Legal Ethics

Ex-judge who blasted appellate counsel is reprimanded; might have been removed if still on bench


A former Kentucky judge who resigned earlier this year after being suspended, with pay, has been reprimanded for blasting an appellate lawyer in a high-profile murder case and refusing to allow a defendant in an unrelated case, who was not represented by counsel, to make arguments on his own behalf.

The reprimand of former senior judge Martin “Marty” McDonald was the most severe sanction possible, because he is no longer a judge, the Associated Press reports.

“Were Judge McDonald still a member of the Kentucky Judiciary, a much more severe sanction, perhaps including removal from the bench, would have been warranted and would have been ordered,” Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission chairman Stephen Wolnitzek wrote in a 12-page order issued Monday.

As detailed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, which includes a video, the then-judge called assistant public advocate David Barron “unethical” and “a backseat driver” and referred to Barron’s client, Roger Dale Epperson, as a “carcass” during a Sept. 28 hearing in a Jefferson Circuit Court case.

McDonald repeatedly refused to let Barron explain himself or ask questions, spoke directly to Epperson at a couple of points and called one of the defendant’s trial lawyers to the stand and questioned the attorney. Then he tried to limit the witnesses Barron wanted to present.

The judge was particularly aggravated that Barron had tried to call him on his cellphone at some point previously. However, as Barron tried to explain, he had done so with opposing counsel’s permission, the phone number had been supplied by the court system and he wanted to discuss a scheduling matter.

“If you ever call me again on my cellphone I’ll strangle you. You understand?” the judge him on Sept. 28.

The attorney managed to interject “I apologize” before the judge rolled on, blasting Barron in front of his client:

“I’m telling you, you were unethical, it was improper and then you go to the supreme court and complain, because I told you that we’re plowing ahead with this thing, and you complained about information that you improperly obtained through your unethical ex parte contact with the court,” McDonald said. “Now that is out of bounds. That is totally out of bounds. And if you ever do it again, I will send you to the bar association and try to get your bar license yanked.”

Attorney, Timothy Denison represents McDonald. He said his client denies doing anything wrong.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Lawyer Blasted by Ky. Judge Who Called Case ‘Ridiculous,’ Client a ‘Carcass’ Now Seeks His Removal”

ABAJournal.com: “Threatening to strangle a PD leads to ethics charges against judge; did stroke affect his ‘filter’?”

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