A Meigs County judge has received a public reprimand from the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct stemming from an Oct. 11 court hearing in which he called a litigant a "tough guy," told the man's daughter to "shut up" and mocked the man's disabled wife.
According to a Jan. 4 letter to the judge from Board of Judicial Conduct Chairman Dee David Gay, General Sessions Judge Casey Mark Stokes was publicly reprimanded after a complaint was filed by Ronald Satterfield, a litigant in Stoke's court the day of the hearing.
According to the letter, Satterfield claimed the judge called him a tough guy and suggested if they saw each other on the street they would end up cussing each other out or having a fistfight.
"Mr. Satterfield further claims that you mocked his wife's physical disability by impersonating her movements and that you told his daughter to 'shut up' as the daughter was trying to explain her mother's neurological disability and thus the reason for her uncontrolled hand and arm movements in court," the letter to Stokes said.
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Gay's letter speaks to Stokes' Nov. 11 response to the allegations.
"You admitted calling Mr. Satterfield a tough guy during the hearing. You also admitted telling him, 'I hope you meet someone just like yourself one day' as he was leaving the courtroom following the hearing," Gay states. "In addition, you have acknowledged telling the daughter to 'shut up' in court. You noted in your response that the Satterfields had interrupted you and that they were being rude toward the opposing party."
Gay blasted Stokes for his behavior regardless of the conduct of the parties in court.
"Judges are expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct and dignity of judicial office at all times," the letter states. "This obligation includes the specific responsibility of being dignified and courteous to those with whom the judge deals in an official capacity. Name-calling in court, such as referring to a party as 'tough guy,' telling a witness to 'shut up' or making injudicious comments to a litigant leaving the courtroom such as 'I hope you meet someone just like yourself one day,' are neither dignified nor courteous and set a poor example for everyone present."
Gay said such actions leave people in court with the impression the judge is biased.
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"The more tense or difficult the situation, the more important it is for the judge to remain dignified and composed and not be drawn into an escalating situation," Gay said, noting the Board's investigative panel decision to impose a public reprimand was accepted by Stokes.
Stokes declined to comment when reached through officials at the Meigs County Circuit Court Clerk's Office on Friday.
"In imposing this sanction, the panel considered that you previously received a warning concerning a lack of self-control in raising your voice and using intemperate words in court," Gay said, remarking that the panel also noted Stokes had taken full responsibility and was cooperative with disciplinary counsel. "In short, the conduct described above fails to meet the standards of conduct expected of those privileged to hold judicial office. The Board trusts that the reprimand imposed today will cause you to avoid any future conduct that gives even the appearance of any impropriety or the display of any undignified behavior."
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.