Legal Ethics

Ex-Judge Loses Law License for 2 Years for Sexual Behavior re Multiple Female Lawyers While on Bench

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A former municipal court judge who resigned after being accused of sexually harassing a female public defender who had recently graduated from law school, as well as other attorneys who appeared before him, did not escape legal ethics discipline.

Although the Arizona Supreme Court could only censure Theodore “Ted” Abrams, 47, and prohibit him from serving on the bench again, because he is no longer a Tucson City judge, it also disciplined him as an attorney, suspending his law license for two years, according to the Arizona Daily Star and the Arizona Republic.

Abrams was accused by the State Bar of Arizona in a brief of “engag[ing] in a prolonged and relentless effort to sexually harass an assistant public defender who appeared in his court,” as well as, “in a gross misuse of his power, … inflict[ing] his retribution from the bench for the victim’s refusal to yield to his pursuit,” the Republic reports.

Leagle provides a copy of the opinion, which, according to a message on the supreme court’s website, has not yet been posted but will be shortly.

During a 14-month period, the judge sent the unidentified public defender at least 28 voice mails and 85 text messages, many of which were sexually suggestive (at least one was, he admitted, “obscene,” and described a sex act he wanted to perform on her), repeatedly pressured her for sex, made slurping noises and at one point fondled her buttocks, according to the opinion and the Republic article. In response, the public defender said she wasn’t interested, reminded Abrams that it would be inappropriate for them to have a relationship because she worked in his courtroom and because he was married and called him “crazy and disgusting.”

At some point during all of this, the judge “reminded” the public defender “of her probationary employment status and his connections in the community,” the opinion says.

The judge’s “uncharacteristically harsh and inappropriate treatment” of the public defender in court, which included criticizing her for committing a fraud on the court when she questioned jurisdiction and declaring a mistrial in her first jury trial, resulted in an investigation, a sexual harassment complaint by the city attorney’s office, a finding of sexual harassment and retaliation by the presiding judge and a vote to remove Abrams from the bench by the Tucson City Council, the opinion continues.

He resigned on Jan. 18 of this year, a day before his removal was to have taken effect.

Abrams was also found to have had a consensual sexual relationship with a private defense attorney who appeared before him and to have sent sexually explicit email to an assistant city prosecutor who worked in his court.

He was suspended from law practice for two years on May 25, but the supreme court did not issue a written opinion in the case until yesterday.

Abrams, who also resigned as a part-time law professor at the University of Arizona, pointed to his positive evaluations at work and hitherto unblemished two decades as an attorney. “The Bar’s characterization of me being abusive is not a fair characterization of who I am and who I was as a judge,” he said.

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