Judge is reprimanded for 'flirtatious to overtly sexual' social media messages

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A Tennessee judge has received a public reprimand for sending inappropriate messages to women on social media platforms.

The Oct. 5 reprimand says Judge Jonathan Lee Young sent messages “ranging from flirtatious to overtly sexual” to multiple women, many of them depicting Young in his judicial robe. Law360 and News Talk 94.1 have coverage, while the Legal Profession Blog noted the reprimand.

The reprimand imposed a stayed 30-day suspension and ordered Young to refrain from using a photo of himself in his robes as a profile picture on any social media platform, unless conducting court business.

One of the women who received the inappropriate messages was a legal professional employed by a law firm that conducts business in Young’s court. Another was a litigant who previously had a child custody matter before the judge. The conduct occurred from 2015 to 2020.

The reprimand said there was nothing to suggest that Young was biased or prejudiced in any case, but some litigants aware of the messages could question whether they would receive unbiased treatment in his courtroom. In one case, a party sought Young’s recusal after learning of his messages, and the judge agreed to step aside.

Engaging in sexual conversations and soliciting pictures while in a judicial robe could appear coercive, especially if the recipient is a former litigant or has job responsibilities that intersect with the court system, the reprimand said.

Young’s inappropriate use of social media created dilemmas for lawyers who appear in his courtroom, according to the reprimand. Some lawyers sought advice from the Board of Professional Responsibility regarding their own ethical obligations to disclose the judge’s activities to clients. And, in at least one instance, a party used knowledge of the judge’s conduct for strategic advantage, the reprimand said.

Young acknowledged sending the inappropriate messages and that doing so was beneath the dignity of his office. He cooperated in the ethics proceeding and had no prior disciplinary record.

Young spoke with News Talk 94.1 about the reprimand. “A few years back was just a rough time in my life,” he said. “It truly is a private matter that others thought should be public. So, I did not contest the accusation and just want to put it all behind me and move on. I never said I was perfect, but nothing I did affected my decisions or ability on the bench.”

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