A Scott County District Court judge has been publicly reprimanded by the state’s judicial review board for actions deemed inappropriate in divorce and custody hearings.
First District Judge Rex Stacey, 64, was issued a public reprimand by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards Tuesday after it was determined he had further violated the Code of Judicial Conduct despite entering a deferred disposition from another misconduct finding in 2014.
He was ordered by the board to evaluate past misconduct, not commit further misconduct and to not make accusatory, hostile or discourteous comments to parties in court, or he may face additional punishment.
In 2014, the board issued a private admonition to Stacey for his behavior during a divorce case. The board found that Stacey left his bench during cross-examination after telling the courtroom, “I’ll be right back. Just continue without me.” In that case, Stacey also asked his clerk for a different court file and told the attorneys he would no longer participate, the board said.
“Do whatever you want,” he said, according to board documents. “This is nothing but a cat fight, slinging mud. I am no longer participating in it. Have at it.”
After that incident, the board entered into a deferred disposition agreement with Stacey. Per that agreement, if Stacey further violated board standards before June 2017, the board could issue further disciplinary action.
The board found Stacey violated the agreement and Code of Judicial Conduct in a child custody hearing on April 5.
In a custody dispute between unnamed parties, the board found Stacey made accusatory, hostile and discourteous comments to both the mother and father.
At a March 17, 2015 hearing, the board said, Stacey addressed the mother who was filing an order for protection against the father by saying, “You need counseling badly, because your kids are suffering. Not because of him [the father]. Because of you...You don’t see the truth in things.”
In an April 5, 2016 hearing with the father on his motion for a change in custody, Stacey dismissed the father’s allegation that the mother had a drinking problem, according to the board.
“He’s exaggerating it,” Stacey said in court. “Yeah, terribly. It’s deplorable. Do you hear me? Deplorable.”
In both hearings, the board found insufficient evidence to justify these statements from Stacey.
“Judge Stacey’s disciplinary history and his conduct in the [most recent] matters show a pattern of personal attacks on litigants as well as other misconduct,” the board memorandum against Stacey states. “In his response, Judge Stacey asserts that ‘There just isn’t a substitute for looking someone in the eye and telling them what you think.’ However, Judge Stacey’s comments were based on his assumptions, and he did not have a sufficient basis to justify personal attacks on the parties who appeared before him. His comments caused the parties not to re-examine their actions but to believe that Judge Stacey was biased against them.”
Stacey began working as an attorney in 1982, according to state records. He was elevated to the bench on Sept. 3, 1996. He was elected as a First District judge in 1998 and re-elected in 2004 and 2010. The First Judicial District has 36 judges and 250 staff to handle more than 120,000 cases each year in Carver, Dakota, Goodhue, Le Sueur, McLeod, Scott and Sibley counties. Stacey primarily serves in Scott County District Court in Shakopee. His term expires in January 2017.
Stacey was also publicly reprimanded in 2007 by the Minnesota Supreme Court for dismissing a traffic ticket issued to a court clerk’s husband.