Judge checked Facebook and texted during murder trial, courtroom video shows
“It is both shocking and disappointing to learn,” said Adam Panter, a district attorney in Oklahoma, in a statement. “Jurors are banned from using cellphones in the courtroom during trials because we expect them to give their full time and attention to the evidence being presented.” Image from Shutterstock.
Courtroom surveillance video leaked to the Oklahoman shows a judge scrolling through Facebook and texting on her cellphone while presiding in a murder trial.
Judge Traci Soderstrom of Lincoln County, Oklahoma, used her cellphone during the trial last month of Khristian Tyler Martzall, 32, who was accused in the death of his then-girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, the Oklahoman reports in coverage recounted by the Associated Press.
Prosecutors alleged that Martzall either harmed the boy or allowed his girlfriend to do so, according to the Oklahoman. He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and received the maximum sentence of four years in prison. Martzall has been imprisoned for more than five years and has completed his sentence, Soderstrom said.
Soderstrom declined to comment when contacted by the Oklahoman because the verdict could be appealed.
Sheriff Charlie Dougherty told the Associated Press and Koco.com that he provided the video to the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints at its request. The council didn’t comment on whether it is investigating because of secrecy requirements.
District Attorney Adam Panter said he reviewed the video after receiving a tip from courthouse personnel. The video confirms that Soderstrom “spent hours of the trial on her cellphone both texting and scrolling through social media,” Panter said in a statement to local media.
“It is both shocking and disappointing to learn,” Panter said in the statement. “Jurors are banned from using cellphones in the courtroom during trials because we expect them to give their full time and attention to the evidence being presented. I would expect and hope the court would hold itself to the same standard required of the jurors, regardless of the type of case.
“It is especially concerning in the present case, as it dealt with the death of a 2-year-old child and a defendant facing a possibility of up to life in prison.”
Panter also commented on media reports that Soderstrom apparently had the courtroom camera moved after her cellphone use came to light.
“I am obviously concerned that the judge’s response is not to address the issue of her behavior but rather to move the camera that captured said behavior,” Panter said.
Defense lawyer Velia Lopez told the Oklahoman that she never saw Soderstrom on her phone, and she did a great job.
Lawyer Tracy Schumacher, a former judge, commented to Koco.com. Schumacher said it’s not uncommon for a judge or lawyer to use cellphones during trial for court purposes. Using the phone for other purposes is “a bump in the road” for Soderstrom, Schumacher said.
Soderstrom is “hopeful she can overcome it in her judicial career and continue to serve the citizens of Lincoln County,” Schumacher said.
The Oklahoman learned that Schumacher is representing Soderstrom, although the lawyer would not confirm it. Koco.com did not say whether Schumacher is connected to the case.