Oklahoma judge could be removed for her text exchanges during a murder trial

CNN Newsource

(CNN) — An Oklahoma judge may be forced to step down for allegedly exchanging over 500 text messages with a bailiff in which she mocked trial participants and talked offensively about the state’s attorneys while she presided over a murder trial in June, according to a petition filed Tuesday.

Texts cited in the filing described Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom making fun of attorneys, jurors and witnesses and showing bias against state prosecutors while also showing bias in favor of the defendant and complimenting the defense attorney, the filing claims.

The petition came after a probe into the judge’s phone use by the Council on Judicial Complaints.

Soderstrom’s attorney did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

According to the petition, Soderstrom was presiding over a first-degree murder trial. The defendant was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter, a verdict that Soderstrom accepted, and imposed a four-year sentence, time served, resulting in no additional jail time. The petition said the co-defendant, who had taken a plea deal for an amended charge of enabling child abuse, received a 25-year prison sentence.

In one text to the courtroom bailiff, Soderstrom wrote that the district attorney was “sweating through his coat.” In another, she asked, “Why does he have baby hands? … They are so weird looking,” Chief Justice M. John Kane IV alleged in the filing.

When the defense attorney addressed the jury, the judge texted her bailiff, “She’s awesome.” At another point, Soderstrom praised her again, asking, “Can I clap for her?” the petition said.

According to the filing, Soderstrom also texted that a police officer who took the stand was “pretty,” adding, “I could look at him all day.”

In other messages, Soderstrom used an expletive to call one video played to a witness “boring,” speculated whether one juror was wearing a wig and opined that due to a lack of DNA evidence against the defendant, there would be “no way they get guilty on murder,” the petition said.

After the trial, a sheriff’s deputy told the district attorney’s office Soderstrom had been seen using her phone throughout the trial. A 51-minute video snippet from a courtroom camera revealed the “excessive amount of time on her phone,” the petition said.

When the judge testified about the alleged phone use at an in-person hearing before the Council on Judicial Complaints, she said that she was “texting about things that were – probably could have waited.” When asked if she thought the texts were inappropriate, she said, “(I)t was like, ‘Oh, that’s funny. Move on,’” the filing added.

The Council on Judicial Complaints found Soderstrom’s texts to be one of multiple violations of the code of judicial conduct, the petition notes.

The petition cites other instances in which Soderstrom is accused of speaking or acting inappropriately both in the courtroom and on social media, including at her hearing, where she “used the f*** word three times” within the first six minutes of her testimony.

The case against Soderstrom is scheduled to be heard on January 3, 2024, according to court documents.

Soderstrom took the bench in January 2023 as a judge in the 23rd Judicial District of Oklahoma.

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