The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission today released a letter it had sent to Pulaski Circuit Judge Alice Gray cautioning her in a complaint brought by her colleague, Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce.
“While the investigation did not reveal sufficient evidence for the panel to recommend action for judicial misconduct, wrongdoing or incapacity under the Judicial Code,” the letter said, it added that the panel was “concerned” about the judge’s conduct under rules that say a judge shall perform the duties of office “impartially, competently and diligently.”
Pierce had complained about the way Gray had transferred a case to his court. The letter commented:
“Unwarranted disqualification or transferring of cases may bring public disfavor to a court and to a judge individually and personally. A judge’s respect for his or her judicial duties and a proper concern for those burdens require that a judge not use disqualification to avoid cases that present difficult, controverisal or unpopular cases. Had you handled this case transfer more directly and succinctly, or been more forthright with Judge Pierce and his staff, this complaint may never have been filed. The panel found your failure to communicagte with the litigants regarding the transfer, prior to the transfer, substandard. Additionally, the panel expected more from such an experienced judge such as yourself, who has been on the bench in excess of 20 years.
The letter added, “The manner in which you handled transferring a case from your division of court to Judge Pierce’s division was disappointing to the investigative panel, though they did not find it actionable as misconduct.”
The transfer came in a domestic case that still pends in Pierce’s court. Gray ordered it transferred there under the representation that it was a routine child support case on a day when Pierce was hearing a full docket of child support cases. But, on receiving it, he learned Pierce had stopped in mid-hearing of an emergency request for a change in child custody with witnesses from out of state and complications including an allegation that a parent was a sex offender. The attorneys were left in confusion. Pierce, who took the case and made a temporary ruling, said in his letter of complaint that Gray had a pattern of of dropping difficult cases, but the review committee’s finding was limited to considering her handling of the single case. Gray has insisted it was impossible for her to complete the hearing that day and that she transferred the case to Pierce because he’d once handled a case related to the parties.