A Utah judge has been ordered suspended from the bench for six months, without pay, in the wake of several anti-Trump comments made both in court, and on social media.
Judge Michael Kwan was found by Utah’s high court to have violated conduct codes with his remarks, dating back to 2017, which Kwan said were in jest.
However, the court pointed out that the judge’s jokes proved “an immutable and universal rule that judges are not as funny as they think they are.”
A Taylorsville justice court judge who has been on the bench for more than two decades will be suspended for six months without pay for making politically charged comments about President Donald Trump from the bench and on social media.
In a decision released late Thursday, Utah’s high court ruled that Judge Michael Kwan violated their code of conduct on several occasions.
In January 2017, Kwan had an exchange that appeared to demean a defendant, according to the opinion, and included political commentary related to Trump’s immigration and tax policies.
The conversation in question revolved around whether a defendant had been paying fines. The person said he or she had planned to use a tax return to pay what was owed.
“You do realize we have a new president,” Kwan asked, “and you think we are getting any money back?”
The defendant replied he or she hoped and prayed that would be the case.
“Prayer might be the answer,” the judge replied. “‘Cause, he just signed an order to start building the wall and he has no money to do that, and so if you think you are going to get taxes back this year, uh-yeah, maybe, maybe not.”
The opinion states that Kwan argued this exchange was supposed to be funny, not rude. But the high court noted that it is “an immutable and universal rule that judges are not as funny as they think they are” and if someone laughs at a judge’s joke, it’s probably because of the power dynamic in the courtroom and not because the joke was actually funny.
The opinion also outlines a number of political comments that Kwan made on Facebook and LinkedIn about Trump when he was a presidential candidate. He also posted or shared articles about immigration, gun violence and voter participation.
The justices characterized Kwan’s posts about Trump as “blunt and sometimes indelicate” criticism. For example, just days after the presidential election, Kwan wrote, “Think I’ll go to the shelter to adopt a cat before the President-Elect grabs them all.”
The Utah Supreme Court unanimously found that these comments violated rules that prohibit judges from publicly endorsing or opposing political candidates or doing anything that could undermine the judge’s independence or impartiality.
Kwan’s attorney, Greg Skordas, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday that they were disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.
“We never argued that the judge should not be sanctioned, but we felt and argued that a six-month suspension was too severe,” Skordas said. “The Supreme Court obviously felt otherwise. We will honor that decision and abide by it.”