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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Oklahoma judge resigns after exchanging 500 texts during murder trial

By Emily Schmall New York Times

A judge in Oklahoma who exchanged 500 text messages with her bailiff while presiding over the murder trial of a man accused of beating a toddler to death resigned Friday.

Traci Soderstrom stepped down from her position as a district judge in Lincoln County before a special court trial that was scheduled to begin Monday, according to a resignation letter distributed to local news outlets.

Soderstrom faced removal from the bench for gross neglect of duty, gross partiality in office and other judicial conduct prohibited by the state’s constitution.

“I texted during a trial,” she said after submitting her resignation, KOCO News reported. “It doesn’t matter whether it was a traffic case, or whether it was a divorce case, or whether it was a first-degree murder case. I texted during a trial and that was inappropriate.”

Soderstrom was presiding over a murder trial that began in June when she put her personal cellphone in her lap, out of the view of others in the courtroom, and texted continuously with the bailiff, according to a court petition filed in October.

Soderstrom and the bailiff “called murder trial witnesses liars, admired the looks of a police officer who was testifying, disparaged the local defense bar, expressed bias in favor of the defendant and displayed gross partiality against the state,” M. John Kane IV, chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, wrote in the petition.

While the judge and the bailiff texted, a man from Oklahoma, Khristian Martzall, was on trial.

He was charged with first-degree murder in the fatal beating of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son. On June 15, 2023, a jury found Martzall guilty of a lesser charge, second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to time served, which was about five years.

Judith Danker, the child’s mother, pleaded guilty in 2019 to enabling child abuse and was sentenced to 25 years. She testified as a witness in Martzall’s trial.

The judge’s cellphone use came to public attention in July, after the Oklahoman published more than 50 minutes of courtroom security footage and reported that it showed the judge texting and scrolling Facebook during Martzall’s trial.

Soderstrom took office as a district judge in January 2023 after winning an election.

Soderstrom said in a text message Saturday that she had no comment.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.