An Oklahoma judge was caught on video consistently using her phone during the murder trial of a 2-year-old boy, as his mother cried on the stand testifying against her boyfriend.
Oklahoma District 23 Judge Traci Soderstrom has been accused of scrolling through social media, texting and even searching for a GIF during a trial last month according to a courtroom surveillance video obtained by The Oklahoman.
Throughout the 50-minute-long video, Soderstrom holds her phone below the judge’s bench, texting or scrolling through Facebook, every once in a while jotting down notes while her phone remains lit on her lap.
At one point, Judith Danker, the woman testifying, reached for a tissue to wipe her tears and blow her nose as the judge glanced over to her and then back down to her phone to answer a text.
Soderstrom had ordered the jury to turn off their electronics so they could focus on the evidence shared during the June 12 court proceedings.
The Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints has opened an investigation into Soderstrom’s actions after the council received the video from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
Soderstrom, who works out of the Lincoln County Courthouse in Chandler, approximately 45 miles northeast from Oklahoma City, was elected to her seat last November and was sworn in on January 9 to begin her four-year term serving the district that includes Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties.
The director of the council would not comment on the investigation as its work into accusations of judicial misconduct is secret by law, according to the Associated Press.
Sgt. Aaron Bennett of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said cameras are placed inside courtrooms for security reasons, but the sheriff’s office did not provide the footage to the newspaper.
It is unknown if Soderstrom was aware of the camera directly behind her.
Both District Attorney Adam Panter and defense attorney Velia Lopez say they never saw Soderstrom using her phone, with Lopez even saying she did a “great job.”
Panter said he viewed the courtroom video and found Soderstrom “spent hours of the trial” texting and scrolling on her cellphone, according to AP.
“Jurors are banned from using cellphones in the courtroom during trials because we expect them to give their full time and attention to the evidence being presented,” Panter said. “I would expect and hope the court would hold itself to the same standard required of the jurors, regardless of the type of case.”
Oklahoma judges are bound to the Code of Judicial Conduct which states: “A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,”
The code does not specifically mention the use of mobile phones.
The judge was overseeing the pretrial, jury selection and opening statements relating to the 2018 death of Braxton Danker, 2, who suffered cardiac arrest after developing an infection that started from diaper rash.
Lincoln County officials at the time found the child with injuries all over his body including broken bones and open wounds that came from being beaten, according to News on 6.
Khristian Martzall and Danker were both arrested and charged with first-degree murder at the time, with death penalty documents being filed in October 2018 for the two accused.
Danker took a plea deal in 2019 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for enabling or permitting child abuse.
Martzall was convicted of second-degree manslaughter at the trial, that concluded.