illegal and unethical. Pumping and dumping.

    In addition for me to give out actual investment advice to strangers on the internet, either under my name or anonymously, it would be a violation of Rule 405 “Know your customer” where I am obligated to gather and document certain personal and financial data before making a recommendation and that the recommendations that I do make are to be suitable for that individual person and their individual circumstances.

    Since I’ve been retired now for almost 4 years (Thank God!!!), and no longer hold those licenses, I can have opinions. Until then, I never participated in on line financial chat rooms, bulletin boards etc. that dealt with finances. Did I chaffe at those rules? You bet I did. But….it is part of being licensed. Live with it.

    All of my emails and correspondence to clients and prospects was subject to being archived and preserved off site, so that I couldn’t go back and make changes that might be beneficial to myself. This is the same rule that applies to the IRS. Amazing how they can get around it while a little stock broker and financial advisor was subject to those burdens. Hmmmmm?

    The judge should have realized that whether it was illegal to post and express his opinions, as it was for me under my licensing, it was at the very very least unethical. We don’t need more unethical judges.

  12. I think a long prison sentence is in order. I can see how he got involved in the discussions on the blog, however, that does not clear him of the crime and I do think it rises to the level of a crime. If they police can find creative ways to charge people they beat up, certainly some clever cop or prosecutor can find something to charge this guy with.

  13. A judge should definitely be held to a higher ethical standard and certainly shouldn’t be posting either pro or con remarks about an issue before his bench, if an issue comes before his bench for which he has such strong personal convictions that he cannot fairly rule, he should recuse himself.

    I personally don’t believe in hiding my thoughts behind unidentifiable screen or blog names and think if you have to hide your identity, maybe you shouldn’t make the remark.

  14. I am torn on this one.
    No question he breached many laws on the Theron disclosure.
    As to the other things, hmm, he seems to be telling things like they is.
    People may take issue with it, and yes it does impinge upon the appearance of propriety. But a complete ban from the judiciary may seem a bit harsh. Unless of course it could be shown further that those views actually affected his unbiased performance on the bench.

  15. One correction: “He also asks “Did she get herself a black baby?” and answers “Yep.””

    He did not ask the question, but he did answer “yep.”

    No, he should not have disclosed any information about a closed proceeding.

    Do people have a right to privacy online when they post anonymously? Is it OK for everyone to have their identities revealed, and their anonymous posts revealed to their bosses and workplace? For people to interfere in their jobs or personal lives?

    I know the phrase “Caveat emptor”, but what is the phrase for “poster beware?”

    We all have a juvenile side, some more prominent than others. And I certainly wouldn’t blame a judge for crude comments made in a bar or watching Superbowl commercials. I found some of Maggio’s comments distasteful. However, if you name your child Hehe or your boy Sue you can reasonably assume you’ve sentenced him to a lifetime of teasing.

    I think I agree with Turley on this aspect – that the bar should only get involved in the judicial misconduct issues. The cat’s out of the bag on his personal comments, so let voters decide on that score. Although he’s since dropped out of the race.

    To be honest, if a judge posted openly racist comments, or was a member of a KKK chat room anonymously, I would doubt his ability to do his job fairly.

    So perhaps it boils down to, you have a right to privacy, but if your private conversations are revealed, we all have a right to judge you, pardon the pun.

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