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No sanction for judge’s texts or courtroom visit

A judge’s appearance in the back of a courtroom to support a close personal friend did not violate Virginia’s judicial canons, the Supreme Court of Virginia said today.

In a unanimous opinion, the court dismissed a disciplinary complaint against 6th Judicial District Judge Jacqueline R. Waymack, who sits in juvenile and domestic relations courts in Hopewell and Prince George County. The Judicial and Inquiry Review Commission had filed a complaint against Waymack based on her off-duty courtroom visit and on her text messages to an employee of the clerk’s office that JIRC said were an improper reference to a political campaign by the judge’s nephew.

On the eve of a meeting to select a nominee for a House of Delegates seat, Waymack sent text messages to court employee Lindsay Reid, who was on a first-name basis with the judge. Waymack asked for a telephone number for Reid’s mother and whether her mother would still be up because Waymack’s mother was checking to see if people needed a ride to the meeting the next day. The judge stated she had never discussed her nephew’s campaign with Reid.

In a single paragraph, the high court said there was nothing in the actual language of the text messages that was “overtly political,” and no evidence Reid perceived the communications as political in nature. The judge “was not using the ‘prestige of judicial office’; she merely asked a friend for a telephone number,” the court said.

As to the judge’s appearance in the courtroom for her friend’s legal proceeding, the judge attended the hearing “to observe as a member of the public,” the Supreme Court said. Until her presence was called to the attention of the substitute judge, that judge did not know Waymack. When the substitute judge asked Waymack to leave, she did.

Although Waymack’s “decision to attend this hearing did not ‘exemplify the level of professionalism that judges in this Commonwealth should exhibit,’ we cannot say that Judge Waymack’s actions and conduct violated the Canons,” wrote Justice Donald W. Lemons.

On both charges by JIRC, Waymack’s actions were neither misconduct nor conduct so prejudicial to the proper administration of justice that sanction was warranted, the court concluded in JIRC v. Waymack.

“Judge Waymack is pleased and relieved and looking forward to focusing on” the important matters that come before her in the juvenile and domestic relations court, said Virginia Beach attorney Kevin E. Martingayle, who represented her before the Supreme Court.
–Deborah Elkins

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