Oklahoma Judge Resigns after Being Caught Sending More Than 500 Texts and Scrolling Social Media During Child’s Murder Trial

By: Alex Trent | Published: Feb 15, 2024

A judge who served both Lincoln and Pottawatomie Counties in Oklahoma is stepping down following an investigation into her inappropriate behavior in court. Investigators reportedly found over 500 instances in which Traci Soderstrom, the judge, was distracted during the trial by texting her bailiff.

The content of the texts was alleged to be inappropriate, featuring offensive language and mockery of other trial participants.

Murder Trial Mockery

Security footage obtained by investigators shed light on inappropriate behavior by Soderstrom while presiding as a judge for the Oklahoma court system. She was observed checking her phone an unusual number of times during a June 2023 murder trial.

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The defendant, Khristian Tyler Martzall, was put on trial for the killing of his girlfriend’s son in 2018. The son was 2 years old at the time.

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What Was the Content of the Texts?

A petition filed by Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice M. John Kane IV in October 2023 reports that these texts between Soderstrom and her bailiff mocked the physical appearance of many in the courtroom. Among those mocked were attorneys, witnesses, and jurors. (via ABC News)

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Offensive language was also utilized to deride the state’s attorneys working on the case.

Inappropriate Text Messages

The petition filed by Kane further alleges that texts by the pair “called murder trial witnesses liars, admired the looks of a police officer who was testifying, disparaged the local defense bar, expressed bias in favor of the defendant, and displayed gross partiality against the State.” (via ABC News)

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Texts like these are inappropriate for an acting judge because they may reflect an innate bias the judge has that may be influencing their thoughts while the trial is ongoing.

Gross Negligence

Kane wrote in the petition that Soderstrom’s behavior demonstrated “gross neglect of duty, gross partiality, and oppression” as well as a “lack of temperament to serve as a judge.” (via ABC News)

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In some texts, Soderstrom referred to a prosecutor’s witness as a “liar” and mocked a district attorney for “sweating through his coat.”

Soderstrom Resigns

The now-former Oklahoma judge apologized for her behavior during a press conference on February 9.

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“There were some things that I did inappropriately,” Soderstrom said. “I texted during a trial. It doesn’t matter whether it was a traffic case or whether it was a divorce case or whether it was a first-degree murder case. I texted during the trial and that was inappropriate.” (via ABC News)

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Pushback From Soderstrom

While Soderstrom admits that her behavior was inappropriate, she pushes back against the idea levied in the petition that these texts show evidence of bias inappropriate for her position.

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“The content and the insinuation and the volume and the length of those things I am not agreeing to because it doesn’t matter,” she said. “I didn’t make up my mind. Even if I had, that wouldn’t have mattered, because I was not the fact-finder.”(via ABC News)

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Order of Dismissal

Soderstrom has agreed to resign from her position as judge and promises not to try to regain her judge position in the state of Oklahoma. An order of dismissal for Soderstrom was filed on February 9, according to ABC News.

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Soderstrom took her position after being elected in November 2022. Her ascent to the bench as a judge began in January 2023. The murder trial took place six months into her service.

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Other Instances of Inappropriate Behavior

In addition to insulting members of the court, she was also inappropriately complimentary in her text messages. According to the petition, she commented on a police officer’s appearance that took the stand.

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She reportedly said that the officer was “pretty” and that “I could look at him all day.” (via CNN)

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The Behavior Extended Outside the Courtroom

The petition alleges that in addition to inappropriate behavior in the courtroom, Soderstrom had social media posts that were unbefitting of a judge.

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During a hearing in January, she reportedly used the F word three times within just six minutes of giving her testimony. (via CNN) The petition notes that the Council on Judicial Complaints found Soderstrom’s behavior to contain violations of the code of judicial conduct.

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What Happened with the Murder Trial?

The defendant in the murder case was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter. Soderstrom accepted the verdict decision, giving the defendant a four-year prison sentence as time served. This means that no additional jail time was added to the sentence.

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A co-defendant in the case took a plea deal for enabling child abuse and received 25 years in prison as punishment.

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Are More Consequences Possible?

Soderstrom’s resignation comes just three days before she was scheduled to go on trial in a special court. (via ABC News) Oklahoma’s Code of Judicial Conduct allows for discipline to be imposed on judges for violations and patterns of improper activity, however, it is not meant as a basis for civil or criminal liability.

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“The Code is not designed or intended as a basis for civil or criminal liability. Neither is it intended to be the basis for litigants to seek collateral remedies against each other or to obtain tactical advantages in proceedings before a court.” (via Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints)

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