“When a judge’s personal life becomes public” and “when the integrity, impartiality and independence” of the judicial bench are compromised, action will be taken.
That is the message seven members of the Court of the Judiciary sent to former Coffee County District Judge Chris Kaminski after a hearing Tuesday, Aug. 6, in the state judicial building in Montgomery.
William Gunter, representing the Judicial Inquiry Commission, and Dothan attorney Derek Yarbrough, representing Kaminski, told the court that Kaminski had resigned following ethics complaints filed against him by the JIC and that both parties had reached a settlement agreement.
The court deliberated less than half an hour before unanimously pronouncing Kaminski guilty of two of the three ethics violations against him.
Kaminski was ordered to never again seek judicial office in the state of Alabama and ordered to pay $2,346 in court costs.
The Court of the Judiciary consists of one judge of an appellate court who serves as Chief Judge of the Court of the Judiciary; two circuit court judges selected by the Circuit Judges' Association; and one district judge selected by the District Judges' Association.
The Court of the Judiciary also includes two members of the state bar, selected by the governing body of the Alabama State Bar; two people appointed by the governor who are not lawyers; and one person appointed by the Lt. Governor.
The Court of the Judiciary hearing was set after a Judicial Inquiry Commission complaint against Kaminski was filed July 16 charging ethics violations.
Kaminski resigned on the heels of the complaint, signed by JIC Commission Chairman Billy C. Bedsole.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s Press Secretary Gina Maiola said July 25 that the governor’s appointment office will fill the vacancy.
The 26-page complaint charged Kaminski with “certain conduct relating to his romantic relationship with an unnamed attorney as violating the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics and severely undermining the public’s and the (Legal) Bar’s confidence in the integrity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary.”
In the complaint the “romantic relationship” is described as having begun “at the latest by June 1, 2017,” and “…that relationship continues to this day.”
In the complaint, Bedsole said that during the “romantic relationship” the judge “engaged in a pattern and practice of appointing the attorney to cases; taking judicial actions in cases in which the attorney was an attorney of record even after their relationship was publicly acknowledged; entering attorney’s-fee-declaration orders for the attorney’s benefit; and failing to disqualify himself from cases in which the attorney was an attorney of record even after their relationship was publicly acknowledged.”
Bedsole noted that “despite the clear evidence that Judge Kaminski and the attorney were in a romantic relationship during a period in which she practiced before him, Judge Kaminski’s response….failed to be forthright and candid with the (Judicial Inquiry Commission) as to this fact in the Nov. 28, 2018 response to the Commission.”
Kaminski also used “the prestige of the judicial office to gain access to courtroom-security footage and he permitted the attorney to post it on social media to refute accusations concerning them,” according to the complaint.
The complaint notes that the Coffee County “legal community, including attorneys who regularly practiced before Judge Kaminski, began hearing rumors of an affair between (the judge) and the attorney as early as the summer of 2017. Thereafter, the affair became well-known throughout the general community.”
Kaminski received notification Sept. 25, 2018 informing him that a complaint had been filed against him by a local attorney.
Bedsole’s complaint cited more than 100 court cases that were impacted by the “romantic relationship” between the judge and the attorney.
Bedsole noted that Kaminski’s lawyer submitted a response to allegations of impropriety that “was not fully forthright and candid with the Commission.
“The response acknowledges that there were rumors in the community that Judge Kaminski was having an affair with the attorney but he steadfastly denied these rumors then and denies them now,” Bedsole said. “This is a misrepresentation.”
Kaminski has served as Coffee County District Judge since his appointment in May 2015 to fill the seat vacated by then District Judge Paul Sherling, who resigned to work in his family’s business. Kaminski served out the remainder of Sherling’s term and ran for election in 2016.
Kaminski graduated from Enterprise High School in 2002, the University of Alabama and the Jones School of Law in Montgomery in 2009.
Prior to his judgeship, Kaminski had most recently served as an assistant district attorney in Coffee and Pike counties since October 2009.