Judges Behaving Badly: A Great American Tradition
From sending pornographic emails to cyber-ogling Charlize Theron to penis pumping, jurists find novel ways to bring dishonor to the bench.
Judges just don’t misbehave the way they used to. Gone are the days when an American judge could murder a Democratic senator and former comrade in a duel held over intense political differences—in this case, slavery, which the judge in question was for.
However, if the early 21st century is any indication, judges are still finding scandalous ways to make headlines and get fired, albeit with markedly less formal gun violence. Here is a recent and brief history of judges behaving badly, from pornography to penis pump:
PORN AND “CRUDE JOKES”
Seamus McCaffery, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, announced his retirement on Monday, following revelations of a porn scandal that also involved employees at the state attorney general’s office. McCaffery, a former Philadelphia homicide detective, first gained name-recognition in the late 1990s after founding Veterans Stadium’s “Eagles court,” which punished out-of-control fans at Philadelphia Eagles games.
Now he’s America’s porn-scandal judge.
Chief Justice Ron Castille had conducted a review that found McCaffery sent or received more than 200 emails containing pornography or sexually explicit content between late 2008 and May 2012. A fellow justice also accused McCaffery of attempting to coerce him into opposing Castille.
McCaffery released a statement saying that “coarse language and crude jokes” were a normal part of his time serving as a police officer and as a Marine. “That’s not an excuse, just a fact,” he said. By stepping down, the embattled McCaffery preempted an ethics investigation that could have cost him his state pension.
THE CHARLIZE THERON—FAULKNER COUNTY AFFAIR
In September, Faulkner County, Arkansas Circuit Judge Michael Maggio lost his job for posting details on actress Charlize Theron’s adoption of a child in 2012 on a Louisiana State University fan site called, “tigerdroppings.com.” (He was going under the online pseudonym of “geauxjudge.”) According to documents submitted by a judicial commission to the Arkansas Supreme Court, Maggio also wrote that he made the classy move of offering “to be [Theron’s] baby daddy.”
The commission concluded that Maggio violated at least 23 judicial codes in posting anonymously about Theron’s closed-record adoption. The state Supreme Court also barred him from holding judicial office in Arkansas.
You can read the commission’s findings here:
THE “PENIS PUMP JUDGE”
In 2006, former Oklahoma district judge Donald Thompson was sentenced to four years in prison. (He ended up serving 10 months.) Thompson, who had spent nearly a quarter-century on the bench, was convicted of whipping it out during jury trials—while working a penis pump judiciously tucked under his robe.
A penis pump is a cylindrical tube that creates a partial vacuum when fitted over the male sexual organ. It is designed to help with impotence. Penis pumps cost the federal government $172 million between 2006 and 2011, because the pumps are covered under Medicare in some cases. It’s likely that everything you know about penis pumps you learned from the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.)
Thompson testified that his embarrassing lust-pump was gifted to him by a longtime fishing buddy, and that he had probably absentmindedly squeezed the pump’s handle in court—though Thompson insisted that he never used it to masturbate. The former judge allegedly used the device on himself “almost daily” while presiding over a 2003 trial of a man accused of shaking a small child to death.
You can read court documents on the penis-pump scandal here:
Thompson’s trouble with the law didn’t stop there, unfortunately. He was later arrested and given a one-year suspended sentence for drunk-driving, and in early 2011, he was arrested for stalking his ex-girlfriend.
THE POLK COUNTY TEXT-GHAZI
Last year, Texas State District Judge Elizabeth Coker resigned following allegations that she had texted a prosecutor during a trial. No, she wasn’t sexting or doing anything fun or relatively harmless—she was texting advice on cross-examination questions during criminal trials.
“A simple 27-word text, typed in an old county courthouse, a message that ended a judicial career and cast a long shadow in East Texas,” read Time magazine’s piece on the “tale of the Texting Judge.”
Coker copped to sending as many as 40 texts from the bench to prosecutors, and admitted to tampering with witnesses and jurors. Here is Coker’s signed agreement to resign over the scandalous texting: