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Judge Seeking Romance Was Properly Suspended

(CN) - A judge who spent months in pursuit of a romantic relationship with an uninterested court reporter was properly given a month-long suspension, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled.

Wickham Corwin was elected as a Fargo district court judge in 2008. Two years later, a court reporter drove Corwin to the hospital after he injured his hands, and left Corwin feeling what he later described as "a connection we didn't have before."

With his hands bandaged from the injury, Corwin soon had the reporter coming into his office to help him with his necktie. She described these instances as "uncomfortable but not alarming."

In July, two months later, Corwin invited the reporter for a bike ride after an outing with co-workers. They had a glass of wine at his home and Corwin allegedly proposed a romantic relationship.

The reporter said she refused, citing an article she read that "it was a mistake to get involved with your boss."

Noting that he had been married for over 20 years to his former secretary, Corwin allegedly responded that all office romances don't end badly.

The reporter said he hugged and kissed her goodbye, and that she had to reject his invitation later that summer to shop with him for courthouse bathroom fixtures.

When Corwin told her to "stop being so f---ing difficult," the reporter emphasized in an email to Corwin that she did not want a relationship with him.

"I'm trying to nicely tell you to back off," the email stated. "Please stop trying to 'plan' things to get me alone. I'm sorry if this seems overly blunt, but I've said it other ways and you are either not hearing me or ignoring what I am saying."

Corwin nevertheless kept asking the reporter to lunch over the next few months and also discussed their relationship in her office. The reporter said she eventually had a co-worker interrupt them if such interactions lasted a certain period of time.

In an another email to Corwin, the reporter said "this is your last warning."

"I have had it," she wrote. "DROP IT and stop harassing me."

After Corwin subsequently complained about the reporter's performance and emails, she was reassigned to another judge.

The Judicial Conduct Commission recommended a two-month suspension and that Corwin pay almost $12,000 to cover the cost of the disciplinary proceedings.

"Judge Corwin's conduct has subjected the judiciary to public ridicule which undermines public confidence in the judiciary," the commission's hearing panel wrote.

Corwin argued that the record does not show that he engaged in sexual conduct and that he should have been able to present expert witnesses ab¬ out the law on sexual harassment.

The judicial panel nevertheless found that the reporter reasonably felt Corwin wanted more than an "amicable working relationship."

On Friday, the North Dakota Supreme Court reduced the suspension to one month, to be served in December 2014. After that, Corwin's term will expire, and he has announced he will not seek another term.

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