A Dakota County judge received a public reprimand for attempts at humor that fell flat during jury selection and final arguments of a 2011 trial, the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards said Friday.
District Judge Richard G. Spicer’s comments, “which he regarded as humorous ... crossed the line of decorum and propriety,” the board said. The judge did not demand a formal public hearing, so the reprimand “is the final action in the matter,” it said.
The judge’s comments included:
• When a juror said she knew the defense attorney because they had shared a hotel room on a school choir trip for her daughter, Spicer said, “Shared a room? ... I don’t want to hear about that. Oh, it was a choir trip.” A few moments later when a deputy came into the courtroom, Spicer said, “He wants to make sure we’re safe. I know; we have a couple women sleeping together but besides that everything is OK.”
• After hearing some of the answers to jury selection questions, he asked, “Do you guys have lives?”
• To a juror who said she had been the victim of a crime and a defendant in a lawsuit, Spicer commented, “Interesting life, Jean.”
• When told of the consecutive ages of a juror’s four children, Spicer commented, “Well ... you weren’t shooting blanks. We know that much.”
Spicer also told jurors during the trial that after the final arguments and instructions, they would begin deliberations but said, “I won’t lie to you. I’ve had a half-day vacation for some time to play in a golf tournament tomorrow afternoon. So I will be out of here by noon come hell or high water.”
The judge, however, also told the jurors at least twice that they could take as much time as they needed to reach their verdicts.
The inappropriate comments happened during the trial of Steven R. Latham, who was convicted of misdemeanor charges of violating a harassment order and disorderly conduct.
Latham appealed the convictions to the state Court of Appeals on the grounds that the judge’s jokes were excessive and that he had told the jury they had to finish deliberating in time for his golf outing.
The Appeals Court upheld the convictions, noting that Latham didn’t object to the judge’s conduct during the trial and that he assured the jurors that they could deliberate “as long as you want,” according to court records.
Spicer also received a public reprimand from the board in 2009 in connection with an incident a year earlier in which he “used disparaging speech regarding a defendant,” the board said.
The judge did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday afternoon. The Code of Judicial Conduct requires that judges “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety” and that they be “patient, dignified and courteous.”