Judge reprimanded for courtroom demeanor
A judge who displayed repeated disdain when a defense counsel violated a minor courtroom rule and who expressed hope a convicted murderer had to fight for his life every day or die within six weeks will be publicly reprimanded by the Supreme Court.
Eighteenth Circuit Judge Robin Lemonidis was sanctioned in a November 14 court opinion that stemmed from her conduct in two proceedings.
In one (the Francis case), Lemonidis showed a continual “adversarial tone and demeanor when” speaking with the defense counsel, who had referred to the defendant by first name instead of following the courtroom rule of using surnames only. Those actions continued even after the judge was told a juror was overheard commenting on her treatment of defense counsel.
Lemonidis also showed annoyance with witnesses and others involved in the trial.
The second case (the Welch case) came in the sentencing phase after the defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, and the jury voted for life without parole instead of the death penalty.
When imposing that sentence, Lemonidis referred to impact statements from the victims’ family members and said, “I do hope you do fight for your life every minute of every day. And that would be the only reason that I would hope your life is any longer than six weeks.”
The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) found the judge’s conduct violated judicial canons by failing to maintain a high standard of conduct, failing to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of judges, failing to be “patient, dignified, [and] courteous to litigants and lawyers,” and failing to demonstrate lack of bias or prejudice in her judicial duties.
“Like the JQC, we are particularly concerned by ‘Judge Lemonidis’[s] failure to exercise self-control’ during the Francis trial after she was informed that a juror had commented on her perceived dislike of defense counsel. Such an allegation should have made Judge Lemonidis aware of the need to ‘regulat[e] her own conduct’ to preserve the appearance of impartiality,” the court said in its unanimous per curiam opinion. “We further agree that Judge Lemonidis’s comments during the Welch sentencing hearing — especially those articulating a desire to see the defendant ‘fight for [his] life’ or die within the next six weeks — compromised the integrity of the judiciary. As observed by the JQC, ‘it is essential’ that judges refrain from ‘degrad[ing] the solemnity of proceedings by casting insults and abuse upon litigants.’”
The court agreed with the stipulation reached between the JQC and the judge for a public reprimand, with Lemonidis also continuing stress management counseling.
The court acted in Case No. SC19-1302.