Judge Moon's reversal

Judge Moon's reversal

January 11th, 2012 in Opinion Times

When the state's Court of the Judiciary's investigated three separate complaints alleging judicial misconduct against him, Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon was offered a choice: He could accept a public reprimand regarding charges, or contest the investigative findings. He chose the latter, signing an agreement -- akin to a plea bargain -- to accept a public reprimand. But now that the reprimand has been made public, Moon is back-tracking on his agreement, arguing after the fact that the mistakes he made really amounted simply to a "definitive difference of opinion in interpretation and applicability of the law...".

There's a transparent problem with that, of course. It begs the question of why he didn't take that stand -- if the issues were as ambiguous as he now claims -- when his cases actually were before the Court of Judiciary. Reversing course now is like leaving the courtroom after the verdict's been delivered and telling the media on the courthouse steps that the jury got it wrong.

Judge Moon owes voters here more than that. The charges that the Court of the Judiciary was compelled to investigate involved defendants' basic rights in court and his disregard for those rights when he was sitting on the bench. The reprimand by the Court of the Judiciary said Moon's actions in the three separate cases violated judicial rules requiring judges to "respect and comply with the law" and to "act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary."

One charge, filed against Moon by Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern, involved a preliminary hearing before Moon in which, the reprimand said, he wrongly "threatened to have a young woman, who was a reluctant victim/witness of a domestic assault, handcuffed and arrested if she did not testify in a manner which he considered to be truthful."

Another case, filed by attorney Hank Hill, concerned a case in which a defendant who had previously been given a six-month suspended sentence on traffic charges pending a drug screen. When the defendant returned following the drug screen, which he failed, Moon offered him a choice of sentences -- on the driving charges, or a marijuana charge. The defendant then asked for a lawyer. Moon told him to turn around and ask one of the several lawyers waiting on other cases: the defendant asked one of the lawyers, and was told to take the drug (marijuana) charge. When he asked for that, Moon amended the charge against the defendant without a charging document, the reprimand said, and sentenced him to six months' incarceration.

The reprimand cited Moon's failure to appoint counsel for the defendant and his change of charges without a proper charging document.

The third ethics complaint, filed by attorney Benjamin McGowan, concerned similar violations of due process and a failure to appoint attorneys in a case involving three persons -- a victim and two witnesses -- who had been subpoenaed to testify. When it turned out that all three were under diversion granted by another court in a theft case, Moon took it upon himself to "revoke their probation and ordered their arrest and incarceration, without having given them the opportunity for counsel, a hearing, or advice of any rights," the reprimand said.

None of Moon's judicial offenses in these cases would be commonly regarded by lawyers as breaches of ambiguous standards. In fact, they all involve basic issues of due process that law students are taught early in their studies. Moreover, the reprimand issued against Moon by the Court of the Judiciary noted that "upon receiving notice from Disciplinary Counsel, you promptly responded admitting the factual basis for the complaints."

Since then, the reprimand noted that Moon had "taken remedial steps to try to ensure that all indigent defendants in General Sessions Courts in Hamilton County are appointed counsel to represent them at probation or diversion revocation hearings." It said he also had communicated "the necessity of this procedure by memorandum" to his fellow judges.

Given his plea to the reprimand and his efforts correct his conduct, it's unbecoming of Moon, as a judge, now to argue that his violations amounted to a "difference of opinion." Such hubris may remind voters that Moon essentially rejects responsibility for his judicial misconduct, no matter how he pled to the Court of the Judiciary.