A divided Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday disciplined an Oklahoma County district judge over her unpaid taxes and parking tickets, but stopped short of ordering a trial for her removal from the bench.
The court ruled 5-4 to admonish District Judge Kendra Coleman and ordered her to attend mentoring sessions with a retired Supreme Court justice or experienced judge. Coleman, who was elected last year, also must file monthly reports with the Council on Judicial Complaints on her tax delinquencies.
“Judge Coleman’s neglect to pay over sixty parking tickets, and similar neglect to attend various county, state and federal tax obligations for several years, reflect adversely upon her judicial service, because such neglect raises a reasonable concern that she may likewise neglect her judicial duties,” Chief Justice Noma Gurich wrote in the majority opinion.
But other appellate judges, writing in separate dissents, said the court should have followed the recommendation of the Council on Judicial Complaints to refer the matter to the Court on the Judiciary for a trial. Three judges were appointed as special justices in the Coleman case because two Supreme Court justices sit on the Court on the Judiciary’s appellate division, and the Supreme Court has a vacancy.
“Given the number and nature of the allegations, I find this unfair to both Judge Coleman and the people of the state of Oklahoma,” Special Justice Dana Kuehn of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals said in one of the dissenting opinions. “I believe the best course is to refer this case to the Court on the Judiciary to determine, after a full hearing, what violations occurred and what punishment, if any, should be imposed as a result.”
Prater and Coleman have been locked in a dispute since the spring over her refusal to recuse herself from all matters involving the district attorney’s office. Prater initially claimed he couldn’t be sure of her impartiality since she was late in filing campaign finance reports. Coleman said he was upset over several adverse pre-trial rulings in a dog-mauling case in her court.
Separately, Prater’s office has appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals on a request for Coleman’s recusal in criminal cases involving his office. In court filings, Coleman’s attorneys said the Supreme Court should handle that appeal, not the Court of Criminal Appeals. Prater filed his appeal after losing at the district court level.