It’s likely that Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio did not have formal notice that a state judicial oversight commission has been looking into allegations of online impropriety.
It was claimed on Monday by an online alternative news website, bluehogreport.com, that Maggio may be the author of embarrassing and misogynistic posts to a Louisiana State University online forum under the pseudonym "geauxjudge" — which would tend to raise questions of decorum possibly amounting to a violation of the state Code of Judicial Conduct. The person writing the posts also revealed that Charlize Theron, the actress, adopted a child in a Faulkner County proceeding.
Generally, all adoption proceedings are sealed by law, and few people not directly involved in the actress’ adoption knew about it until it was published online by the Blue Hog Report and Arkansas Times on Monday.
Maggio said in a press release on Tuesday that he was "unaware of any [Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission] complaint," and was "prohibited from commenting" if there was one.
During an investigation into alleged judicial misconduct, the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission may delay notifying the subject of the investigation "so that court proceedings may be monitored or certain evidence obtained," according to a summary of usual procedure on the JDDC’s website.
Since the investigation was, and presumably still is, ongoing, it is reasonable to think that this would be a case in which notification would be delayed.
Formal notice to a judge comes at the conclusion of the preliminary investigation, when the judge "is then formally notified of the substance of the allegations and given an opportunity to respond both in writing and at a formal appearance before the commission."
At this point, the JDDC may dismiss the complaint based on the judge’s response, or if the misconduct is found to be "of a relatively minor nature" the JDDC may end matters there with a public admonition or "informal adjustment" such as professional counseling or other assistance.
But if the misconduct warrants a formal disciplinary procedure, a formal disciplinary hearing before the JDDC will be scheduled. This hearing is open to the public and operates much like a civil trial, with evidentiary and procedural trial rules.
If at the end of the formal disciplinary hearing the JDDC decides to take a disciplinary action, it has the authority to reprimand or censure (sternly rebuke) a judge or to recommend to the Arkansas Supreme Court that the judge be suspended or removed from office.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has authority to suspend or fire a judge, and may order additional evidence or oral argument be presented in making its decision as to what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate.
Though the formal allegations against Maggio are confidential, JDDC Executive Director David Sachar said on Monday that it did involve misuse of confidential information and "impropriety or the appearance of impropriety."
Canon 1 of the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to "uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, [and] avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety." Canon 3 requires judges to "conduct [their] personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office."
The Code of Judicial Conduct also contains official commentary to guide its application. Before speaking or writing about social or political issue, the official comment to Rule 3.1 states, "judges should consider the impact of their statements. Comments may suggest that the judge lacks impartiality [or] … may create the impression that a judge has or manifests bias or prejudice toward individuals with contrary social or political views."
"Public comments may require the judge to disqualify himself or herself when litigation involving those issues comes before the judge."
Maggio is a candidate for the Arkansas Court of Appeals. On Tuesday Clint Reed of Impact Management Group, who had been Maggio’s campaign consultancy firm, announced that the firm had severed ties with Maggio.