A judge who ordered a woman to drop her pants and decided a custody dispute by flipping a coin was removed from the bench by the Virginia Supreme Court on Friday. The decision against Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge James Michael Shull of Gate City was unanimous.
"Unless our citizens can trust that judges will fairly resolve the disputes brought before our courts, and treat all litigants with dignity, our courts will lose the public's respect and confidence upon which our legal system depends," Justice Barbara Milano Keenan wrote.
According to the court, Shull admitted tossing a coin to determine which parent would have visitation with a child on Christmas. Shull said he was trying to encourage the parents to decide the issue themselves but later acknowledged that he was wrong.
The pants-dropping incidents, the court said, "were even more egregious."
The court said they occurred when a woman was seeking a protective order against a partner who she said had stabbed her in the leg. Shull knew the woman had a history of mental problems and insisted on seeing the wound, the court said.
The woman dropped her pants once to display the wound, then dropped them a second time after Shull left the bench for a closer look to determine whether the woman had received stitches.
A court bailiff testified before the commission that after the hearing, he asked Shull, "Did you see what that lady had on?" According to the bailiff, Shull replied: "Yeah, a black lacy thing ... it looked good, didn't it?"
Shull denied making the comment. His attorney, Russell V. Palmore, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday.
The justices could have merely censured Shull, but they noted that he had appeared before the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission in 2004 for allegedly calling a teenager a "mama's boy" and a "wuss" and advising a woman to marry her abusive boyfriend. That complaint was dismissed with an admonition to Shull to chalk it up as a learning experience.