A judge's demand that a defense attorney write a letter of apology for an aggressive tone of questioning during a hearing last summer has prompted a formal complaint by the Minnesota Board of Judicial Standards.

The complaint filed by the board against Washington County District Judge Gregory Galler alleges three violations of rules governing the conduct of judges: That his order for the written apology showed partiality in the case; that he later made misleading statements about the incident to a Star Tribune reporter and the lawyer representing the defense attorney; and that he was not completely candid in a letter of response to the board.

During a June 9 hearing in the DWI case of Shawn Cooper of Stillwater, Cooper's attorney, David McCormick, was questioning the arresting officer on whether he had legal cause to stop Cooper. McCormick, at one point, told the officer he was trying to "cover [his] ass" on the drunken driving report, at which point Galler admonished McCormick, according to the court transcript.

At the hearing's conclusion, Galler told McCormick to send the officer an apology, saying the attorney's argument was unfair and impugned the officer's integrity by implying he was less than truthful.

In his seven-page response to the complaint, Galler characterized his demand for the apology as an informal "suggestion," and not a formal court order. He also said his response was focused on McCormick's inappropriate courtroom language, and the suggestion it affected his view of the case is based on how that response was misinterpreted.

Galler noted that McCormick immediately apologized for using the language, and agreed to send the apology without argument.

The judge also disputes the allegations over how he subsequently discussed the case, and asserts he did not violate judicial conduct rules.

The case next goes to a hearing before a three-member fact-finding panel appointed by the state Supreme Court. Those findings will go back to the board, which in turn recommends sanctions, if any, to the state Supreme Court.

Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999