IN RE: JUDGE SHEVA M. SIMS SHREVEPORT CITY COURT, CADDO PARISH STATE OF LOUISIANA
JUDICIARY COMMISSION OF LOUISIANA.
For Applicant: Mary Frances Whitney, Lantz Savage, OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL.
For Respondent: James McClendon Williams, GAUTHIER, HOUGHTALING & WILLIAMS; Clare Dolores Fiasconaro, Commission Counsel.
JOHNSON, Chief Justice. WEIMER, J., concurring. GUIDRY, J., dissents in part and assigns reasons. KNOLL, J., dissents for the reasons assigned by Justice Guidry.
[2014-2515 La.App. 1] JOHNSON, Chief Justice
This matter comes before the court on the recommendation of the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana (" Commission" ) that Judge Sheva M. Sims (" Judge Sims" ) of the Shreveport City Court, Caddo Parish, State of Louisiana, be suspended without pay for 90 days and ordered to reimburse the Commission's costs. After reviewing the record and applicable law, we find that the charge against Judge Sims is supported by clear and convincing evidence. However, we reject the recommended discipline and instead order Judge Sims be suspended without pay for a period of 30 days. We further order Judge Sims to reimburse the Commission's costs incurred relative to its investigation and prosecution of this case.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Judge Sims was elected on November 19, 2011, and assumed office in mid-December 2011. The charge arises from an incident that occurred between Judge Sims and an assistant city prosecutor, Katherine Gilmer, on April 24, 2012, wherein Judge Sims stated that Ms. Gilmer was " held in contempt" of court and then ordered the dismissal of fifteen criminal cases on the docket that day. The specific facts of this case are detailed below.
In 2012, Katherine Gilmer was an assistant city prosecutor for the Shreveport [2014-2515 La.App. 2] City Attorney's Office. Judge Sims and Ms. Gilmer had been opponents in several cases prior to the time that Judge Sims took the bench in December 2011. Sometime prior to April 24, 2012, Ms. Gilmer appeared before Judge Sims to handle driver's license forfeitures for defendants in Shreveport City Court. Ms. Gilmer disagreed with the way Judge Sims handled the license forfeitures and made her disagreement known to Judge Sims and others in the City Prosecutor's Office. In addition to the disagreement over the license forfeitures, Judge Sims felt that Ms. Gilmer was rude and disrespectful of her judicial authority. According to Judge Sims, Ms. Gilmer flailed her arms and rolled her eyes in response to decisions by Judge Sims. Judge Sims characterized the movements as " a big act," and stated that Ms. Gilmer " even looked at a couple of the police officers ... [and] she rolled her eyes and turned her head toward them."
Prior to April 24, 2012, Terri Anderson-Scott, the City Attorney for the City of Shreveport and Ms. Gilmer's supervisor, met in person with Judge Sims to discuss some general administrative matters and
problems Judge Sims was having with some of the assistant city prosecutors. This meeting did not concern Ms. Gilmer's actions directly. Ms. Scott testified she requested Judge Sims contact her directly regarding any future administrative issues involving the prosecutors. Ms. Scott testified that following the meeting she spoke to all of the prosecutors about respect for all judges and she instructed the assistant prosecutors in her office to contact her in the event that any of the Shreveport City Court judges requested a meeting to discuss administrative matters. Judge Sims testified that her recollection of the meeting was that Ms. Scott was going to speak with the assistant prosecutors about the issues, but Ms. Scott did not request that Judge Sims direct all administrative matters to her at that time.
On April 18, 2012, Marilyn Smith, the Judicial Administrator for the Shreveport [2014-2515 La.App. 3] City Court, sent an e-mail to Ms. Gilmer requesting a meeting on behalf of Judge Sims. Judge Sims testified that she asked Ms. Smith to arrange the meeting because Ms. Gilmer failed to respond to Judge Sims' secretary's previous attempts to arrange the meeting, the purpose of which was to discuss with Ms. Gilmer how courtroom proceedings were to be handled in her section of court. Judge Sims testified that she had previously met with other prosecutors about such matters. On the same day, Ms. Gilmer replied to Ms. Smith's e-mail with an inquiry about the nature of the meeting, and she copied Ms. Scott and Terrell Myles, the Chief City prosecutor. Ms. Smith responded that she did not know the purpose of the meeting. Ms. Scott advised Ms. Gilmer by email that she would call Judge Sims first " to see what is going on."
Ms. Scott testified she called Judge Sims, but she did not receive an answer and left a message on Judge Sims' voice mail. Ms. Scott did not receive a response to her voice mail and followed up with an e-mail to Judge Sims, but she did not receive a response to her e-mail. Judge Sims denied receiving the voice mail or email message. While the record contains evidence of the email chain between Ms. Gilmer, Ms. Smith and Ms. Scott, there is no evidence in the record of this email sent to Judge Sims other than Ms. Scott's testimony.
Ms. Gilmore testified she emailed Ms. Scott again on April 23, 2012, because she had not heard anything more about the meeting with Judge Sims. There is no email response from Ms. Scott in the record, and it is undisputed that between April 18 and April 24, 2012, Ms. Scott did not speak with Judge Sims.
On April 24, 2012, Ms. Gilmer appeared in Judge Sims' courtroom to handle a jail clearance and criminal arraignment docket. Judge Sims sent a deputy to the courtroom to tell Ms. Gilmer that she wanted to meet with her first in chambers. In response to the deputy relaying Judge Sims' request for a meeting, Ms. Gilmer called [2014-2515 La.App. 4] Ms. Scott. Ms. Scott told Ms. Gilmer to " stand down" and allow her to speak to Judge Sims first to understand what was going on.
After waiting approximately twenty minutes for Ms. Gilmer to meet with her in chambers, Judge Sims proceeded to the courtroom. She opened the courtroom door to the adjacent hallway and asked Ms. Gilmer to come to the hallway to speak with her. Ms. Gilmer eventually walked to the hallway and Judge Sims asked to meet with her in chambers. Ms. Gilmer testified that she either told Judge Sims " I'm sorry, ma'am, I can't do that," or " with all due respect, I can't do that." Ms. Gilmer then told Judge Sims " I need for you to call Terri Scott, I can't go to your office for a meeting. If you have to
hold me in contempt, that's what you have to do." Judge Sims testified she was unaware of the directive from Ms. Scott and that she believed Ms. Gilmer was " ignoring her request" to meet with her to discuss courtroom procedures and decorum.
Judge Sims then walked past Ms. Gilmer into the courtroom to the bench. The transcript reflects that Judge Sims stated, " Madam prosecutor, I need you to come upstairs now to my office." Ms. Gilmer responded, " I apologize, ma'am. I am not permitted to do that." Judge Sims then stated to Ms. Gilmer, " You're held in contempt at this time. All cases are dismissed." According to Judge Sims, she stated as she was walking out of the courtroom that " all cases are dismissed from the docket today, to be rescheduled to a later date." Ms. Gilmer disagreed that Judge Sims stated the cases were to be rescheduled, but did testify that Judge Sims said " everybody is free to go" as she was leaving the courtroom. Neither statement is reflected on the transcript. The Office of Special Counsel attempted to introduce an audiotape of the hearing into evidence, but both the Hearing Officer and Commission sustained Judge Sims' objection to the tape's admission because the tape was not authenticated by the Clerk of Court or custodian of records of the Shreveport City Court, and it was of poor [2014-2515 La.App. 5] quality and difficult to hear.
The dismissed cases included fifteen criminal cases that were on the docket that day. While the record is not clear on this issue, there was testimony from the City Marshal that he was required to refund the bond of one of the fifteen defendants who so requested. On June 11, 2012, Mr. Myles, the Chief City prosecutor, filed motions to set aside the dismissal and reinstate the charges in the fifteen cases at issue, on the ground that only the city attorney had the power to dismiss the cases. The motions requested a contradictory hearing date be set. On June 15, 2012, Judge Sims signed orders setting the motions for show cause hearings on October 17, 2012. On that date, Judge Sims granted Mr. Myles' motions and reinstated the charges in each of the fifteen cases without the necessity of a hearing.
Following Judge Sims' contempt order, Ms. Gilmer was not arrested, detained, taken into custody, fined, or otherwise escorted from the courtroom. Judge Sims disputes that she actually found Ms. Gilmer in contempt on April 24, 2012. Instead, she contends she issued a summons to Ms. Gilmer through the Judicial Administrator calling for Ms. Gilmer's presence before the court on April 26, 2012, to attend a contempt hearing. Judge Sims did not advise Ms. Gilmer that a contempt hearing would be scheduled.
Ms. Gilmer first learned about the hearing on April 26, 2012, when a subpoena was issued to her requiring her to appear in court that day at 11:30 a.m. Ms. Gilmer was served with the subpoena approximately two hours before the hearing. The subpoena contained the caption " City of Shreveport v. Katherine Gilmer" and stated [2014-2515 La.App. 6] that the case was " contempt of court." Ms. Gilmer testified she was afraid that Judge Sims was going to put her in jail, and she met with several colleagues to assess her potential exposure for contempt.
Ms. Scott arranged for an attorney to represent Ms. Gilmer.
Immediately prior to the contempt hearing on April 26, 2012, and on the advice of her counsel, Ms. Gilmer met with Judge Sims in her office and apologized. She testified " I told her I understood why she was unhappy with me for not coming to her office. I explained that I had conflicting orders that Terri Scott had told me not to go but that -- that I intended no disrespect to her by telling her I couldn't go and that I didn't think we'd have an issue ...