On Mother’s Day in 2018, 2-year-old Braxton Danker was brutally murdered. Khristian Tyler Martzall, his 32-year-old murderer, was charged with using him as a “punching bag.”
The judge who presided over the case did not appear to be able to take her eyes away from her phone despite the seriousness of the issue and the importance of guaranteeing that justice was properly administered — Martzall was finally found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and then released on time served.
Security footage from the Chandler courthouse acquired by The Oklahoman appears to capture Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom scrolling through Facebook, looking for a GIF, and texting while the trial went on, even throughout the victim’s mother’s emotional trial testimony.
The Oklahoman reports that Soderstrom, 50, emphasized to the jury at the beginning of the trial that they must turn off or, at the absolute least, put their personal devices in airplane mode.
“This will give you uninterrupted time to focus on the evidence,” Soderstrom explained.
Soderstrom constantly picks up and interacts with her phone during opening remarks and testimony, which suggests that she was either resistant to distractions or unwilling to follow her own advice, according to courtroom footage captured by the ceiling camera above her.
Following a review of the video, the DA Adam Panter informed the Oklahoman that he had found evidence that the judge had “used hours of the trial using her cell phone, both texting along with scrolling throughout social media.”
Panter declared, “It is both astonishing and disappointing. We want jurors to give testimony that is being given their whole time and attention, hence cell phones are not allowed in the courtroom during trials. Regardless of the nature of the case, I would hope and expect that the Court would apply itself to the exact same standard demanded of the jurors.”
Panter claims that rather than addressing her actions, the court then ordered the camera to be moved.
Rather than receiving a first-degree murder conviction, as the prosecution had intended, defense lawyer Velia Lopez’s client ended up leaving court, and she thought the preoccupied judge had done a fine job.
Therefore, Lopez claimed, “I did not observe if she was or wasn’t on the phone.”
The Oklahoman reported that a criminal conviction might be overturned if “a judge loses the authority over the trial through being absent from the bench amid proceedings.” Although the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has never been faced with dealing with a judge mindlessly texting throughout a trial, that could change.
According to the New York Post, the Code of Judicial Conduct, under which judges in Oklahoma are subject, also mandates that judges “shall behave at all times in a way that encourages the public’s trust in the independence, honesty, and impartiality of the country’s judiciary.”
According to the Associated Press, Soderstrom is the subject of an investigation by the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints.