Owensboro judge accused of trying to influence multiple officials in son’s drug cases

An Owensboro judge abused her position to influence decisions in drug cases involving her son and tampered with content on his cell phone and Instagram account to shield him from criminal liability, a state panel has charged.

The Judicial Conduct Commission released six charges on Tuesday against Julie H. Gordon, a family court judge in Daviess County. Gordon took office in January 2017. Several of the charges involve alleged wrongdoing by Gordon related to her son Dalton Gordon, 24.

He has had drug problems and been arrested several times on charges that include theft and, in one case, punching his mother in the face, according to court records and a commission record. Other charges include allegations that Gordon improperly threatened to fine social workers; mismanaged her courtroom; had drug tests performed on defendants by unqualified staffers; and was dishonest with the commission.

Gordon strenuously denies the “frivolous allegations” in the complaint, said her attorney, R. Kent Westberry.

Westberry provided statements from several witnesses who said they had never seen Gordon engage in unethical behavior and that she is a dedicated judge who tries to make the best decisions for families and children in her court.

The charges by the commission allege that Gordon violated ethics rules. They are not criminal charges.

The commission has several sanctions it can apply to judges if it decides they violated rules, ranging from a private reprimand to removal from office.

A number of allegations

The panel said in the charges that Gordon had violated a number requirements, including that judges act in a way that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and that they not allow family, social, political, financial, or other interests or relationships to influence conduct or judgment.

The commission charged that Gordon had taken numerous actions to use her influence in charges related to her son, including contacting other court officials about bond for him and talking directly with police about charges against him, bypassing the county dispatch center.

Gordon said she did not intend to take advantage of her position in contacting the police and did nothing improper in contacting other court officials.

The commission said Gordon told her son in January 2018 that she had “cleaned up” the contents of his phone and that she’d had to “severely edit” pictures on his Instagram account. The goal was to protect him in a criminal case, the commission said.

In another case, Gordon allegedly told her son he hadn’t successfully deleted everything from his Facebook page before police got his phone. The judge asked her son for his password and assured him “that you would delete certain content,” the commission alleged. The charge did not describe what Gordon allegedly deleted.

Gordon admitted in her response that she had deleted embarrassing and inappropriate material from her son’s social media accounts, but did it mostly so his younger siblings wouldn’t see it. The deletions were after police had arrested her son, so she didn’t perceive that she was getting rid of anything the police didn’t already have, according to her response.

Another allegation in the case is that Gordon used her influence to get the county jailer to let her meet with her son in the jail at times when other inmates couldn’t have visitation, and that she often took her son meals and drinks in violation of the rules at the jail.

“You routinely used your position to allow Dalton to enjoy privileges that other inmates were not permitted to receive,” the commission charged.

The jailer told an investigator he didn’t feel Gordon tried to pressure him into letting her see her son, but Gordon has since stopped contacting the jailer to arrange visits, according to her response. The other allegations in the charges include:

Alleged favoritism

▪ That Gordon tried to use her influence to get her son back into a drug treatment program after he’d been kicked out, and used her clout as a judge to get him into another program. In response, Gordon said she didn’t want her son back in the program he’d been kicked out of because that’s where he’d become addicted to methamphetamine. An official of the other program said he had no knowledge of any improper conduct by Gordon.

▪ That Gordon showed favoritism in choosing attorneys who are paid to represent the interests of children in dependency, abuse and neglect cases, by appointing an attorney who represented her son in criminal cases and another attorney who worked in her husband’s law firm. Gordon responded that she had tried to keep the rotation of appointments as balanced as possible, and said financial information showed the attorneys identified in the charge had not gotten a disproportionate number of cases.

▪ That Gordon had staff members conduct drug tests even though they were not properly trained. The validity of the tests was questionable in some cases, the commission said. Gordon said in response that she thought her approach to drug testing would improve the administration of justice, but that she had stopped having staffers do the tests.

A ‘lack of candor’

▪ That Gordon showed a “lack of candor” during the commission’s investigation. The examples the charges cited included that Gordon told the commission she didn’t get involved in her son’s criminal cases when in fact she had engaged in “repeated acts” to influence and resolve them, and that she told the commission she had never asked to drop charges against Dalton and couldn’t recall ever asking that he not be taken to jail.

In fact, Gordon told a sheriff’s deputy in June 2020 that she didn’t want her son charged with trespassing; that she didn’t want to press charges against him on other occasions; and that she had asked a deputy to take her son to a treatment center instead of jail.

Gordon’s response said she was involved in her son’s cases in the sense that she was the victim and was exercising her rights, but hadn’t done anything improper. Gordon said that her son is an addict, and that she has always felt he need to be held accountable for his conduct. To the extent he could get treatment, however, that is preferable to incarceration, she said. Gordon did not intend to mislead the commission, the response said.

▪ That Gordon failed to recognize and avoid conflicts of interest that raised questions about her impartiality.

▪ Finally, the commission alleged Gordon violated the law and created an appearance of impropriety by discussing confidential cases with her son, often on the recorded phone line at the jail. Gordon admitted she and her son talked about the names of inmates in jail with him, but said she didn’t discuss details of confidential cases with him.

Gordon said the investigation has been painful, but she has used it to gain insight and will be a better judge as a result. “She never attempted to abuse her position, but is now more cognizant, as a result of this investigation, that she is never just a parent, or just a crime victim, but always a judge — on and off the bench,” her response said.

The commission has not scheduled a hearing on the charges against Gordon.

By Bill Estep, the Lexington Herald-Leader