On Monday, June 3, 2024, the Los Angeles Times reported that a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge faced public censure for sending inappropriate text messages to a prosecutor during a murder trial.

Judge Emily J. Cole was overseeing the second trial of Travis Rockhill, who was accused of murder. According to the report by the Commission on Judicial Performance, during a court hearing on April 28th, 2023 both the defense and prosecution said they did not plan to call any additional witnesses. However, the prosecution’s rebuttal phase was still ongoing.

Less than a minute after concluding proceedings for the day, Judge Cole text messaged former colleague Kevin Sexton, a deputy district attorney who had observed part of the trial. In the messages, Cole questioned why the prosecuting attorney, Yujin Yi, was not planning to call Deputy Sheriff Randy Smalls as a witness. Cole suggested to Sexton that “people should talk it over” with Yi.

The Commission found that Cole violated judicial conduct standards by sending the messages during working hours and implying the prosecution should call a certain witness. Her actions undermined her role as an impartial jurist and advocate for one side.

After the guilty verdict was delivered, Sexton notified Yi of the text exchange. The Superior Court and Alternate Public Defender’s office were also alerted. Supervising Judge Denise McLaughlin-Bennett asked Cole to disclose the messages and recuse herself, which Cole did on May 15th. However, the Commission said Cole initially tried to downplay the severity of her actions in her statements to the court.

In their ruling, the nine-member Commission approved stipulations that publicly censured Cole, the strongest sanction allowed short of removal. While it was Cole’s first disciplinary matter, the Commission said her conduct was serious and compromised the integrity of the judiciary. Cole’s lawyer stated she “deeply regrets” her actions and will learn from the “isolated momentary lapse.”



Source: Los Angeles Times