Central Ky. family court judge faces misconduct charges

shopkins@herald-leader.comJune 26, 2009 

GEORGETOWN — The state's Judicial Conduct Commission has charged a family court judge with misconduct in relation to three incidents in Scott and Woodford counties.

Family Court Judge Tamra Gormley, who was appointed in 2007 to a district that covers Scott, Woodford and Bourbon counties, is scheduled to appear in Fayette Circuit Court for a hearing at 9 a.m. Sept. 28.

The three sets of charges could result in separate or collective penalties including public or private reprimand, suspension without pay or removal or retirement from judicial office, according to documents obtained from the Judicial Conduct Commission. The commission, which investigates and reviews complaints against judges, is the only entity authorized to discipline a sitting Kentucky judge, according to state law.

Gormley, reached by phone Thursday, did not want to discuss the commission's charges. Gormley said she's a dedicated judge who is committed to protecting children and families, and she pointed out that earlier this month, she received a Keeping Children Safe Spirit Award from the Department for Community Based Services.

"I'm a hard-working judge who presides over 7,500 court proceedings each year, and we are one of the busiest courts in the state, and most people who come before me recognize these qualities and are appreciative of the positive impact our court has on families," she said.

"These are complaints, and I'm confident that I conducted myself appropriately in each of these."

The commission says that on Feb. 20, 2007 Gormley denied due process rights to a man who appeared in Scott Family Court with his wife when she held him in contempt of court for violating a domestic violence order. Gormley sentenced the man to six months in jail, according to documents.

The couple appeared in court that day about a motion filed by the wife to modify the no-contact portion of the domestic violence order.

Gormley did not witness the man talking to his wife in the hallway outside the courtroom, according to the commission's report, and she did not witness him at his wife's house the night before.

No lawyer was present and the husband was not notified that he was facing a contempt charge, the documents say. And Gormley is accused of questioning the man without informing him that his answers might subject him to criminal contempt sanctions.

The commission says that Gormley demeaned the man as he stood in the courtroom with his wife and at one point said, "No contact means no contact, and you stop looking at her. You turn around and look at the wall."

In a written response to the commission dated June 22, Gormley said the Kentucky Court of Appeals recently ruled that she could properly hold the husband summarily in contempt for his actions, without a separate hearing on the charges.

The response, filed by Gormley's attorneys, said the man was staring at his wife "in a manner that was causing her to be visibly upset — she was crying and shaking." Gormley said her direction for the husband to look at the wall, on his left, instead of his wife, standing on his right, was appropriate.

The commission's second charge stems from incidents between July 15 and Sept. 11, 2008, in Woodford County. Gormley issued a domestic violence order and a temporary change of custody to remove a child from her father's care and deny him visitation, according to documents.

The commission says Gormley disregarded jurisdictional or venue requirements and pleading and notice requirements for such orders and custody proceedings. Documents say Gormley acted as an advocate for the mother.

Gormley's response said those allegations "are not legally or factually accurate." She said the matter is pending in the Kentucky Supreme Court, so it would be inappropriate for the commission to pursue sanctions against her.

The commission's third charge stems from a child-custody hearing on Sept. 24, 2008 in Scott Family Court, during which a mother was in an Indiana courtroom with her attorney, and the child's paternal grandmother and paternal step-grandfather were in Gormley's court with their attorneys and with the child's father.

The commission says that not all communication was shared with the Indiana court, including instances when the people in Indiana were unaware that documents or notes were presented to the judge.

The Indiana court had audio from Scott Family Court, but no video.

The commission says that the Indiana court had continuing exclusive jurisdiction and that Gormley disregarded jurisdictional requirements by entering custody orders.

Gormley said in her response that the third charge was inaccurate. She also said that "whether the Indiana Court had or has continuing exclusive jurisdiction is clearly a matter for the Court of Appeals, not the Commission."

The response also says that Gormley had concluded before the hearing that there was no continuing Indiana jurisdiction and Kentucky could appropriately enter custody orders.

"Judge Gormley's decision was not erroneous, but if it were, it would clearly be a good-faith error of law," the response says.

Gormley's attorneys have requested that all the charges against the judge be dismissed.

Shawntaye Hopkins covers Scott County. Reach her at (502)867-1354.

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