Judge Michael Kwan of the Taylorsville Municipal Justice Court in Utah may be on the right side of history, but comments he made challenging President Donald Trump have landed him in trouble with Utah’s Supreme Court.
The state Supreme Court suspended Kwan for six months without pay over comments he made in court and online, although the judge said some of them were meant to be funny.
In a ruling issued on May 22, the court said Kwan has “engaged in repeated misconduct” and violated the Utah Code of Judicial Conduct.
Kwan, however, argued that the court’s sanction is an “unlawful attempt to regulate his constitutionally protected speech.”
In one of the incidents addressed by the court, which occurred in January 2017, Kwan was presiding over a hearing and had an exchange with a defendant that veered into commentary about Trump and his tax policies favoring the wealthy.
From the ruling:
Defendant: And I did not call, but I plan on when I get my taxes to just pay off all my court fines, because I cannot end up in jail again for not complying.
Judge: You do realize that we have a new president, and you think we are getting any money back?
Defendant: I hope.
Judge: You hope?
Defendant: I pray and cross my fingers.
Judge: OK. Prayer might be the answer. ‘Cause, he just signed an order to start building the wall and he has no money to do that, and so if you think you are going to get taxes back this year, uh-yeah, maybe, maybe not. But don’t worry[,] there is a tax cut for the wealthy so if you make over $500,000 you’re getting a tax cut.
In response to that exchange, the state Supreme Court stated: “Judge Kwan contends that this was intended to be funny, not rude. It is an immutable and universal rule that judges are not as funny as they think they are.”
The court also cited comments Kwan made on Facebook and LinkedIn while Trump was a presidential candidate, and then after he was elected. Most of those comments are pretty mild, with a couple of exceptions.
In response to the leaked audio of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, Kwan wrote, “Think I’ll go to the shelter to adopt a cat before the President-Elect grabs them all…”
On Trump’s Inauguration Day, Kwan wrote, “Welcome to governing. Will you dig your heels in and spend the next four years undermining our country’s reputation and standing in the world?… Will you continue to demonstrate your inability to govern and political incompetence?”
The judge’s most blunt comment came a month later, when he posted: “Welcome to the beginning of the fascist takeover…[W]e need to…be diligent in questioning Congressional Republicans if they are going to be the American Reichstag and refuse to stand up for the Constitution, refuse to uphold their oath of office and enable the tyrants to consolidate power.”
Kwan certainly wasn’t lying there.
Among the judicial code violations the state Supreme Court cited was that Kwan’s comments undermined “the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.”
Kwan was appointed to the municipal court in 1998 and then re-elected by voters, The New York Times reported. The state Supreme Court had previously reprimanded him twice—in 2005 for a comment about President Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair and in 2016 for his role as president of a nonprofit organization that offered political commentary.