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Maze v. Kentucky Court of Justice

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

December 17, 2019

BETH LEWIS MAZE, Plaintiff,
v.
KENTUCKY COURT OF JUSTICE, JUDICIAL CONDUCT COMMISSION, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         I

         Who watches the watchers? Juvenal, The Satires, Book 6, line 347 (“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”). In Kentucky-at least for judges-that job is given to the Kentucky Court of Justice, Judicial Conduct Commission. But Judge Beth Lewis Maze says there is a problem-the Commission has abused its power. So, she has come to this Court requesting a declaratory judgment that her rights have been violated. Because this Court is precluded by immunity law from reaching any of those claims, Judge Maze's case must be DISMISSED [R. 5, 7, 8] and the Motion to Amend the Complaint must be DENIED. [R. 16.]

         Judge Maze's current troubles began when her ex-husband was arrested on several criminal charges. [R. 16-2.] After learning of his arrest, she issued an order to St. Joseph Hospital for a drug screen on him. Id. at 7. St. Joseph refused. Id. at 8. Undeterred Judge Maze then issued a second order for Clark County Medical Center to perform the drug screen. Id.

         Judge Maze's conduct caused the Commission to initiate an investigation into judicial misconduct. Id. at 10. As a result of an initial investigation, she was charged with fraudulently creating the orders-indicating that the attorneys had seen the orders when they had not-and failing to disclose those actions during the preliminary investigation. [R. 8 at 3.] Separately, Judge Maze's alleged conduct made-up the bases for her three Class D felony charges. Id. at 4.

         After three amendments to the initial ethics complaint, Judge Maze is now charged with: (i) adding unauthorized signatures to the court orders Judge Maze issued regarding her ex-husband's drug test; (ii) failing to disclose her action to the Commission during the preliminary investigation; (iii) initiating ex parte communications with attorneys, staff, and law enforcement officers in drug trafficking cases pending before Judge Maze's Court regarding whether criminal informants were involved in the criminal case against her husband; and (iv) initiating ex parte communication with Judge Eddy Coleman, a member of the Commission, which forced his recusal from the case. Id. at 3. But through the process of adding offenses, Judge Maze alleges that her due process rights have been violated.

         Judge Maze's initial complaint asserted two Constitutional claims, under Sections 1983 and 1985, a Kentucky Constitutional claim, and a claim under the Kentucky Whistleblower Act. [R. 1.] She requested injunctive relief to stop the Commission from prosecuting the pending charges and compensatory and punitive damages against all the Defendants in their official and individual capacity. Id. at 23-24. Recognizing that those claims and relief were precluded by sovereign immunity, Judge Maze seeks to amend her complaint. [R. 16.] She now seeks declaratory relief that her Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when: (i) the Commission considered “an anonymous, unsigned complaint, including an unverified affidavit in support of a search warrant, without notice to Judge Maze or her counsel”; (ii) the Commission brought four additional charges without affording her an informal conference; (iii) the Commission subpoenaed the grand jury testimony from her criminal prosecution without showing a “particularized need” and without notice to her or her counsel; and (iv) the Defendants Shaffer, Mando, and Malo subpoenaed, released, and received her grand jury testimony. [R.16-2.] Because each of the Defendants is entitled to immunity, Judge Maze's case must be DISMISSED.

         II

         A

         i

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides that a defendant may assert lack of subject-matter jurisdiction as a defense. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) is different than a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) because it challenges the Court's power to hear the case before it. When jurisdiction is challenged under this rule, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that jurisdiction exists. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). In answering this question, the Court is “empowered to resolve factual disputes” and need not presume that either parties' factual allegations are true. Id.

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint. In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept[s] its allegations as true, and draw[s] all inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” DirecTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The Court, however, “need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences.” Id. (quoting Gregory v. Shelby County, 220 F.3d 433, 446 (6th Cir. 2000)). The Supreme Court explained that in order “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Courier v. Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products, 577 F.3d 625, 629 (6th Cir. 2009).

         ii

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) allows parties to amend their pleadings with leave of the Court and instructs the Court to “freely give leave when justice so requires.” The United States Supreme Court has read this provision broadly and the Sixth Circuit has recognized that “where the underlying facts would support, a motion for leave to amend should be granted, except in cases of undue delay, undue prejudice to the opposing party, bad faith, dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments ...


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