An Oklahoma judge agreed to resign Friday after she was caught on video last summer sending more than 500 texts to her bailiff while presiding over a murder trial in a toddler’s beating death – including messages that made fun of prosecutors and the victim’s sobbing mom.
District Judge Traci Soderstrom decided to step down from the bench just four days before she was scheduled to go on trial in a special court.
“I promised to uphold the Constitution in a fair, even-handed and efficient manner,” Soderstrom wrote in part in her resignation letter released to local media. “I believe that I have done so. However, being human, I have also faltered.”
Elsewhere in her statement, Soderstrom suggested that her decision to quit, rather than have her day in court, was inspired by her belief that she would not get a fair trial.
“My core belief in personal responsibility requires me to publicly take responsibility for my transgressions and defend the allegations that are false,” she wrote.
“I believed the best avenue for that was with a public trial. I have stood by that decision without fear.”
“What I found regarding the behavior of others during my time behind the closed veil of the judiciary and during preparation for my trial was nothing if not to say shocking,” she went on. “Manipulating the jury selection process, holding citizens without lawful authority, secret tape recordings of judicial officers, and even false threats of criminal prosecution are a small example.”
In her letter, Soderstrom did not provide proof backing her claims.
Under a proposed settlement agreement filed with the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary, Soderstrom promised to never seek judicial office again in Oklahoma.
The chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court in October recommended Soderstrom’s removal from the bench over accusations of gross neglect of duty, oppression in office, lack of proper temperament and failure to supervise her office.
The push to oust Soderstrom — who had only been sworn in as a judge in January 2023 – came after The Oklahoman published security video showing the jurist sending a flurry of text messages during the trial of Khristian Martzall for the killing of 2-year-old Braxton Danker.
An investigation found that Soderstrom texted that a prosecutor was “sweating through his coat” and sent a laughing emoji in response to her bailiff’s “crass and demeaning” comment about the prosecuting attorneys’ genitals.
She also described the defense attorney as “awesome” and asked “Can I clap for her?” during the defense attorney’s opening argument, according to Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice John Kane IV’s petition seeking Soderstrom’s removal.
When Judith Danker, the mother of the slain boy, took the stand as the prosecution’s star witness, Soderstrom texted: “Can I please scream ‘liar, liar?’”
Other messages sent by the judge during her first murder trial questioned whether a juror was wearing a wig and whether a witness had teeth.
During one text exchange, the judge fawned over a male police officer, calling him “pretty” and gushing that she “could look at him all day.”
Soderstrom voluntarily suspended herself in October after her texting was exposed. Her four-year term would have expired in January 2027.
Martzall was ultimately convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to time served.
Danker pleaded guilty to enabling or permitting child abuse and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
With Post wires