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DAVID HARRISFeb 11th, 2024, 10:22 am
Lincoln County (Okla.) District Judge Traci Soderstrom (YouTube screengrab via The Oklahoman). Inset: Traci Soderstrom (via Oklahoma State Courts Network).
An Oklahoma judge who during a murder trial texted her bailiff over 500 times including making crass remarks about the district attorney’s genitals has resigned.
Rather than face trial that was scheduled to start Monday, court records show Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom agreed to step down for the bench immediately and not seek further judgeships in the state.
“I promised to uphold the Constitution in a fair, even-handed and efficient manner,” Soderstrom wrote in part in her resignation letter, CBS News reported. “I believe that I have done so. However, being human, I have also faltered.”
During a press conference, Soderstrom acknowledged sending text messages during the trial was wrong.
“I texted during a trial. It doesn’t matter if it was a traffic case, divorce case or first-degree murder case. I texted during a trial, and that was inappropriate,” Soderstrom said, according to local ABC affiliate KOCO.
An investigation concluded that Soderstrom was not paying attention during the jury trial and apparently came to the conclusion that the defendant was innocent of murder. She was overseeing the June 2023 murder trial of Khristian Marzall, who was charged with first-degree murder in the May 2018 death of 2-year-old Braxton Danker. The child’s mother, Judith Danker, pleaded guilty to enabling child abuse in 2019, receiving a 25-year prison sentence. She was the state’s key witness in the trial.
But Soderstrom contended at Friday’s press conference that she did not give up her impartiality during the trial.
“I didn’t make up my mind. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered, because I was not the fact finder. The jury was the fact finder,” Soderstrom said. “The content and the insulation and the volume and length of those things, I am not agreeing to, because it doesn’t matter.”
Soderstrom gave a cryptic remark when asked why she decided to resign rather than go to trial.
“I would still be under the veil of silence. This information can’t be brought forward or won’t be brought forward unless someone is willing to stand up and bring it forward,” Soderstrom said.
As Law&Crime previously reported, here are 12 text exchanges between Soderstrom and her bailiff Angela Miller laid out in the judicial complaint:
1. Soderstrom says District Attorney Adam Panter was “sweating through his coat,” to which Miller responded “Yes. It’s gross. He’s gross and a horrible speaker.”
2. Regarding the Assistant District Attorney Ryan Stephenson, Soderstrom wrote that they jury is going to “hate him.” Miller responded “Absolutely. He’s an arrogant a——.” The bailiff also made crass remark about the prosecutor’s genitals and the judge replied with a laughing emoji.
3. Soderstrom also expressed an admiration for the defense attorney. “Can I clap for her,” she texted at one point.
4. The judge said the prosecutors weren’t used to “going up against competent attorneys.”
5. Again ripping the DA during witness testimony, Miller wrote “He’s horrible,” to which Soderstrom agreed and Miller replied “Suckssss.”
6. When a video was played to a witness who was testifying, the judge texted “This s— is boring.”
7. The judge later texted “this is dumb” during the state’s direct examination of a witness and the bailiff responded “I just don’t hope the jury doesn’t buy this s—.”
8. When Danker was testifying, Soderstrom spent the majority of the testimony texting things such as “Can I please scream liar liar?”
9. Soderstrom was apparently attracted to a police officer who testified. “He’s pretty. I could look at him all day,” the judge wrote to Miller, to which the bailiff replied “Same. lol”
10. She also opined whether a juror was wearing a wig. “That’s a wig. Look at that hair line.”
11. The judge also expressed her opinion that the state couldn’t obtain its desired verdict. “Dna excluded Marzall on bed, no way they get guilty on murder.”
12. Miller had gone on vacation by the time jury instructions rolled around, but Soderstrom had no problem keeping her up on the latest developments. “We are giving an alternative instruction of 2nd degree manslaughter,” Soderstrom wrote. Miller responded, “But no just enabling child abuse?? He didn’t kill that kid.” Soderstrom said she’d “rather” give the second-degree manslaughter instruction because it carries a 2- to 4-year sentence instead of the 25 years to life enabling child abuse requires. “Ahh,” the bailiff responded. “And he’s already served that.”
The complaint also accused Soderstrom of a host of other misdeeds including forcing male attorneys to take a picture in a pink chair, accusing certain attorneys of being incompetent and being overly critical of the Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office, which Kane says brings into question Soderstrom’s impartiality.
In a different case, Soderstrom allegedly quizzed a jury whether they felt a defendant was guilty or not before the case was adjudicated, the complaint said. She reportedly asked jurors to raise their hand if they thought the defendant was guilty. All but one raised their hand.
“I told you,” Miller responded, according to the complaint. “He was the one I was concerned about.”
In that case, Soderstrom asked the question when the defendant and his attorney were out of the courtroom. The defendant later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years.
Soderstrom’s actions came to light when The Oklahoman newspaper obtained a 51-minute video of Marzall’s trial which showed she was on her phone most of the time.
She was elected in November 2022 and took the bench in January 2023.