On Tuesday, APNews reported that an Oklahoma judge is facing removal from the bench after sending over 500 texts to her bailiff during a murder trial, including messages that mocked the prosecutor, praised the defense attorney, and called a key witness a liar.
Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom has been under scrutiny since July when she was caught on camera scrolling through social media and texting during the trial of a man accused in the fatal beating of a 2-year-old.
Following this event, Chief Justice John Kane IV of the Oklahoma Supreme Court recommended Soderstrom’s removal in a court filing. Soderstrom, who was sworn in on January 9 after being elected in November, has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of a hearing by the Court on the Judiciary, which will determine whether to remove her from the bench.
According to Kane’s petition, Soderstrom’s texts demonstrated “gross neglect of duty, gross partiality, and oppression.” The judge’s texts included comments questioning whether a juror was wearing a wig, if a witness had teeth, and calling a police officer who testified “pretty,” adding, “I could look at him all day.” Soderstrom also texted a laughing emoji icon to the bailiff, who had made a crass and demeaning reference to the prosecuting attorneys’ genitals.
“The pattern of conduct demonstrates Respondent’s (Soderstrom’s) gross neglect of duty, gross partiality, and oppression,” Kane wrote. “The conduct further demonstrates Respondent’s (Soderstrom’s) lack of temperament to serve as a judge.”
Soderstrom’s texts also included messages mocking the prosecutor and praising the defense attorney. She described the defense attorney as “awesome” and asked “Can I clap for her?” during the defense attorney’s opening arguments. When questioned by the Council on Judicial Complaints, Soderstrom said her texting “probably could have waited” rather than realizing the comments should never have been made.
Soderstrom’s behavior has sparked outrage and raised questions about her ability to impartially preside over a trial. Her conduct has demonstrated a lack of temperament to serve as a judge and has undermined the public’s trust in the judicial system. It is imperative that judges are held accountable for their actions, and Soderstrom’s case highlights the need for judicial accountability.