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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mike Maggio cuts deal on judicial ethics probe; will never be judge again

Posted By on Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 1:10 PM

click to enlarge MIKE MAGGIO: Judging days over.
  • MIKE MAGGIO: Judging days over.
Circuit Judge Mike Maggio of Conway, who continues to draw more than $140,371 a year pay while not hearing any cases since the beginning of an ethics probe, has agreed to a settlement of his case before the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.

In it, he admits violations of ethics rules and agrees never to seek office again as judge. He  will be able to be paid for the rest of this year, which means he can continue to accrue retirement benefits. But he'll be suspended from acting as judge. He's done as a judge.

Each additional year of service qualifies a judge for pay equal to 3.2 percent of the salary of the office at retirement. Maggio, 53, took office as circuit judge in 2001, appointed to a vacancy by Gov. Mike Huckabee. He was elected twice. A judge must be 65 to take retirement benefits unless 20 years have been served.

Here's the lengthy findings of violations and agreed punishment.
Multiple complaints were merged to produce some core findings of violations, all related to his prolfic postings as "geauxjudge" on an LSU fan website, tigerdroppings:

* He breached confidentiality in the case of an adopting mother, actress Charlize Theron, by revealing she'd adopted a child in Faulkner County.

* He had misused social media to the detriment of the judiciary by comments easily traced to a sitting judge. Ironically, some included pronouncements on poor judicial behavior by others. Some of his comments were posted while he sat on the bench hearing cases.

* He tried to clean up the record — thus removing evidence — after the news broke.

* He made improper comments as a sitting judge. The volume of comments suggested more than a problem of taste and decorum, the report said. "It adds up to demonstrate someone who is unfit for the bench." The record included sex jokes about bipolar women; blow jobs as wedding gifts; incest references; referring to teenagers' sex with teachers as trophy hunting, and remarks about how women make divorce decisions on emotion rather than common sense. He made jokes about the names of black people and derogatory remarks about gay people and Mexicans. Pages 3-6 of the report are a mind-numbing illustration of Maggio's lack of fitness to serve.

You'll find on a subsequent blog post Maggio's letter on the case in which he said the words didn't represent him and that he was sure those who'd been in his court believed he'd treated with "fairly and with respect." Those who filed the complaints were just a few of many who didn't feel that way.

The findings include the conclusion without any action of the complaint that Maggio's ruling in a nursing home damage case may have been influenced by political campaign contributions from the nursing home owner. The finding said that complaint would have taken much more investigation. Also dropped were some specific complaints about Maggio's comments on an Internet website.

In the document prepared by David Sachar, director of the Judicial Commission, Maggio agreed his violations justified removal from office effective Dec. 31.  In the meanwhile, he agreed suspension with pay is appropriate. He agreed the ruling means he can never be judge again.

The finding notes that, had Maggio chosen to contest the charges, he could have extended the proceeding beyond his term of office this year. The findings — approved by an 8-0 Commission vote — will be submitted to the Supreme Court.

Judicial Discipline explained that among mitigating circumstances was  Maggio's admission of wrongdoing, which saved "time, expense and further embarrassment" to the judiciary.
click to enlarge UNFIT: Maggio's improper comments as "geauxjudge" on LSU website included remarks on how he viewed cases in his court.
  • UNFIT: Maggio's improper comments as "geauxjudge" on LSU website included remarks on how he viewed cases in his court.

The Arkansas Supreme Court reassigned Maggio's caseload in March after a flurry of unflattering reporting.

Maggio was unopposed as a candidate for a Court of Appeals seat when the trouble started. First came news  dug up by Matt Campbell of Blue Hog Report that Maggio was a commenter on an LSU fan website, Tiger Droppings. His prolific comments targeted women, gays, minorities, welfare recipients and others. He also revealed the confidential adoption proceeding in Faulkner County of Charlize Theron.

Blue Hog kept digging into specifics of a subject reported here — Maggio's rich support in the nursing home industry including by an owner favored by Maggio in a case in his court. Blue Hog found the creation of a number of PACs, almost solely funded by nursing home operator Michael Morton, that had also dropped big money into Maggio's campaign. The PAC money dropped while Maggio was considering a reduction in a $5.2 million unanimous jury vericit against a Greenbrier nursing home owned by Morton. Maggio ultimately said the verdict shocked his conscience and reduced it to $1 million.

Maggio has since been fined for some minor excess campaign contributions by the state Ethics Commission, but the judicial ethics investigation on other points, now concluded, continued after that ruling. So does a federal investigation of the campaign contributions. He and Morton have insisted there was no quid pro quo in the contributions to Maggio, all arranged by former Sen. Gilbert Baker, a political money bagman in a number of judicial and other races for Republican and pro-tort reform candidates. Maggio was forced to drop out of the Court of Appeals race. A candidate, Bart Virden, emerged shortly before filing deadline, with news bubbling of Maggio troubles.

Maggio had a checkered record before this year's race began.

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