The Arizona Supreme Court decided not only to censure former Tucson City Court judge Ted Abrams for sexually harassing a defense attorney, but it suspended him from practicing law for two years because he committed multiple offenses over a significant period of time and his victim was "particularly vulnerable."
Abrams resigned in February after the Pima County Superior Court found that a public defender who had recently passed the state bar exam was subjected to unwanted and unsolicited contact of a sexual nature.
Abrams made "implicit and explicit comments, particularly via cellphone voice and text messages," investigators determined.
Because Abrams had resigned, the most the Supreme Court could do was issue a censure and prohibit him from seeking judicial office again. However, the Commission on Judicial Conduct asked the court to take disciplinary action against him because of his status as an attorney.
The Supreme Court suspended his license in late May, but waited until Thursday to release a 23-page opinion, which was authored by Justice A. John Pelander.
Pelander wrote in the opinion, "His misbehavior severely tarnished the justice system and the legal profession. By abusing his office, Abrams struck at the very heart of the judiciary's legitimacy, injuring not just his victims, but the law as an institution."
Pelander noted Abrams says he's remorseful, but he told investigators the defense attorney didn't "necessarily object" to his comments and he doesn't believe his conduct constituted harassment.
Abrams and his attorneys argued he shouldn't be suspended and cited cases in which former judges were not disciplined or received only a six-month suspension.
Pelander pointed out that because of jurisdictional issues, the court could take no action in a case involving a former judge who had a two-year affair with a prosecutor while on the bench. As for the other case, the judge filed false tax returns, but not in his judicial capacity, Pelander said.
The fact that Abrams says he suffers from a serious drug addiction and mental-health issues doesn't "overcome the presumptive sanction of suspension," Pelander wrote.
Abrams was initially introduced to the public defender by a defense attorney in private practice with whom he'd carried on an extramarital affair, according to Pelander's opinion. Both attorneys routinely had cases in Abrams' courtroom.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org