Coleman Removed as County Judge; Still May Be Charged

Oklahoma County District Judge Kendra Coleman was removed from her position on the bench for misconduct; a development that was the first time in 18 years the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary removed a judge from office for that reason.

She was removed on Friday after the court convened for nearly three work weeks.

The court did not disqualify her from holding judicial office in the future, though that may all change if she is convicted of felony tax evasion charges that are pending.

She is expected to appeal.

The court voted 6-3 that she committed oppression in office, violated the Code of Judicial Conduct multiple times and violated ethics reporting rules involving her campaign. 

The vote on discipline was five for removal, one for an unpaid two-year suspension and three against.

The decision was announced after about three hours and 30 minutes of deliberations.

Afterward, she agreed with a Baptist preacher who said that God will work her situation out.

“God has some miraculous, marvelous things in store for you.  I know it,” said Rev. Derrick Scobey.  “We all know it. … I know you’re a little hurt, but you got to stay up and you got to stay swinging.”

Rev. Scobey is pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

“God will fix it,” he said.

He was a witness in her defense during the ouster trial, as was Rev. John A. Reed Jr., pastor of the Fairview Baptist Church.

“I know,” she said in an exchange posted on social media.

Judge Coleman told the court Thursday she did her job with integrity and good character and wanted to return to her duties.

“I love my job,” she testified.  “I mean outside of the politics of it.   I enjoy it.”

About 200 supporters showed up Thursday evening at the State Capitol for an emotional prayer rally for her. 

They later formed a circle around the Oklahoma Judicial Center, where the trial was held.

“She is one of us,” Rev. Reed declared.  “We got some folk who are bringing about what I call character assassination.

“We are angry about what’s happening to our judge.”

Her supporters have complained Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater was behind the removal effort because she ruled against prosecutors in a fatal dog-mauling case.

In closing arguments Friday, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Tracy Schumacher asked the court to reject the idea “this is a grand conspiracy” orchestrated by the district attorney.

“Let me submit to you that the only person ruining Kendra Coleman’s reputation is Kendra Coleman,” the prosecuting attorney said.

“The problem is, as you move from the criminal docket, to the guardianship docket, to the protective order docket,” she went on, “the complaints are all the same:  The eye rolling, the sighing, the huffing, the cutting people off, the behavior on the bench, the not being there.”

The judge’s attorney, Joe White, told the court again Friday, “she never had a chance to establish herself.”

He accused the Council of Judicial Complaints of being unfair and sloppy in investigating the accusations that led to the ouster action. 

He criticized the council for not interviewing more witnesses.

“We aren’t Russia,” the attorney declared.  “We are not North Korea. We’re the United States of America.

“We defend and protect.   And when we do it, we do it the best we can because we want to get it right.   And how can you get it right, when they do not go about it with an unbiased attitude from the get-go?

“You want to mess with a vote?   You got to go about it right.”

Among the most damaging revelations during the trial was that Judge Coleman still owes the Internal Revenue Service $100,683 in federal taxes, penalties and interest.

Recalling evidence that the judge once talked in court about the cost of her shoes, the prosecuting attorney said Friday that if “you’re in the hole” to the IRS, the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the Oklahoma County treasurer “maybe you shouldn’t be wearing $500 shoes.”

During her testimony during the ouster trial, she said her rulings were not for sale, responding to charges that she had tried to steer trial proceedings in a manslaughter case to favor the defendant’s defense lawyer, who had contributed $5500 to her campaign.

She said she couldn’t be persuaded to show favoritism to the defense lawyer for a mere $500 campaign contribution.

“My shoes cost that much,” she testified.

The trial lasted 13 days and more than 70 witnesses testified.  The court ruled in Judge Coleman’s favor on one allegation, finding that the evidence was insufficient to establish gross neglect of duty.

Judge Coleman, 44, was elected in Nov. 2018, having gained 66.7 percent of the vote in a district in northeast Oklahoma County, including Spencer.

The district is predominantly Black and was created to practically guarantee that two Blacks would sit on the county bench as district judges.

Prior to the district’s creation, only one Black judge served.

Judge Coleman was suspended with pay in June after the Oklahoma Supreme Court asked the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary to deal with accusations against the judge.

That court has removed only six other judges for oppression in office or other misconduct grounds since its creation more than 50 years ago.

The last time was in 2002.

Voters in 1966 passed a constitutional amendment creating the court after a bribery scandal involving Oklahoma Supreme Court justices became a national embarrassment.

The court also has suspended and reprimanded judges after deciding removal wasn’t warranted. 

A few times, it has let judges accused of misconduct retire on medical grounds instead.

Miss Coleman faces another trial, before a jury, in November on a felony tax charge.

She is accused in the charge of intentionally evading payment of her 2017 state taxes. 

She has called the charge frivolous. 

If convicted, she would be disqualified from holding office again and she could also be disbarred.

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