In a shocking turn of events, a district judge in Oklahoma is facing an investigation after a video surfaced showing her allegedly using her cell phone to text and scroll through Facebook during a recent murder trial. The trial, which involved the killing of a 2-year-old boy, has prompted outrage and calls for accountability.
The video, released by The Oklahoman last week, captures Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom using her phone for extended periods during crucial moments of the trial, including jury selection, opening statements, and crucial witness testimony. District Attorney Adam Panter expressed his disappointment, stating that jurors are strictly prohibited from using cell phones in the courtroom to ensure their full attention is on the presented evidence. He emphasized that the same standard should apply to the court itself, irrespective of the case’s nature.
Upon reviewing the footage, Panter asserted that Judge Soderstrom had used her phone for “hours of the trial.” The case ultimately concluded with a second-degree manslaughter conviction for Khristian Tyler Martzall, who had beaten the toddler, Braxton Danker, to death in 2018.
The video shows Judge Soderstrom texting while the victim’s mother, Judith Danker, was on the witness stand. Messages sent from both the judge and the recipient of her texts were visible on the phone, including a moving GIF. At another instance, Soderstrom appeared to search for a GIF while another witness was testifying.
Judge Soderstrom, who was recently sworn in on January 9 after winning the election to preside over the court in Chandler, Oklahoma, is now under investigation by the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints. As per the state’s code of judicial conduct, judges are bound by an oath to maintain public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the video is under investigation, but they are yet to release it to the public. Witnesses in the courtroom, including District Attorney Panter, claim they were unaware of Judge Soderstrom’s phone usage as she allegedly concealed it under her bench.
Notably, the Martzall murder trial marked Judge Soderstrom’s first case as a judge. She began the trial by instructing the jury to switch off their phones and electronic devices to ensure an uninterrupted focus on the presented evidence.
As the investigation unfolds, questions surrounding Judge Soderstrom’s conduct and its potential impact on the integrity of the judicial system remain at the forefront of public concern.