Legal Ethics

Judge who angrily lectured appellate counsel in death-penalty case is suspended with pay

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A senior Kentucky judge has been suspended with pay after threatening last year, as a figure of speech, to strangle a lawyer who was making an appellate argument in a high-profile death-penalty case if he ever again called the jurist’s cellphone. (The lawyer had done so with opposing counsel’s permission, on a number supplied by the court, to discuss a scheduling matter.)

In addition to angrily lecturing the appellate lawyer, Judge Martin “Marty” McDonald is also accused of refusing to let a pro se litigant in another case make an argument, because he was not represented by counsel.

McDonald had argued, through his counsel, Timothy Denison, that the state Judicial Conduct Commission lacked jurisdiction because he has completed his 600-day assignment as a senior judge and does not plan to serve again. However, the commission voted Tuesday to suspend McDonald because it didn’t have a record that he had completed paperwork concerning his judicial service in May, the Courier-Journal reports.

“The commission felt the allegations were serious enough that he should be suspended, if in fact he had any more days to serve,” chairman Steve Wolnitzek told the newspaper. “If he has completed his service, obviously the order of suspension would be moot. If he’s done, he’s done.”

Denison says his client plans to appeal on principle and to prevent further damage to his reputation.

See also “See the Video: Angry Judge Blasts ‘Backseat Driver’ Appellate Counsel in High-Profile Murder Case” “Threatening to strangle a PD leads to ethics charges against judge; did stroke affect his ‘filter’?”

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