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Dakota County Judge's 'Insensitive,' 'Demeaning' Jokes Earn Him Reprimand

A Dakota County Judge has been reprimanded for making tasteless jokes during a 2011 jury trial.

A Dakota County judge has received a public reprimand for making a number of inappropriate jokes, some with sexual undertones, during a 2011 jury trial.

It wasn't the first such incident for Judge Richard G. Spicer, who also received a reprimand from the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards in 2009 for directing "disparaging speech" at a defendant. 

"Humor, when used cautiously, sparingly and respectfully, has a place in the courtroom," the board said in a statement Friday that called Spicer's jokes "insensitive and demeaning."

Here are the jokes Spicer made during the trial that the board deemed "inappropriate":

  • When a juror stated that she knew the defense attorney because the two had shared a hotel room on a school choir trip for their daughter, Spicer said, "Shared a room? I don‘t want to hear about that. Oh, it was a choir trip." A few moments later, when a deputy entered the court, he said, "He wants to make sure we're safe. I don't know; we have a couple women sleeping together but besides that everything else is okay."
  • After hearing some of the answers to jury selection questions, he asked, “Do you guys have lives?”
  • To a juror who said she had been the victim of a crime and a defendant in a lawsuit, Spicer commented, “Interesting life, Jean.”
  • When told of the consecutive ages of a juror’s four children, Spicer commented, “Well ... you weren’t shooting blanks. We know that much.”
  • When told by one of the jurors that he managed a pizza restaurant, Spicer asked, "Do they still taste like cardboard?" When the same juror said he was unmarried, Spicer asked the juror whether he had children and upon hearing the reply he remarked, "You would be surprised how many times I get yes to that." 
  • To another juror who stated she had a 42 year-old-child, Spicer said, "You don't look like you would have a 42-year-old. You don't look much older than 42 yourself. Wow. Wow. Very good."
  • When a juror stated he had worked in an airline stockroom, Spicer asked, "ls that where they steal all our bags and put them in there?"

The comments were made during the trial of Steven R. Latham, who was convicted of misdemeanor charges of violating a harassment order and disorderly conduct.

Latham appealed his conviction on the grounds of an additional joke of Spicer's, made before jury deliberations:

  • "You’ll go into your deliberations. And all be done because  l won’t lie to you. I’ve had a half day vacation for some time to play in a golf tournament tomorrow afternoon. So, l will be out of here by noon come hell or high water.”

The Appeals Court upheld the conviction because it felt that Spicer had made clear the golf comments were in jest ("Counsel, jurors, laugh," he said) and because he immediately clarified to jurors that they could deliberate "as long as you want."

Spicer told the judicial standards board that his goal during the trial was to use "humor to make the court participants more comfortable in their role as jurors."

Since Spicer chose not to demand a formal hearing, the public reprimand will be the board's final action.

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