On Friday, June 23, 2023, Missouri Lawyers Media reported that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals recently challenged the doctrine of judicial immunity in a case involving Taney County Associate Circuit Judge Eric Eighmy. The court ruled that Eighmy cannot claim immunity from allegations that he jailed the children of a divorced couple during a custody dispute.

The case at hand involves D. Nart Rockett and Kami Ballard, who divorced in Missouri in 2009 but later moved to California to support their children’s pursuit of entertainment careers. Ballard subsequently sought sole custody of the children, leading to a hearing before Judge Eighmy in 2019. The proceedings took an unexpected turn when the children, who were in their early teens at the time, objected to the custody arrangement agreed upon by their parents.

According to the lawsuit filed by Rockett, Judge Eighmy allegedly took the teens to a conference room and, after they continued to protest, personally escorted them to jail, where they were placed in separate cells for approximately an hour. It is further alleged that the children agreed to comply with the custody arrangement after the judge threatened to place them in foster care.

Hugh Eastwood, Rockett’s attorney, argued that the actions of Judge Eighmy were highly unusual and unprecedented. He contended that the children were never parties to the case, did not step foot in the courtroom, and were personally locked up by Judge Eighmy himself. Eastwood further claimed that Eighmy’s conduct falls outside the bounds of judicial immunity and should be subject to legal scrutiny.

In response, on behalf of Judge Eighmy, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office argued that Eighmy’s actions were well within the scope of his judicial function. They asserted that judicial immunity should not be contingent on the judge’s adherence to procedural formalities or the perception of whether a judge acted properly or within their authority.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, ruled against Judge Eighmy, stating that the allegations against him went beyond what would typically constitute a judicial act. The court concluded that judicial immunity does not extend to actions such as personally escorting individuals to jail.

Judge David R. Stras, writing for the panel, emphasized that the children were not present in the courtroom, had not disrupted the proceedings, and that judges should not act as jailers.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which represents Judge Eighmy, did not provide a comment in response to the ruling.

 

Source: Missouri Lawyers Media