The future of Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom in her Oklahoma courtroom may hang in the balance after a petition alleges she shared a barrage of over 500 text messages with a bailiff, derogatively commenting on trial participants, casting aspersions on state attorneys, and displaying unseemly bias. This unfold during a murder trial in June.
The damning document, filed on Tuesday, details Soderstrom’s inappropriate dispatches, particularly her mockery of attorneys, jurors, and witnesses. Concerningly, there appeared to be a hint of favoritism towards the defence, as well as commendable words for their attorney, while state prosecutors were subjected to stinging bias.
Prompting this petition was a thorough investigation into the judge’s mobile phone usage by the Council on Judicial Complaints. The council has yet to receive any insights from Soderstrom’s attorney at the time of writing.
In this alarming episode, Soderstrom was conducting a first-degree murder trial. The defendant was eventually deemed guilty of a reduced charge of second-degree manslaughter, a verdict accepted by Soderstrom – who imposed a four-year sentence, consisting entirely of time already served. A co-defendant, implicated for an adjusted charge of enabling child abuse following a plea deal, was given a far more severe sentence of 25 years.
Among a series of texts to the bailiff, Soderstrom ridiculed the district attorney’s apparent nervousness and found jest in his physical attributes – her distaste for his “weird looking” hands. Following the defense attorney’s address, the judge jubilantly texted her bailiff, commending the lawyer’s performance and even expressing her desire to applaud.
Additionally, Soderstrom passed aesthetic judgments on a appearing police officer, expressed her boredom with a piece of evidence, speculated on the authenticity of a juror’s hair, and predicted a lack of conviction due to an absence of incriminating DNA.
Additional damning evidence came after the trial when a sheriff’s deputy reported consistent phone usage by Soderstrom throughout the trial. Further supporting this claim was a lengthy video snippet from a courtroom camera showcasing the judge’s persistent phone usage.
Upon facing the Council on Judicial Complaints in person, Soderstrom was nonchalant about her texting habits, implying that the exchanges were deceivingly casual. However, her actions were deemed a clear violation of the judicial conduct code.
The petition also points to other instances of Soderstrom’s inappropriate behavior, both inside her courtroom and over social media- most notably during her testimony where she used expletives multiple times.
The case is expected to be heard on January 3, 2024.
Soderstrom joined the 23rd Judicial District of Oklahoma as a sitting judge at the onset of 2023.