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Deliberations begin in judicial misconduct case

The state's Judicial Conduct Commission will begin deliberations Thursday in the case of a Central Kentucky family court judge accused of misconduct.

The commission, which is the only entity authorized to discipline a sitting Kentucky judge, has until Feb. 19 to render a decision in the case against Judge Tamra Gormley. Commission Chairman Stephen Wolnitzek told attorneys that the commission does not intend to take that long.

The commission's findings could come in two weeks at the earliest, Wolnitzek said. Possible penalties include public or private reprimand, suspension without pay or removal or retirement from office.

Gormley, a former assistant commonwealth's attorney in Fayette County who was appointed in 2007 to a district that covers Scott, Woodford and Bourbon counties, faces seven misconduct charges. Three of the charges were heard this week.

Gormley took the stand for about four hours as George Rabe, an lawyer hired by the commission, and Gormley's attorney, William Hoskins of Lexington, questioned her about decisions she made in family court.

One charge stems from an incident in which Gormley held a man in contempt for violating a domestic violence order and sentenced him to six months in jail. The man was in a hallway outside the courtroom when he confronted his wife and made her upset, witnesses later told Gormley in court. Also, a bailiff told Gormley the man had visited his wife the night before.

Gormley testified that she was permitted to hold the man in direct criminal contempt without a hearing as long as court was in recess or in session and the man was willfully violating a court order and disrupting court proceedings.

Gormley was also questioned about an emergency protective order she issued without a petition, and her actions in a custody case in Scott County in which the commission says she did not have jurisdiction.

Elkhart Superior Court Judge Evan Roberts testified Wednesday morning about his interactions with Gormley in the custody case.

Roberts said that a court in Indiana had continuing exclusive jurisdiction in the case, but a child custody hearing was held on Sept. 24, 2008, in Scott Family Court. A grandmother and her attorney were in Scott County. The child's mother and her attorney were in Indiana.

During the court proceeding, the Indiana court had audio, but no video, from Scott Family Court.

Roberts, who later received a copy of the video, said he was not aware of notes passed between Gormley and the grandmother. And, he said, Gormley appeared to favor one party.

Hoskins said Gormley did not act in bad faith and was not "grossly and persistently incompetent," which are standards he said are set by the Supreme Court and must be considered by the commission.

Rabe, in closing, asked the commission, "Why do we have laws ... if they're not followed?"

He restated disagreements with Gormley's decisions and her interpretations of laws and asked the commission to "take judicial notice of Kentucky Revised Statutes that are involved."