On Thursday, December 28, 2023, the Arizona Supreme Court’s Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC) publicly reprimanded Cochise County Superior Court Judge John F. Kelliher Jr. for a third time in under a year. According to the Reprimand Order issued by the CJC, Judge Kelliher violated several provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct during an October 2022 juvenile dependency hearing.
The case is entitled “In the Matter of Judge John F. Kelliher, Jr.,” with case numbers 22-368 and 23-147.
According to the reprimand order, Judge Kelliher violated several provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct, specifically Rule 1.2 Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary, Rule 2.2 Impartiality and Fairness, Rule 2.6(A) Ensuring the Right to Be Heard, and Rule 2.8(B) Decorum, Demeanor, and Communication with Jurors.
The Reprimand stems from two separate complaints filed against Judge Kelliher in 2022 and 2023 regarding his behavior and demeanor during a juvenile dependency hearing. At the start, a request was made by the state attorney to close the hearing to the public, which was objected to by the mother and her lawyer. However, it took Judge Kelliher several minutes to rule on the request as he was busy making inappropriate condescending remarks towards the mother. These comments were found by the CJC to be irrelevant to the closure request and caused the mother unnecessary distress.
The order details that Judge Kelliher asked the mother’s attorney if their client was under the influence of drugs, providing no evidence for this claim. After being told she was not, Judge Kelliher continued lecturing the mother for six more minutes before addressing the closure request. During this time, Judge Kelliher made remarks such as questioning if he needed a different job if the mother insisted she was not high. After closing the hearing, the order notes he went on to make additional demeaning statements about her homelessness status.
In response, Judge Kelliher argued the mother has a long history of substance abuse issues relevant to the case. However, the CJC investigator maintained the judge’s comments were demeaning and impacted the mother’s right to be heard, potentially chilling her willingness to speak on her own behalf.
This Reprimand marks the third public sanction issued against Judge Kelliher in 2023, including two in March also related to the disrespectful treatment of individuals in his courtroom. The CJC denied Judge Kelliher’s request to reconsider and voted to issue the reprimand to restore dignity and honor to the judiciary.
Judge Kelliher’s courtroom is located at 1415 Melody Lane, Building G Bisbee, AZ 85603, and can be reached at 520-803-3300.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.