On Monday, May 27, 2024, azcentral reported that the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct dismissed the fourth complaint filed against Cochise County Superior Court Judge John Kelliher Jr. The complaint alleged that Judge Kelliher was demeaning toward the client of attorney Thomas Asimou during a hearing in December 2016.

The commission determined that the alleged behavior occurred over three years before the complaint was filed in March 2024. Additionally, Judge Kelliher had previously received three judicial reprimands from the commission related to similar conduct. According to the commission’s disposition, the disciplinary actions imposed in the prior complaints were sufficient to address the issues raised in the newest complaint.

The recent complaint centered around a case from December 2016 involving a missing person matter. Attorney Asimou represented a Mexican woman who was attempting to declare her husband deceased after he went missing in Mexico. Asimou claimed that Judge Kelliher spoke to his client in a “bizarre” and “demeaning” manner, seemingly trying to humiliate her because of her national origin and accent.

Legal expert Keith Swisher reviewed Mr. Asimou’s complaint as well as an unsealed portion of the hearing transcript. He noted some instances of inappropriate behavior by Judge Kelliher, such as joking about a made-up theater and making strange comments about unsafe water in the courthouse. Mr. Swisher stated that judges have a duty to treat all courtroom participants with courtesy, patience, and impartiality while allowing parties to be heard according to the law.

Court transcripts show unusual interactions between Judge Kelliher and both attorneys during the hearing. After “patronizingly” instructing Mr. Asimou’s client on testifying, Judge Kelliher’s demeanor reportedly shifted to “disdain.” The transcript also documented the judge coaching the opposing counsel on evidentiary objections and asking if they wanted to object to one of Mr. Asimou’s questions.

Attorney Asimou felt these actions were demeaning toward his client. Additionally, he noted that Judge Kelliher went off on tangents about religion, his personal views, and unrelated topics like a book he was reading. Throughout the hearing, the judge made various odd comments about his back issues, stretching, breathing, and the pace of the proceeding.

However, the transcript also showed Judge Kelliher showering praise on an FBI agent witness. Mr. Asimou argued the judge’s behavior ultimately fostered bias against his client’s case. If formal charges were initiated, the commission could censure, suspend, or remove a judge from office. But for Judge Kelliher’s prior reprimands, public reprimand was deemed sufficient discipline.

Judge Kelliher is elected to four-year terms leading the Cochise County Superior Court. After winning another unopposed election in 2022, he could potentially face a challenger in 2026 if he opts to seek reelection following this latest misconduct complaint.

 

 

Source: azcentral