Supreme Court panel said that Jack Nordby's words were strong, but neither profane nor vitriolic.
A Minnesota Supreme Court panel on Wednesday dismissed unethical conduct charges against now-retired Hennepin County District Judge Jack Nordby.
The state Board on Judicial Standards filed a complaint against Nordby last year after a court watchdog group, WATCH, complained about comments the judge directed at one of its volunteers during a hearing in December 2009. The board characterized Nordby's statement as a "vitriolic attack" on the watchdog group.
But according to the findings by the three-judge panel appointed by the Supreme Court, Nordby's words were strong, but neither profane nor vitriolic. "To the extent that Judge Nordby's characterization of WATCH was inaccurate or unduly harsh, the panel finds that the comments were an expression of his perceptions regarding WATCH's methods and objectives. Although it may be preferable that Judge Nordby phrased his remarks differently, they were not so intemperate as to warrant discipline."
"I love it," said attorney Joe Friedberg, who represented Nordby along with attorney Paul Engh. "I'm so gratified by this. I just am so glad that this three-judge panel recognized the narcissistic personality disorder of the Board on Judicial Standards."
The contentious relationship between Nordby and WATCH dates to 1997 when WATCH requested then-Chief Judge Daniel Mabley to remove Nordby from his rotation on the felony arraignment calendar because the group was concerned he believed that all defendants had the right to be free on bail. In its newsletters, WATCH criticized Nordby and other judges whose decision the group perceived as inadequately protecting victims or punishing perpetrators.
In its findings, the three-judge panel said it was reasonable for Nordby to believe the red clipboards carried by group's volunteers "were communicative in nature and were an attempt to influence him."
Told Wednesday evening about the panel's decision, Nordby said he was pleased.
"There's a very important principle that's involved here and that's whether judges ... should be afraid to say what they think in the course of handling cases because if they displease some group, especially some interest group, that the Board of Judicial Standards will come after them," Nordby said. "If judges are worried that they're going to get the wrist slapped every time they're going to speak out and be candid, that's a dangerous thing."
Staff writer Pat Pheifer contributed to this report. Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788