Judge Michael Kwan cracked a joke about President Trump, and now he is paying for it.
Kwan, a longtime Utah judge, has been suspended without pay for six months because he criticized the president in court and online. It is a rare, if not unprecedented, sanction. It's ironic, too, because the president has liberally attacked the judiciary in the past and never had to pay for it. But irony in this case came with a price tag.
Kwan has been bashing the president since his inauguration for "inability to govern and political incompetence." In Facebook posts, he also welcomed his friends to "the beginning of the fascist takeover." "We need to be diligent in questioning Congressional Republicans if they are going to be the American Reichstag and refuse to stand up for the Constitution," he said.
His ire spilled over into the courtroom, where a defendant said he would use his tax refund to pay fines. "You do realize that we have a new president, and you think we are getting any money back?" Kwan joked.
Of course, the judge was expressing his opinion. But under ethical rules, judges aren't supposed to do that -- unless it's an official opinion, or your name is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In an interview, the Notorious RBG called Trump an egotisical "faker." "He has no consistency about him," she said. "He says whatever comes into his head at the moment."
Meanwhile, Trump has criticized judges so many times it could fill a book. It might be a short book, but the Brennan Center for Justice already has a start on it. "Donald Trump has displayed a troubling pattern of attacking judges and the courts for rulings he disagrees with," the Center says. The president's behavior "threatens our entire system of government," which is based on respect for the law.
Kwan, for his part, apparently threatened the Utah Code of Judicial Conduct at the Taylorsville Justice Court. The state Supreme Court suspended him for making "shirty and politically charged" comments, even if he was joking.
"It is an immutable and universal rule that judges are not as funny as they think they are," Justice John Pearce wrote. "If someone laughs at a judge's joke, there is a decent chance that the laughter was dictated by the courtroom's power dynamic and not by a genuine belief that the joke was funny."