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 on Friday.
Traci Soderstrom stepped down from her position as a district judge in Lincoln County ahead of a special court trial that was scheduled to begin on Monday, according to a resignation letter distributed to local news outlets.
Ms. 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.”
Ms. 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.
Ms. 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, the chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, wrote in the petition.
The judge and the bailiff derided the co-defendant, calling her a liar at least three times, according to the petition. When she was on the stand, the judge texted “comments like, ‘Can I please scream liar liar?’” Chief Justice Kane wrote.
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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Martzall’s trial.
Ms. Soderstrom took office as a district judge in January 2023 after winning an election.
The Oklahoman reported that she had agreed to a temporary suspension. She is ineligible for a future judicial position in Oklahoma, according to a settlement agreement published by television news station KFOR-TV. She also waived her right to an appeal.
Ms. Soderstrom said in a text message on Saturday that she had no comment.