Crime

Tacoma judge reprimanded for questioning defendant’s religious head covering

The body responsible for regulating the conduct of the state’s judiciary has for the second time since 2006 sanctioned Tacoma Municipal Court Judge David Ladenburg for questioning the religious attire of someone in his courtroom.

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct announced Friday that Ladenburg had received a formal reprimand for telling a man wearing a fedora in court in the exercise of his Jewish faith to bring to his next hearing proof that he is required to wear a head covering, case records show.

Ladenburg’s request was a potential violation of the man’s religious freedom, drew unwelcome attention to his faith and had the potential to deprive him of access to the courtroom, where he was a defendant, the commission decided.

“While (Ladenburg) expressed his directives and questions in a calm, polite manner, his expressed desire to maintain decorum by focusing on the head covering after being informed it had religious significance was misplaced,” the commission stated.

The commission can impose three levels of punishment — admonishment, reprimand and censure.

Ladenburg received a similar sanction from the commission in 2006 for requiring a Muslim woman to remove her head scarf or leave his courtroom. He later apologized for his actions.

In a statement released Friday, the judge said he takes responsibility for what he called a mistake and apologized to his fellow judges.

The statement said Ladenburg “wishes to emphasize that this matter should in no way be taken as a reflection on the good work and commitments of the Tacoma Municipal Court, its staff and fellow judges.”

The commission received a complaint in March 2014 from a man contending his religious freedom was infringed in Ladenburg’s court.

During a hearing in his courtroom, Ladenburg told the man, “... as I say, bring me some information that supports your religious beliefs and you’re more than welcome to keep your fedora on in court.

“But if you fail to bring that information to me then I will have it removed.”

Ladenburg repeated similar language at two subsequent hearings and told the man’s attorney, who objected the second time, to write up a legal brief outlining her client’s religious beliefs.

The case against the man ultimately was dismissed, and the commission decided Ladenburg had treated the man’s case fairly.

The wearing of hats or other head coverings generally is prohibited in courtrooms to show respect for judicial officers and the justice system. Exemptions are made for people whose religion requires them to keep their heads covered.

Some branches of the Jewish faith require male adherents to keep their heads covered, and some choose a fedora or other wide-brimmed hat, according to the website myjewishlearning.com.

In addition to the written reprimand, Ladenburg agreed not to retaliate against anyone involved in the case, not to repeat the conduct and to promptly read the entire Code of Judicial Conduct, commission records show.

Ladenburg, a Municipal Court judge since 2003, agreed to the punishment.

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