The state commission that enforces judicial conduct has reprimanded Justice of the Peace Cody Williams on grounds he is consistently absent from his $101,500-a-year job and he created an appearance of impropriety when he didn’t transfer a personal speeding ticket to another judge.
Williams, who presides over the South Mountain precinct, is fighting the Aug. 19 decision by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which has yet to make the sanction public.
Williams, a former Phoenix City Council member, did not respond to messages left at the South Mountain Justice Court or with his campaign manager, Karl Gentles, but Gentles responded on his behalf.
Gentles said Williams is working with the commission to get more details about the allegations against him, but they believe disclosure of them is suspiciously timed and politically motivated.
Gentles said the complainant, private investigator William Rucker, works for opponents of Williams, an allegation Rucker denied. Rucker said he stumbled upon the information on Williams while conducting an unrelated investigation.
The commission reprimanded Williams for violating eight rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct, according to an order issued to Williams and obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times.
A reprimand is an informal sanction and is at the mid-range of the punishment scale, said Keith Stott, the commission’s executive director.
The commission’s rules state that the commission can reprimand a judge for conduct that is unacceptable, but not serious enough to warrant formal hearings or more discipline by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Williams will suffer no further consequence except that the reprimand and other documents from the case become public record.
When it comes to formal sanctions such as censures, suspensions without pay or removal from office, the commission must hold hearings or enter stipulated agreements with the accused, and the Supreme Court makes the final decision whether to accept the commission’s recommendations, Stott said.
He said he couldn’t legally comment on the Williams case.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Williams to the position in August 2007, after the elected justice of the peace, Pamela Gutierrez, died early in her term.
Cari Gerchick, county spokeswoman, said Williams was the only candidate to submit a letter of interest for the vacancy.
He was uncontested in this year’s Democratic primary for the justice of the peace race and he will be running against Republican Daniel Coleman in the Nov. 2 general election.
Williams was a Phoenix City Council member from 1994 to 2002, representing the city’s 8th district before taking over as president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce.
According to the commission’s order of reprimand, an investigation into the judge’s work hours revealed that he worked less than 25 hours per week.
“Preliminary investigation revealed that Judge Williams consistently fails to appear for work on Wednesdays and Fridays except to perform weddings in the evenings for a fee,” Judge William Brammer, Jr., the commission chairman, wrote.
Gentles said Williams works 40 hours a week inside and outside the court conducting business of the court, which includes meetings, community activities, classes, speaking engagements and continuing education classes.
Weddings are performed at the courthouse five days a week whether Williams is there or not and he shares the duties with five other judges, Gentles said.
According to the commission order, computerized records show his absence from the courthouse, but Gentles said the judge hasn’t seen those records and has requested to see them.
The commission also found that he failed to disqualify himself as a judge after receiving a photo-radar ticket in his precinct.
“Although the judge ultimately disposed of the ticket by paying the fine, his failure to transfer the ticket to another jurisdiction resulted in the appearance that he presided over the disposition of his own traffic ticket,” Brammer wrote.
Gentles said Williams didn’t transfer the ticket because he didn’t believe he had to and it was never served or scheduled in any court.
“I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would transfer a traffic ticket just to pay it,” Gentles said. “The extra time and cost involved would be wasteful and time consuming.”
The Aug. 19 reprimand was Williams’ first as a justice of the peace.
According to commission records, hundreds of complaints are filed each year against judges, but a miniscule percentage of them ever results in sanctions. Most complaints are from litigants who are unhappy with a judge’s decision in their case, but they don’t rise to the level of judicial misconduct and are summarily dismissed.
Rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct Williams is accused of violating
RULE 1.2. Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary
A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
RULE 1.3. Avoiding Abuse of the Prestige of Judicial Office
A judge shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others, or allow others to do so.
RULE 2.1. Giving Precedence to Judicial Duties
The judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all of a judge’s other activities.
RULE 2.4. External Influences on Judicial Conduct
(B) A judge shall not permit family, social, political, financial, or other interests or relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.
RULE 2.5. Competence, Diligence, and Cooperation
A judge shall perform judicial and administrative duties competently, diligently, and promptly.
RULE 2.7. Responsibility to Decide
A judge shall hear and decide matters assigned to the judge, except when disqualification is required by Rule 2.11 or other law.
RULE 2.11. Disqualification
A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
RULE 3.1. Extrajudicial Activities in General
A judge may engage in extrajudicial activities, except as prohibited by law or this code. However, when engaging in extrajudicial activities, a judge shall not participate in activities that will interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s judicial duties.