Judge Mike Maggio will be formally removed from office at the end of the year, and will never again hold a judicial office in Arkansas.
This was the decision of the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission today. The state Supreme Court will imposing the sanction.
Maggio’s misogynistic, mean-spirited and wrong-headed comments on a Louisiana State University online fan forum, which have been much publicized, led to his removal. It is revealed in the JDDC’s findings of fact that Maggio also attempted to abuse the hot check process to harass and bully his girlfriend’s ex-husband.
In February, 2013, Maggio went to 20th Judicial District Hot Check Coordinator April Mathis and turned in a $2,500 child support check made out to Maggio’s live-in girlfriend. The check had bounced, and Maggio asked Mathis to initiate hot check proceedings, including an arrest warrant that Maggio wanted issued "immediately." Maggio also told Mathis that a civil body attachment would serve to keep the man in jail for his inability to pay the hot check and costs related to another civil case.
However, as Maggio should have well known since he was the judge presiding over all the county’s hot check cases including the very one he was meddling in, the "well-established protocol with hot check cases was for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to give notice to the violator and wait [ten days] until any further action is taken," the JDDC’s report reads. This gives the person who wrote the check an opportunity to settle the debt and avoid resorting to the machinery of the criminal justice system.
District Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland and his chief deputy, Ted Thomas, went to Maggio’s chambers and told him "that what he requested was not proper," the report states, and "the judge stated that he was misunderstood and there was no more conversation on the matter."
This malicious misuse of the hot check process raises concerns about Maggio’s "integrity and independence," the report states, and amounts to a judge using their office "to promote their own personal interests." "Respect for the judiciary in general was compromised."
In his comments to Maggio, JDDC Director David Sachar writes that "[e]ven the most elementary ethics analysis should have led you to identify this as a case that you should have had nothing to do with in your official capacity. … Your contact with Hot Check Coordinator, April Mathis, was poor judgment at best and left public officials in the reasonable position of thinking you were asking for special treatment."
Maggio’s disclosure on the LSU fan forum, tigerdroppings.com, of a closed adoption in Faulkner County involving a celebrity mother "violated the trust" of the mother and "a violation of the faith of the people placed in your hands upon taking the oath of your office," Sachar wrote in his comments to the judge, and "cast doubt on whether information in closed proceedings is ever truly confidential."
Sachar also noted that Maggio’s online persona, "geauxjudge," was hardly anonymous, since his comments revealed his status as a sitting circuit judge in Arkansas with a daughter who played golf at LSU and almost his full education background. "It took little time once the posts were sorted to find numerous facts in the posts that proved your actual identity."
"The volume of your comments results in much more than a problem of tastes, decorum or personal opinion," Sachar wrote. "It adds up to someone who demonstrates that he is unfit for the bench. Your actions offended and, even worse, gave rise to legitimate concerns that bias would overcome fairness and due process for a large number of potential litigants and their attorneys. Even the cases that you decided based purely on the facts and the law are now suspect by parties who look at the kind of statements you made. Whether it is race, gender, sexual orientation or specific subject matter, your comments made it impossible to be taken seriously as a judge who would be fair and impartial. You essentially disqualified yourself from the bench."
Maggio was campaigning for Arkansas Court of Appeals when, in March, his online personality was made public. Such statements as his reply of "teepee or hotel" when someone on the fan forum asked if anyone had dated an Indian woman and "I will say I get tired of hearing how the husband works all the time (uhh no kidding how you think the bills get paid); that he had an affair (Ummm… the wife quits or shuts down sex to nothing, becomes unattractive, and non-supportive and then is shocked when he steps out) what did she think was going to happen…. Food and Frickin go a long way to helping a man overlook a lot of BS" spoiled his prospects for election.
His campaign consultancy firm dropped him as a client a few days after the "geauxjudge" comments came to light, and a few weeks later the state Supreme Court stripped him of his docket. Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson has taken over his cases.
Maggio, who technically still had power and authority over his court even though his docket had been stripped, will finish the year with paid suspension after the suspension order is imposed by the state Supreme Court. He agreed that the sanctions of removal from office and suspension were appropriate, according to the JDDC's findings.
The Arkansas Ethics Commission recently released findings that Maggio's campaign had accepted about $1,500 in excess of contribution limits — $250 in excess each from the Go Good government PAC and the Thomas Group PAC and $1,000 in excess from the DBH2 PAC — which was allowed to co-mingle with campaign funds before it was returned by Maggio's campaign.