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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: April 2023 | Transition

The Naked Truth, or Defrocked and Disrobed

Norm Tabler


  • Judge James T. Jameson of the 42nd Judicial Circuit of Kentucky faced numberous ethical violations including his bizarre behavior of walking around the courthouse in his underwear, which became widely known after he attempted to suppress the story and ultimately lead to his removal from the bench.
The Naked Truth, or Defrocked and Disrobed
Tetiana Strilchuk via Getty Images

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Everyone already knew the judge had been temporarily defrocked. Newspapers across Kentucky had reported his temporary suspension from his position as state court judge and his right to wear the black robe that is the universal badge of judicial office.  The Kentucky Supreme Court reinstated him because of the failure of The Judicial Conduct Commission (JCC) to obtain sufficient votes necessary under the statute governing suspension. But, shortly thereafter, the JCC issued its final order removing the judge from office followed by entry of an order by the Kentucky Chief Justice disqualifying the judge in all pending circuit court criminal cases in the 42nd Judicial District Circuit.

What they hadn’t known was his penchant for disrobing--literally disrobing, right down to his underwear--and then prowling the halls of the courthouse in that attire. Or was it lack of attire?

But now everybody in Kentucky and beyond knows that, too. And ironically, everyone knows it because the judge tried to keep it secret. You might say it was his effort at a cover-up that publicized his failure to cover up.

James T. Jameson was a judge in the 42nd Judicial Circuit of Kentucky, covering Marshall and Calloway Counties, down in the southwest corner of the state, where Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri nearly converge. As everyone already knew, he had been temporarily defrocked by Kentucky’s Judicial Conduct for a raft of ethical and legal violations.

What were the violations? Well, for one thing, he created an ankle-monitoring program and then sentenced defendants to wear that program’s product. He did the same with an in-patient drug treatment facility. He threatened and intimidated attorneys and others, abusing his contempt power. He demanded that attorneys contribute to his campaign fund. In one case, when a man exiting the courtroom said he wouldn’t vote for Jameson’s reelection, the judge sent him to jail on the spot and a few hours later convicted him of felony criminal contempt, all without informing him of his rights.

It didn’t help his case before the JCC that he instructed court personnel to decline to comply with the Commission’s subpoenas and required them to let him review any material they intended to submit to the Commission, and that he intimidated witnesses in the proceeding.

But to the good people of Marshall and Calloway counties and beyond, none of that was as interesting as the vision of a naked (okay, nearly naked) Judge Jameson roaming the courthouse halls in nothing but his Fruit of the Looms.

But the story of how and why the tale of the naked judge got out is as interesting as the story itself. Some enterprising student reporter at Murray State University public radio station WKMS got a tip about the judge’s proclivity for near-nude walks. The station submitted a public records request for security video footage of the courthouse halls.

When the courts’ administrative office denied the request, news director Derek Operle decided not to appeal the denial, apparently feeling that the story was not significant enough to warrant a legal battle.

But the judge wasn’t certain that the story of his underwear walks was dead. That’s why he called station manager Chad Lampe and asked him to confirm “that the news station was not going to run a story about the camera footage of [the judge] walking around the courthouse in [his] underwear.” When the university provost heard about Jameson’s request, he called Lampe, seeking information about the call.

Remember that Oberle hadn’t considered the story sufficiently newsworthy to appeal the denial of the station’s request for the video footage? Well, now that Jameson had called the station manager seeking assurance that the story would never see the light of day, and the university provost was involved, Oberle changed his mind. He now had a story about a public official pressuring a news organization to suppress news that would be personally embarrassing.

On top of that, the JCC added the tale of the unclothed strolls, including efforts to suppress the story, to its litany of charges against the judge—charges that caused the JCC to convert the temporary suspension to a permanent ban on service as a judge.

The moral: Just as people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, defrocked judges shouldn’t roam disrobed in the courthouse. But if they do, they shouldn’t pressure the press to suppress the story.