MARYLAND COURT OF APPEALS
REMOVED JUDGE VODKA
PER CURIAM ORDER
WHEREAS, the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities, pursuant to Md. Rule 18-435, referred to this Court its findings, the record, and its recommendation in In the Matter of the Honorable Amy Leigh Nickerson, Judge of the Orphans’ Court of Maryland for Kent County, Second Judicial Circuit, Case Nos. CJD 2018-033 and 2019013, for the Court’s consideration pursuant to Maryland Rule 18-437, and
WHEREAS, this Court having considered the Commission’s “Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order, and Recommendations,” and having received no response from the Hon. Amy Leigh Nickerson, and for reasons to be stated in an opinion later to be filed, it is this 26th day of March, 2021,
ORDERED, by the Court of Appeals of Maryland, that the disciplinary sanction recommended by the Commission is hereby GRANTED, and it is further
ORDERED, that, effective immediately, Amy Leigh Nickerson is hereby removed from office as Judge of the Orphans’ Court for Kent County, Maryland.
/s/ Mary Ellen Barbera
JUDICIAL COMMISSION URGES JUDGE NICKERSON BE BOOTED FROM BENCH FOR MISCONDUCT & LIES TO DEPUTY WHEN SHE WAS BUSTED FOR DWI, FAILED TO COMPLY WITH LENIENT CONDITIONS TO KEEP HER POST
In the present case, Judge Nickerson’s behavior is certainly serious, as she attempted to use her judicial office for her benefit to avoid appropriate investigation by a law enforcement officer doing his duty in trying to prevent behavior that could hurt the public directly by the Respondent driving under the influence. Clearly, Respondent engaged in behavior that could cause the law enforcement officer – and anyone present at the public trial court proceeding- to question her integrity. Judge Nickerson exhibited a lack of dignity of judicial office on March 9, 2018, and was clearly concerned more with maintaining her office rather than adhering to the standards established in the Code of Judicial Conduct. Her lack of candor with the officer is not behavior that is expected or desired of a judicial officer of Maryland.
The Commission considered mitigating factors from the evidence and testimony at the Hearing in determining its recommendation as to the appropriate discipline. Judge Nickerson admitted to all of the conduct and violations of the Maryland Code of Judicial conduct as alleged by Investigative Counsel. Judge Nickerson successfully completed the
probation imposed by the District Court for Kent County.
After consideration of the Facts, Conclusions of Law, and the Considerations
Regarding the Imposition of Discipline, the Commission concludes that its recommendation of immediate removal is justified given the nature of Judge Nickerson’s conduct during the traffic stop (being untruthful regarding alcohol in her cup, attempting to use her position as a judge to influence the officer, and attempting to use the name of the officer’s superior to influence the officer), her disciplinary history, prior tax lien/judgment, failure to comply with the terms of a Conditional Diversion Agreement with the Commission, failure to confirm she filed tax returns between 2013-2018 as required in the Reprimand, her failure to cooperate with the Investigative Counsel and the
Commission, her failure to meet deadlines agreed to by the judge and the Commission, and
her refusal to respond to discovery provided in these cases from Investigative Counsel.
Judge Nickerson’s conduct is a personal and professional embarrassment to herself as well as the judiciary, and thus, the Commission recommends she be removed from the bench with no opportunity to return. She has repeatedly failed to demonstrate the integrity and dignity that the public and the office deserve.
COMPLETE STATEMENT OF FACTS
DWI HIT PARADE: Convicted Boozing Judge Amy Nickerson Hearing Before Judicial Board That Could Sack Her from Bench Postponed
ORDER IN THE COURT: THE JUDGE IS EATING BEANS AND CHASING THEM WITH VODKA
DWI Judge told Deputy She Had Been Drinking on the Job!
ANNAPOLIS, MD. – Noted newspaperman H. L. Mencken said more than one hundred years ago that “the common man knows what he wants, and he deserves to get it, good and hard”.
This old adage certainly applies to the voters of Kent County, Maryland who reelected an Orphans Court Judge, whose tipsy drive on a public highway could have created some new orphans when she was arrested for DWI. The voters knew about her dangerous conduct well in advance of the election and yet reelected her to another term in office.
Judge Amy Leigh Nickerson, of 5642 Walnut Street, Rock Hall, Md., first elected as one of three probate Judges in Kent County in 2014 and reelected in 2018, was arrested on March 9, 2018 at 10:17 pm by Kent County Sheriff Deputy H. A. Kettner, as Judge Nickerson operated a 2007 Jeep Wrangler westbound on Rt. 320 at Hawthorne Ave. in Rock Hall, Md., not far from her home and within a short drive of area bars and liquor stores.
According to court records, Judge Amy Nickerson tried to evade arrest by intimidating the deputy with her lofty title of Judge and mentioned that she ‘had a few drinks’ before leaving work at the courthouse. Most proceedings of the Orphans Court wind up by about 4 pm and are and it was much later in the day when Judge Nickerson was stopped. When asked what was in the cup in her center console of her Jeep, she said the fluid was water when testing later showed it was alcohol and she finally admitted it was vodka.
That was certainly a great way for Judge Nickerson to campaign in an election year, much like U.S. Senator ‘Pocahontas’ Elizabeth Warren tossing down some suds to show she is not only an Indian but likes firewater too!
The Maryland commission charged with supervising the antics and mishaps of Maryland’s Judges had scheduled a hearing to consider what to do about the Kent County Orphans Court Judge. However, the hearing set for April 12, 2019, has been delayed.
Certainly, many Judges in the movies keep a bottle of vodka in their desk and there has often been speculation as to what Judges are wearing under their robes. No wonder this boozy jurist won reelection – perhaps she campaigned hard in the bars of Chestertown and Rock Hall.
After first entering a not guilty plea, in a plea deal with the Kent County States Attorney and her attorney, G. Mitchel Mowell, Judge Nickerson was given Probation Before Judgement on the charge of DWI and found guilty of reckless driving. THE DEAL: Judge Nickerson, who sits on a panel to decide issues over the estates of deceased people and could have added to those ranks of the recently dead by killing someone while driving drunk – began a period of probation for one year on July 18, 2018.
When Judges carry on with illicit relationships with a convicted felon, such as Judge Audrey Creighton did in Montgomery County, Md., they are hauled in before the Judicial Disability Commission to decide their fate. In Circuit Court Judge Creighton’s case, she resigned before the commission could remove her, leaving her eligible for a comfortable annual salary once she reaches retirement age.
The Commission is tasked with protecting the public from having complete yahoos involved in the administration of public business in the Judiciary. The panel also endeavors to protect the courts from having unsavory actions bring disrepute upon the Judiciary and doing such things that could cause the public to hold judges in minimum high regard.
Once the Judicial Disabilities Commission takes action, Judge Nickerson, unless she resigns, can appeal any sanctions to the Maryland Court of Appeals. If removed from the bench, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, with advice from the local Central Committee, will appoint a replacement. The pay of an Orphans Court Judge is $4,000 annually. With an average bottle of vodka running about $12.00, Judge Nickerson’s salary could pay for up to 333 bottles of vodka in a year.
Judge Nickerson entered a guilty plea to operating a vehicle with expired tags in 2016. She was put on Probation Before Judgement on that charge and another charge by a different deputy on another date of driving without a driver’s permit was put on the Stet Docket. Judge Nickerson just might be a training aide for the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.
CHARGES AGAINST JUDGE AMY NICKERSON
The Commission will conduct a public hearing on these charges pursuant to Maryland Rule 18-407. The following facts form the basis for these charges and the Commission’s probable cause determination:
- Judge Nickerson has served as a Judge of Orphan’s Court of Kent County since December 1, 2014.
2. Based upon information received, the Commission’s Investigative Counsel opened an investigation regarding Judge Nickerson’s extrajudicial conduct. The investigation was focused on allegations that Judge Nickerson committed multiple traffic violations including impaired driving, speeding, negligent driving, and reckless driving arising out of a traffic stop on or about March 9, 2018.
3. Investigative Counsel reviewed the Call for Service Detail Page; Alcohol Influence Report; Arrest and Booking Detail Page; News Release; Maryland Uniform Complaint and Citation Nos. 3ZROAG6, 3ZSOAG6, 3ZTOAG6, 3ZVOAG6, 3ZWOAG6, 3ZXOAG6, and 3ZYOAG6•, and other materials generated by Sgt. Harry A. Kettner and the Kent County Sheriff’s Office arising out of Judge Nickerson’s March 9, 2018 arrest. In addition, Investigative Counsel attended and reviewed the audio recording of the trial of Judge Nickerson before Judge Melvin J. Jews in the District Court of Maryland for Kent County.
4. The investigation revealed sanctionable conduct by Judge Nickerson with regard to her operation of a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol as well as her misrepresentation of fact and her invocation of her judicial title during the traffic stop preceding her arrest.
5. Judge Nickerson’s conduct was in violation of Rules 18-100.4, Preamble; 18101.1, Compliance with the Law; 18-101.2, Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary; 18-101.3, Avoid Lending the Prestige of Judicial Office; and 18-103.1, Extra-Official Activities in General. In addition, Judge Nickerson’s conduct constituted misconduct and was prejudicial to the proper administration of justice pursuant to Rule 18-401 (j). The pertinent provisions of the Rules provide as follows:
Rule 18-100.4. PREAMBLE.
(a) Importance of Independent, Fair, Competent, Impartial Judiciary. An independent, fair, competent, and impartial judiciary composed of men and women of integrity who will interpret and apply the law that governs our society is indispensable to our system of justice. Thus, the judiciary plays a central role in preserving the principles of justice and the rule of law. Inherent in all the Rules contained in this Code are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to maintain and enhance confidence in the legal system.
(b) Dignity of Judicial Office. Judges should maintain the dignity of judicial office at all times and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives. They should aspire at all times to conduct that ensures the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality, integrity, and competence.
(c) Function of Code of Judicial Conduct. This Code of Judicial Conduct establishes standards for the ethical conduct of judges and judicial candidates. It is not intended as an exhaustive guide for the conduct of judges and judicial candidates, who are governed in their judicial and personal conduct by general ethical standards as well as by this Code. This Code is intended, however, to provide guidance and assist judges in maintaining the highest standards of judicial and personal conduct, and to provide a basis for regulating their conduct through disciplinary agencies.
Rule 18-101.1. COMPLIANCE WITH THE LAW.
A judge shall comply with the law, including this Code of Judicial Conduct.
Rule 18-101.2. PROMOTING CONFIDENCE IN THE JUDICIARY.
(a) A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.
(b) A judge shall avoid conduct that would create in reasonable minds a perception of impropriety.
Rule 18-101.3. AVOID LENDING THE PRESTIGE OF JUDICIAL OFFICE
A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others or allow others to do so.
Rule 18-103.1. EXTRA-OFFICIAL ACTIVITIES IN GENERAL
Except as prohibited by law or this Code, a judge may engage in extrajudicial activities. When engaging in extrajudicial activities, a judge shall not:
(a) participate in activities that will interfere with the proper performance of the judge’s judicial duties;
(c) participate in activities that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality; [or] (d) engage in conduct that would appear to a reasonable person to be coercive[.]
Rule 18-401 ) DEFINITION OF SANCTIONABLE CONDUCT.
“Sanctionable Conduct” means misconduct while in office, the persistent failure by a judge to perform the duties of the judge’s office or conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice. A judge’s violation of any of the provisions of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct promulgated by Title 18, Chapter 100 may constitute sanctionable conduct.
6. The investigation specifically revealed the following facts upon which the charges are based:
On March 9, 2018, Sgt. Harry A. Kettner stopped Judge Nickerson for speeding. During this stop, Sgt. Kettner determined there to be probable cause Judge Nickerson was driving under the influence of alcohol. She was subsequently arrested, charged, and released on signature.
Specifically, Sgt. Kettner stopped Judge Nickerson on Rt. 320 in Rock Hall, Maryland after determining that she was speeding using his in-car radar unit. He approached the vehicle and observed that Judge Nickerson’s eyes were glassy and blood shot and her actions were slow and delayed. He smelled alcohol emanating from the vehicle and observed a clear cup with a clear liquid in the center console.
Judge Nickerson stated that she had just left work. Sgt. Kettner asked Judge Nickerson to exit the vehicle. Almost immediately after being asked to exit her vehicle, Judge Nickerson stated, “Can I tell you something else? I’m a judge of the Orphan’s Court.” When asked if she had consumed any alcoholic beverages that evening, Judge Nickerson responded that she had a couple of drinks before she left work. At different points during this traffic stop, Judge Nickerson also stated that she consumed three drinks and, in a conversation on the phone with an unknown individual, four drinks. When asked by Sgt. Kettner what was in the cup in the center console, Judge Nickerson stated it was club soda. A subsequent test performed on the contents of this cup by Sgt. Kettner showed that it contained alcohol. Judge Nickerson later confirmed that the cup contained vodka.
Judge Nickerson performed poorly on multiple field sobriety tests. Judge Nickerson posited her low blood sugar levels as the basis for her poor performance. Sgt. Kettner allowed her to take measures to raise her blood sugar before performing the tests a second time. During this period, Judge Nickerson cited several different blood sugar levels at which she would be able to properly complete the tests. Once Judge Nickerson’s blood sugar level was at what she described as an appropriate level, Sgt. Kettner asked Judge Nickerson to step out of the vehicle to perform the field sobriety tests again. Sgt. Kettner noted Judge
Nickerson had poor results on these tests as well, and she was placed under arrest.
After her arrest, Judge Nickerson refused a blood alcohol concentration test. Sgt. Kettner issued charges against Judge Nickerson under Citation Nos. 3ZROAG6 (exceeding posted maximum speed limit: 43 in a posted 30 mph zone), 3ZSOAG6 (exceeding posted maximum speed limit: 31 in a posted 25 mph zone), 3ZTOAG6 (driving vehicle while under the influence of alcohol), 3ZVOAG6 (driving vehicle while impaired by alcohol), 3ZWOAG6 (negligent driving), 3ZXOAG6 (reckless driving), and 3ZYOAG6 (throwing, dumping, discharge, deposit any refuse on highway).
After a trial on the merits in the District Court for Kent County before Judge Melvin J. Jews, Judge Nickerson received probation before judgment on Citation Nos. 3ZROAG6 (exceeding posted maximum speed limit: 43 in a posted 30 mph zone), 3ZSOAG6 (exceeding posted maximum speed limit: 31 in a posted 25 mph zone), 3ZVOAG6 (driving vehicle while impaired by alcohol), 3ZWOAG6 (negligent driving), 3ZXOAG6 (reckless driving), and 3ZYOAG6 (throwing, dumping, discharge, deposit any refuse on highway); she received a judgment of acquittal on Citation No. 3ZTOAG6 (driving vehicle while under the influence of alcohol).
Judge Nickerson’s behavior provides evidence that Judge Nickerson engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the proper administration of justice in Maryland Courts, pursuant to the Maryland Constitution, Article IV, Section 4B(b)(1).
These charges are issued by Investigative Counsel at the direction of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities.
JUDGE NICKERSON’S RESPONSE TO THE CHARGES
Judge Amy L. Nickerson of the Orphans Court for Kent County Maryland, pro se, pursuant to Md. Rule 18-407(c) files this response to the charges brought by the Commission on
1. Judge Nickerson admits the allegations of paragraph I.
2. Judge Nickerson admits the allegations of paragraph 2.
3. Judge Nickerson admits the allegations of paragraph 3.
4. Judge Nickerson admits the allegations of paragraph 4.
5. Judge Nickerson admits the allegations of paragraph 5.
6. Judge Nickerson admits the allegations of paragraph 6.
7. Judge Nickerson admits the allegations of paragraph 7.
8. By way of further response, Judge Nickerson sincerely apologizes to the citizens of Kent County and the State of Maryland for her conduct and actions on March 9, 2018. Judge Nickerson is and remains to this day extremely remorseful for her actions that brought unflattering attention to herself as a member of the Maryland Judiciary specifically a Judge of the Orphans Court for Kent County who was first elected to this position by a majority of the voters in Kent County Maryland in the 2014 Gubernatorial Election.
9. Judge Nickerson further agrees that her conduct and the subsequent finding of Probation for Judgment for the traffic citations would meet the definition of sanctionable conduct set out in Md Rule conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice.
10. Judge Nickerson has remained apologetic, remorseful and has been in total compliance with the payment of fines, court costs and terms and conditions of probation as imposed by The Honorable Melvin J. Jews in the District Court of Maryland for Kent County.
11. Judge Nickerson’s traffic charges and the outcome of the trial in the Kent County District Court were made public record at both the time of the offense and following the Court Trial in that they were highly publicized in the local newspaper.
12. Judge Nickerson further states that despite the publicity which appeared in the local newspaper immediately following her arrest on the charges and the outcome of the subsequent court trial. Judge Nickerson was reelected to the Orphans Court for Kent County in the 2018 Gubernatorial Election by a majority of the voters in Kent County Maryland and was sworn into office December 3, 2018.
13. Judge Nickerson further states that the incident and her conduct are isolated and not a pattern or routine behavior. This is the first time she has ever been charged with offenses such as this in 31 years of being a licensed driver in the State of Maryland.
14. Judge Nickerson is remorseful for the negative and unflattering attention that this has brought to herself personally and especially professionally as a member of the Maryland Judiciary, and is extremely remorseful for being an embarrassment to colleagues on the bench.
15. Judge Nickerson would consent to an appropriate reprimand as determined by the Commission.
16. Judge Nickerson would consent to a private reprimand and would agree to make that fact known to the public. A private reprimand would be appropriate in this case because the conduct was not so serious, offense, or repeated as to warrant formal proceedings and therefore, a private reprimand is the appropriate disposition under the circumstances of the sanctionable conduct.
17. Judge Nickerson would further ask for a private reprimand ask that she be permitted to maintain her seat on the Orphans Court for Kent County. In the recent 2018 election, there were 4 candidates for 3 seats. The voters in Kent County were fully aware of the details of this case due to the publicity in the local newspaper on the offense date of March 9, 2018 and the outcome of the Court Trial in the District Court for Kent County Maryland on July 18, 2018 and despite those facts, the voters in Kent County chose to reelect her to this position.
18. In further support of a private reprimand, Judge Nickerson has been extremely apologetic and remorseful for her actions and has been forthcoming to any member of the general public and her colleagues regarding her conduct on March 9, 2018. She has never tried to hide these charges from anyone and has spoken open, honestly and directly to any person who asks about the charges and final dispositions. She further states that she disclosed the incident and subsequent charges directly to her colleagues after she was charged, taking responsibility for her situation and directly apologizing to the other Kent County Orphans Court Judges.
(NOTE: Court records show that Judge Nickerson denied the DWI charge by first pleading not guilty before entering into a plea deal, and that she refused to take a BAC breath test when arrested.)
19. If the commission feels that a public reprimand is more appropriate, Judge Nickerson, consistent with her position on a private reprimand made public, would also consent to a public reprimand.
THEREFORE, having filed this response to the charges, Judge Nickerson prays:
A. That the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities issue a appropriate reprimand in this case and,
B. For such other relief as the Commission determines is appropriate.