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Judge Reprimanded for Leaving Early and Complaining About It

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 16, 2019 12:00 PM

Judge April Smith was a busy judge. Unfortunately, she was too busy to do her job.

On more than one occasion, she announced in open court that she had to adjourn early to take care of other business. It would not have been a big deal, except it was happening all the time. Finally, lawyers had to say something about it. They reported the judge for leaving early to have her hair and nails done. That, judicial authorities said, is too much.

Hair and Nails

Smith was elected to the Cumberland County district court in North Carolina in 2014. She presides there over family, criminal, and domestic violence matters. In 2015, she took more time off than any of her colleagues. She had the second-most days off in 2016, and the most again in 2017. She "rushed to conclude cases to avoid working the full afternoon or the next day," lawyers said.

It got so bad that they circulated "an unfavorable cartoon" about her among members of the bar. At one point, Smith blamed the chief judge for assigning her to an "undesirable courtroom that accepted walk-in domestic violence cases." She said it was based partly on racial prejudice. She is black, and the chief judge is white. The Judicial Standards Commission didn't buy it. The commission recommended a public reprimand, and the state supreme court agreed.

It was about more than hair and nail appointments. The court publicly reprimanded Smith for conduct "prejudicial to the administration of justice" and "inappropriate to her office."

No Racial Bias

The court also said Smith's conduct "involved a pattern of pervasive complaints attacking the personal integrity and fairness of the Chief Judge to anyone who would listen." All the while, there was "no evidence of racial bias." On the contrary, the court said, the chief judge had given Smith personal leaves of absence on many occasions. When she asked for time off for medical reasons, he always accommodated her.

Hair and nail appointments, not so much.

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