Judges can do many things to end up facing discipline. They can skip out on work too much. They can treat parties poorly. They can disrespect lawyers who appear before them. Or, as a Pennsylvania disciplinary court found regarding Allentown District Judge Maryesther Merlo, all of the above, per The Morning Call.
Merlo had a habit of calling out of work when dozens of hearings were scheduled and litigants, police and attorneys were assembled in her courtroom, her staff testified. According to the decision, Merlo missed 116 days of work from September 2007 to December 2009.
“This is not to mention that on the days when [Merlo] did come to work, she was never on time — she was always late,” the court added.
Former Lehigh County President Judge William H. Platt and Court Administrator Gordon Roberts testified their efforts to address her work habits fell on deaf ears. The disciplinary court noted Merlo’s explanation that her absences were excused because she never took vacation was belied by the fact she did take 49 days of vacation during the period at issue.
Excellent work habits. How did she treat parties and witnesses?
In one case, Merlo described a young man who appeared in court with his mother on a traffic offense as “a dog who needs to be retrained.” In another case, she ordered deputy sheriffs to arrest a woman who had been counseled by her lawyer not to testify to avoid incriminating herself, according to the decision.
[There was also testimony about] bizarre courtroom behavior, including an episode in which she ordered a defendant to call himself “scumbag.”
And the court examined Merlo’s conduct in 10 cases and found six in which her demeanor constituted a violation of the rules of conduct. Witnesses testified Merlo’s behavior was often demeaning, intimidating and offensive.
Okay. But what about Judge Merlo’s side of the story?
In each of the six cases, the court found the witnesses who complained about Merlo’s behavior to be more credible than the judge.
Doh! That hurts.
The state disciplinary court examined Merlo’s demeanor during truancy hearings, noting her practice of continuing cases to give the kids “a second chance” interfered with the district’s efforts to discipline students with attendance problems. Her own tardiness set a poor example for the students, the court noted.
Suzette Arcelay, a school counselor, testified Merlo’s behavior was often rude and erratic, including an episode in which Merlo told her to “shut up.”
Judge Merlo has the option of appealing the findings. You can read more here.
Update: Judge Merlo was removed from the bench. She has appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. You can read more about it here.