Judge gets 6-month suspension, partly for misusing her contempt power

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A Philadelphia judge has been suspended for six months for misconduct that included misusing her contempt power and “harshly belittling” people in family court.

Judge Lyris Younge of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania won’t be paid during her suspension, which will be followed by a probationary period that extends until the end of her term in 2026, Law.com reports.

She won’t be allowed to preside in family law court, where the misconduct happened, and she will have to write letters of apology to those subjected to her misconduct.

In a June 2 opinion and order, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline listed four misconduct violations. According to the opinion and order, Younge:

• Failed to file custody orders in a timely manner, which stymied effective appeals. In one case that Younge filed an opinion 261 days late, according to previous findings of fact by the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline. State law requires opinions to be filed within 30 days after a notice of appeal is filed.

• Misused her contempt power against those who appeared before her. In one instance, she ordered the detention of a mother until she brought her children to court, without holding a contempt hearing. In another, she imprisoned a nonparty for 21 days.

• Exhibited improper demeanor by “harshly belittling and engaging in sarcastic behavior toward those appearing before her.” Prior findings of fact described her behavior as “impatient, discourteous, disrespectful, condescending and undignified.”

• Interfered with the right of litigants to be heard. In one instance, a mother who said she felt ill left the courtroom. The mother’s attorney asked to allow her back into the courtroom, but Younge refused. She conducted a hearing without the mother and terminated her parental rights.

“The court views this case as the most egregious one involving rude demeanor, failure to timely proceed, and imperious action it has seen,” wrote President Judge Jazelle Jones of the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline in the opinion and order.

Younge had testified at her sanctions hearing that she had a serious medical condition and undergoing great personal difficulties that contributed to her poor attitude and actions.

“On the other hand,” Jones wrote, “witnesses for the judicial conduct board credibly testified to the havoc Judge Younge had wreaked in their lives with her imperious actions in cases involving their children and themselves. Her clearly unwarranted contempt findings even resulted in two people being imprisoned when such treatment was improper under the law.”

Two dissenters would have removed Younge from the bench and barred her from holding future judicial office.

Younge “caused one disaster over another,” the dissent said. She “caused great harm and hardship to many people with her imperious and unethical conduct. Her time as a judge should end now.”

Younge’s attorney, Charles Gibbs, told Law.com in an email that Younge has “dedicated her life to public service and helping others and the court’s decision will enable her to continue to pursue her passion in the justice system. We thank the court for allowing Judge Younge the opportunity to continue to be of service.”

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