The Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission on Tuesday suspended Pike County Circuit Judge Stephen D. Combs, with pay, until 10 charges against him could be heard and resolved.
The remarkable thing about the suspension isn't that it is unusual -— the chairman said it is only the second during his almost 20 years with the commission — but that it is so long in coming.
Consider these accounts from the 23 pages of charges:
■ Beginning as early as 2008 Combs used his official letterhead to pester local officials about a variety of issues unrelated to his job, including the use of a public athletic field and a fine levied against his mother-in-law.
■ For over three years, starting in April 2011, Combs presided over a case in which he has a business interest with one of the defendants.
■ For years Combs phoned a local attorney who practices regularly in his court, calling him at different times a "coward" and a "prick."
■ Combs meddled in local politics — the first account's from 2010 — including castigating people for supporting candidates he opposed.
■ Despite his stated preferences in local elections, Combs presided over a challenge to the 2014 city commission election.
■ Combs called attorneys who practiced before him to solicit contributions for the local high school golf team.
Combs' outrageous behavior, as laid out in the complaint, includes name-calling and threats, in person and on the telephone and social media.
So, for at least seven years since the first evidence of serious misbehavior arose, Combs sat in court passing judgement on people and institutions.
Combs has denied most of the charges and his attorney contends he's "fair and balanced" in court.
There will be a hearing on the charges in September, after which the commission will decide what, if any, discipline is appropriate.
It's hard to know how long the commission has been looking at Combs since most of its work is done in secret. For example, in fiscal year 2014, the commission concluded 192 complaints resulting in three public disciplinary actions.
Judges have the tough job of picking sides in disputes; no doubt, there are unfounded complaints from unhappy losers that the public does not need to know about.
But when serious, legitimate questions arise about a judge's integrity, seven years is a long time to keep it secret.