OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A new Oklahoma judge could lose her job for sending more than 500 texts to her bailiff during a murder trial, including messages mocking the prosecutor, praising the defense attorney and calling a key witness a liar.
The chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court recommended the removal of Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom in a court filing Tuesday following an investigation by the state’s Council on Judicial Complaints.
Soderstrom has been under scrutiny since July after she was caught on camera scrolling through social media and texting during the trial of a man accused in the fatal beating of a 2-year-old.
Soderstrom, who was sworn in on Jan. 9 after being elected in November, was suspended with pay pending the outcome of a hearing by the Court on the Judiciary, which will determine whether to remove her from the bench.
“The pattern of conduct demonstrates Respondent’s (Soderstrom’s) gross neglect of duty, gross partiality and oppression,” Chief Justice John Kane IV wrote. “The conduct further demonstrates Respondent’s (Soderstrom’s) lack of temperament to serve as a judge.”
A phone call to a number listed for Soderstrom rang unanswered before disconnecting Wednesday.
The judge’s texts included saying the prosecutor was “sweating through his coat” during questioning of potential jurors and asking “why does he have baby hands?” according to Kane’s petition. The texts described the defense attorney as “awesome” and asked “can I clap for her?” during the defense attorney’s opening arguments.
Soderstrom also texted a laughing emoji icon to the bailiff, who had “made a crass and demeaning reference to the prosecuting attorneys’ genitals,” Kane wrote.
Khristian Tyler Martzall — the man who was on trial while the judge was on her phone — was eventually convicted of second-degree manslaughter in the 2018 death of Braxton Danker, the son of Martzall’s girlfriend, and sentenced to time served.
Martzall’s girlfriend and the mother of the child, Judith Danker, pleaded guilty to enabling child abuse, was sentenced to 25 years and was a key prosecution witness who was called a liar by Soderstrom during testimony.
“State just couldn’t accept that a mom could kill their kid so they went after the next person available,” Soderstrom texted, according to the filing from Kane.
Soderstrom’s texts also included comments questioning whether a juror was wearing a wig, if a witness has teeth and calling a police officer who testified, “pretty,” adding, “I could look at him all day.”
When questioned by the Council on Judicial Complaints, Soderstrom said her texting “probably could have waited” rather than realizing the comments should never have been made. She said she thought, “oh, that’s funny. Move on.”
Security video published by The Oklahoman newspaper showed Soderstrom texting or messaging for minutes at a time during jury selection, opening statements and testimony during the trial in Chandler, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of Oklahoma City.
Kane’s petition also said Soderstrom had previously criticized other attorneys and prosecutors, and berated a member of the courthouse staff.
Soderstrom should be removed for reasons that include gross neglect of duty, gross partiality in office and oppression in office, Kane wrote.
The judge’s four-year term ends in January 2027.