That Michael Kwan, a justice court judge in Taylorsville, Utah, has a history of violating the Utah Code of Judicial Conduct is not subject of debate. During his two decade tenure on the bench, he has faced numerous ethics complaints about his in-court and out-of-court behavior.
As pointed out in a May 22, 2019 decision by the Utah Supreme Court, the court has issued two public reprimands to the Judge Kwan while the Utah Judicial Conduct Council has issued “two letters of education” and the Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee has twice issued opinions against the judge for ethical lapses.
These lapses violated both the rules and canons of judicial conduct in Utah which provide that a “judge … shall not undermine … public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety;” and “shall not engage in political … activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.”
Utah Supreme Court Cites Judge for Anti-Trump Comments
Judge Kwan recently found himself once again in the sights of the Utah Supreme Court because of disparaging comments the judge made about Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign and during his first year in office in 2017. The court’s May 22nd decision found that these comments violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. In reaching that conclusion, the court stated:
“But the problem here is not primarily a concern that Judge Kwan has voiced his views on a range of political issues via his criticisms of Donald Trump. Far more importantly, Judge Kwan has implicitly used the esteem associated with his judicial office as a platform from which to criticize a candidate for elected office. Fulfillment of judicial duties does not come without personal sacrifice of some opportunities and privileges available to the public at large. And as a person the public entrusts to decide issues with utmost fairness, independence, and impartiality, a judge must at times set aside the power of his or her voice—which becomes inextricably tied to his or her position—as a tool to publicly influence the results of a local, regional, or national election.
“Judge Kwan’s postings continue a pattern of inappropriate political commentary, as previously addressed in our second public reprimand, following Judge Kwan’s service as president of a national organization that, among other things, criticized candidates for political office. What’s more, the Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee offered substantial guidance to Judge Kwan on this topic. Judge Kwan nevertheless engaged in behavior that violates our code of conduct, despite the prior attempts to dissuade him from that path.”
Trump Has Made Racist Comments About Judges
These conclusions are a hard apple to bite, given the fact that President Donald Trump made racist criticisms of judges a hallmark of his presidential campaign—a pattern that has continued through the present day of his presidency. This president has made it abundantly clear that the U.S. Attorney General should serve as his personal attorney and that judges should be lap dogs who should rubber stamp his dangerous, reckless and racist policies.
Pres’ History of Attacking Judges Threatens System of Government
The Brennan Center has compiled a timeline of President Trump’s “troubling pattern of attacking judges and the courts for rulings he disagrees with”
The Center said this troubling pattern “threatens our entire system of government. The courts are bulwarks of our Constitution and laws, and they depend on the public to respect their judgments and on officials to obey and enforce their decisions. Fear of personal attacks, public backlash, or enforcement failures should not color judicial decision-making, and public officials have a responsibility to respect courts and judicial decisions. Separation of powers is not a threat to democracy; it is the essence of democracy.”
Trump’s criticism of judges (referring to some as “Obama judges”) has even drawn the ire of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts who took the extraordinary step of publicly calling out the president by saying this nation does not have “Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them … The independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
Trump Threatens Independent Judiciary
The Chief Justice’s criticism notwithstanding, President Trump recently slammed a federal judge who issued an order blocking the president’s money grab to reallocate federal funds to build “the wall” along the nation’s southern border. Trump said U.S. District Court Judge Haywood Gilliam is “another activist Obama appointed judge [who] has just ruled against us on a section of the Southern Wall that is already under construction. This is a ruling against Border Security and in favor of crime, drugs and human trafficking.”
The President of the United States effectively called a sitting federal judge a co-conspirator in “crime, drugs and human trafficking”—a president who himself is an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal scheme to pay hush money to a porn star to cover up an adulterous affair he had with the woman.
This president does not respect judges, the judicial system, or the rule of law.
Admittedly, this president has ravaged “public respect” for the office by his own actions and behavior while in the White House: abuses of power; disclosing classified information to an avowed enemy of this nation; engaging in a pattern of mafia-like corrupt financial endeavors; praising murderous dictators while criticizing responsible allied leadership; and engaging in vulgar, racist, and moronic criticism of anyone and everyone who dares to oppose or speak against his dictatorial policies.
While we believe the President deserves the highest level of public and political criticism, Judges must be held to different standards, especially when they are on the bench. Making political statements in court, to people that appear before the court diminishes the public’s confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice. This cannot stand, no matter the President in office or political party in control. Judges must remain impartial in the administration of their duties. To allow otherwise will allow our judiciary to spiral into an uncontrollable political abyss.