Video shows Oklahoma judge texting and scrolling on phone in trial over fatal beating of 2-year-old
Jul 20, 2023, 12:52 PM | Updated: 3:28 pm
CHANDLER, Okla. (AP) — A new judge in Oklahoma is facing scrutiny after courtroom video showed her scrolling through social media and texting on her cellphone throughout the murder trial for a man accused in the fatal beating of a 2-year-old, a newspaper reports.
Security video obtained by The Oklahoman shows Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom texting or messaging for minutes at a time during jury selection, opening statements and testimony in the trial for a man in the death of his girlfriend’s son. At one point, Soderstrom searched for a GIF, an animated image.
Soderstrom, 50, can also be seen checking Facebook during the trial, which began last month in Chandler, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of Oklahoma City, the newspaper reported.
Soderstrom was sworn in on Jan. 9 after being elected in November. Her four-year term expires in January 2027.
Soderstrom declined to comment to the newspaper because the verdict could still be appealed, saying judges are prohibited from discussing pending cases. A request for comment from The Associated Press was not immediately returned Thursday.
The trial ended in a second-degree manslaughter conviction for Khristian Tyler Martzall in the 2018 death of Braxton Danker. Prosecutors had asked jurors to find him guilty of first-degree murder.
Sheriff Charlie Dougherty said Wednesday that at the request of the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints, he provided the state agency with video from the trial. The council receives and investigates accusations of misconduct by judges.
Taylor Henderson, the council’s director, said that by law, their investigations “are similar to the grand jury, and they are to be held in secrecy.” She said they cannot say whether or not they are conducting an investigation.
The sheriff said the cameras were placed in the courtroom for safety reasons. He said there’s no sound on the video, which is monitored by his office.
District Attorney Adam Panter said he reviewed the video after getting a tip from courthouse personnel. He said he found the judge “spent hours of the trial” texting and scrolling on her cell phone.
“It is both shocking and disappointing,” he told the newspaper. “Jurors are banned from using cellphones in the courtroom during trials because we expect them to give their full time and attention to the evidence being presented. I would expect and hope the court would hold itself to the same standard required of the jurors, regardless of the type of case.”
Panter said he never saw her using the phone. The videos show that the judge held the phone in her lap and below the top of the judge’s bench while using it or set it down in an open drawer.
Defense attorney Velia Lopez said the judge did a great job, and she never saw the judge on the phone.