CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

An Oklahoma judge was accused of sending over 500 texts during a murder trial. Now she’s stepping down

Feb 10, 2024, 7:00 AM

Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom looks at her cellphone during a murder trial, on Jun...

Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom looks at her cellphone during a murder trial, on June 12, 2023, at the Lincoln County District Court in Chandler, Oklahoma. (Lincoln County District Court)

(Lincoln County District Court)

Originally Published: 09 FEB 24 18:44 ET

(CNN) — An Oklahoma judge stepped down Friday after allegedly exchanging more than 500 texts with a bailiff in which she mocked trial participants and talked offensively about the state’s attorneys while she presided over a June murder trial.

Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom agreed to resign as part of a settlement with the state after it accused her of inappropriate conduct on the bench and petitioned for her removal from office. She had held the position in the 23rd Judicial District of Oklahoma since January 2023 and her term was set to expire in January 2027.

A petition filed in October cited text exchanges in which Soderstrom made fun of attorneys, jurors and witnesses. The filing also described Soderstrom showing a dislike for state prosecutors while showing favor to the defendant and complimenting the defense attorney. Accusations against her included gross neglect of duty, gross partiality in office and oppression in office, according to the filing.

“I promised to ensure the law and procedures were applied equally to Plaintiff and Defendant alike,” Soderstrom said in the resignation statement released by her attorney. “In spite of resistance at nearly every turn, I believe that I have done so. However, being human, I have also faltered.”

The Council on Judicial Complaints found Soderstrom and the courtroom bailiff texted each other copiously during the trial, mocking a prosecutor’s appearance and praising a defense attorney’s comments, according to the petition.

One of the texts from Soderstrom to the bailiff cited in the petition read that the district attorney was “sweating through his coat.” In another, she commented, “Why does he have baby hands? … They are so weird looking,” the petition said.

Praising the defense attorney, the judge texted, “She’s awesome.” Soderstrom later asked, “Can I clap for her?” the filing said. She also texted the bailiff that a police officer who took the stand was “pretty,” adding, “I could look at him all day,” according to the petition.

Soderstrom in other messages used an expletive to call one video played to a witness “boring,” speculated whether one juror was wearing a wig and opined that due to a lack of DNA evidence against the defendant, there would be “no way they get guilty on murder,” according to the petition.

In her statement, Soderstrom said she had intended to take the allegations to trial but changed her mind.

“My core beliefs and the variables that served me well as an attorney – honesty, preparation, principles and passion – are better utilized as an advocate and not as an arbiter,” she wrote. “The actions necessary to disseminate the information and required to hold each person and elected official accountable for their actions require more than a trial before the Judiciary.”

The settlement agreement does not contain any admission of wrongdoing.

Under the settlement, Soderstrom agreed to not seek another judicial position in Oklahoma, but the deal does not prevent her from running for public office.

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An Oklahoma judge was accused of sending over 500 texts during a murder trial. Now she’s stepping down