Iowa Judge Suspended for Showing Up Drunk

In a September 2014 decision, the Supreme Court of Iowa suspended a district court judge for 30 days after being found to have arrived at the courthouse exceedingly drunk and unable to take the bench, over two years ago! On May 9, 2012, the Judge arrived at Henry County Courthouse so impaired from hard alcohol consumption that she had to be persuaded by court personnel not to take the bench, and was later hospitalized for three days due to alcohol poisoning from her drinking binge earlier that morning. The Judge, who admitted to a long and problematic history of alcoholism, told Iowa’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications that she had almost zero recollection of that morning, the events surrounding her removal, or her hospitalization. The Commission also heard complaints relating to other instances where the Judge had appeared “disoriented” and “disheveled” while adjudicating in the months leading up to the May 9 incident. The Commission pointed to those other complaints as proof that she had consistently failed to meet the ethical standards to which judges are held.

Following its investigation and report, the Commission charged the Judge with violating two rules—Rule 51:1.2 and Rule 52:2.5(A)—of the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct. The Commission first found that where the Judge arrived at the courthouse extremely intoxicated, she “raised doubt about her integrity, and eroded confidence in the judiciary.” This violated Rule 51:1.2, which is aimed at promoting confidence in the judiciary and stipulates that a judge “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence…and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”  The Commission then found it especially troubling that the Judge could not remember much of what occurred, indicative of the severe level of intoxication she was under when arriving at the courthouse. This, according to the Commission, demonstrated that the Judge violated Rule 51:2.5(A), which requires a judge to “perform judicial and administrative duties competently and diligently.”

The Commission recommended that the Judge be suspended from the bench for a three-month period given the seriousness of her actions and her consistent failure to abstain from drinking on the job. However, the court decided to suspend the Judge for one month without pay because she expressed willingness to seek help and had no previous disciplinary history. The court appreciated that the Judge was open and honest in admitting to the two charges, and made efforts to address her alcoholism by attending rehabilitation and counseling while agreeing to the stipulations of a two-year monitoring period. Since the incident, the Judge “committed herself to a significant program of recovery,” in the hopes of successfully returning to the bench, presumably with a much better idea of the conduct appropriate for a judge who wants to inspire and preserve confidence in the judiciary.

Read the Full Opinion Here

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