June 22, 2024

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OKLAHOMA CITY—An Oklahoma judge agreed to step down Friday after she was caught sending hundreds of texts from the bench while overseeing a murder trial in the killing of a 2-year-old boy, including messages that mocked prosecutors and were sprinkled with emojis.

District Judge Traci Soderstrom also agreed to not seek judicial office again in Oklahoma under a proposed settlement agreement filed with the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary. She had faced removal from the bench over accusations that included gross neglect of duty, oppression in office, lack of proper temperament, and failure to supervise her office.

Judge Soderstrom had been scheduled to go on trial in a special court starting Monday.

“I promised to uphold the Constitution in a fair, even-handed and efficient manner,” Judge Soderstrom said in a resignation letter given to local media. “I believe that I have done so. However, being human, I have also faltered.”

Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice John Kane IV recommended Judge Soderstrom be removed following an investigation that found she mocked prosecutors, laughed at the bailiff’s comment about a prosecutor’s genitals, praised the defense attorney, and called the prosecutor’s key witness a liar during the murder trial of Khristian Tyler Martzall.

Security video published by The Oklahoman showed Judge Soderstrom texting or messaging for minutes at a time during jury selection, opening statements, and testimony during the trial in Chandler, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) outside of Oklahoma City.

Judge Soderstrom, who took office last year, voluntarily suspended herself in October.

The judge’s texts during Mr. Martzall’s trial on a charge of killing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son included saying the prosecutor was “sweating through his coat,” according to Justice Kane’s petition. The texts described the defense attorney as “awesome” and asked “can I clap for her?” during the defense attorney’s opening arguments. In all, Judge Soderstrom sent more than 500 texts to her bailiff.

Mr. Martzall was eventually convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to time served.


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