On Thursday, April 11, 2024, the Omaha World-Herald reported that the Nebraska Supreme Court issued a public reprimand to Hastings County Court Judge Michael P. Burns for inappropriately intervening in a case involving his friend, a local parish priest.

According to the article, Judge Burns was contacted on his cell phone during a court break on March 16, 2023, about a misdemeanor charge that was being filed against an unnamed priest that Burns was familiar with through his parish. Though the judge had not yet been assigned to the case and had an obvious conflict of interest due to his friendship with the priest, Burns told the clerk magistrate to hold off processing the charge so he could look into the matter further.

Burns then reached out to the county attorney who filed the charge, expressing doubt that his friend would purposefully drive off from a gas station without paying and suggesting more investigation was warranted. He provided the prosecutor with the priest’s phone number as well. Additionally, Burns notified the priest about the pending charge and encouraged him to contact law enforcement to resolve the issue.

The Nebraska Supreme Court’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications found Burns’ actions to be improper, as he should have declined involvement due to his conflict of interest and not inserted himself into an ongoing case. While Burns claimed he was trying to spare his friend public embarrassment over a minor charge if it was filed in error, the commission determined he inappropriately leveraged his position as a judge.

Though Burns had no prior disciplinary issues during his time on the bench since 2011, the Supreme Court issued a public reprimand for his misconduct. The reprimand served both to admonish Burns specifically as well as provide guidance for other judges who may encounter similar scenarios going forward. While remorseful, Burns’ interference was still sanctioned by the state’s highest court to uphold integrity in the judicial system.

 

 

Source: Omaha World-Herald