Injustice System

A Phoenix Municipal Court judge quits — and, finally, the truth comes out

This month, Phoenix Municipal Court Judge Karyn Klausner did something that no one in her position had done for decades.

She quit.

Didn't retire. Didn't get pushed out by the city council, and didn't leave for an appointment to another court.

Nope, Klausner just decided to walk. And with that decision, the 45-year-old left a job that pays $140,000 a year, plus benefits. A job that rarely requires even a 40-hour week. A job, she tells me, that she loved.

You hear something like that, and you might think Karyn Klausner is a little bit crazy. But after I sat down with Klausner for coffee last week, I had an entirely different opinion.

Fact is, Superior Court, with its juicy murder trials, gets all the ink. But most of us are far more likely to end up in municipal court. It's court for screw-ups: drunken drivers, shoplifters, bar brawlers.

If your kid gets charged with underage drinking, it's a municipal court judge who handles the case. If the city tells you to move that broken-down Chevy from your front yard, and you don't get around to it, it's the municipal court that could send you to jail.

To hear Klausner tell it, though, Phoenix Municipal Court is no better than a kangaroo court when it comes to its judges. And after looking at the evidence, I'm inclined to agree.

Last year, when one judge dared to question the court's top administrator, he wasn't merely ignored or reprimanded. He was fired. Since then, Klausner says, other judges have been scared silent.

But Klausner has left. Finally, she says, she's regained the freedom to speak freely.

That means she can tell the true story about the dark secret that the court allowed to fester for more than a year: a story about cowardly decisions, bad leadership, and Phoenix City Council.

As it turns out, it's the story that explains why Karyn Klausner is leaving the job of a lifetime — and why she's whistling as she walks away.


It all started when Judge Michael Carroll dared to question one of the court's personnel decisions.

Judge Carroll, not coincidentally, is married to Karyn Klausner. (They met on the job and wed four years ago.) A 20-year veteran of the municipal court bench, he's respected by lawyers for his intelligence and even temper.

But in December 2005, Carroll wrote the first of the three e-mails that would derail his judicial career. And, as Carroll admits, that e-mail doesn't read like an even-tempered guy.

It reads as if it's from a guy who's angry — and thought he could express himself freely.

Big mistake.

When Carroll wrote the e-mail, his longtime colleague Judge Roxanne Song Ong had recently been appointed the court's presiding judge. Carroll says he and Song Ong had a good relationship, and that there was always a healthy exchange of e-mails among judges on the court, even on controversial matters.

So when Song Ong appointed the court's least experienced judge, Eric Jeffery, as the court's assistant presiding judge, Carroll sounded off.

Song Ong could have chosen numerous judges with great track records, Carroll wrote. Instead, she chose Jeffery — a guy who'd been a city prosecutor only one year earlier.

"I don't think I've ever been as embarrassed for this court as when you announced your plans for the assistant presiding judge position," Carroll wrote. "The absurdity of someone who has not yet undergone an evaluation by the attorneys who appear before him, a reappointment process, or even a year at the job he was actually appointed to perform, potentially participating in judicial performance reviews with judges who have been on the bench for decades is simply mind-boggling. What could you possibly be thinking?"

It was the first of the three e-mails that Carroll would write, each with roughly the same tone. He was, he admits, flabbergasted by his colleague's decision.

But Song Ong wasn't a colleague anymore. She was the presiding judge. And she was wasn't willing to take a word of criticism — much less three e-mails' worth of it.

Rather than respond to Carroll, she convened a meeting of all the judges on the court. The meeting's chief purpose: to warn against the inappropriate use of e-mail.

The meeting seems like a bizarre overreaction. For all his dramatic flair at the keyboard, Carroll is a soft-spoken guy. It's hard to imagine that a simple reply wouldn't have been more effective.

(To others, Song Ong has claimed that Carroll was upset because his wife wanted the promotion. Although Klausner was one of many judges who'd expressed some interest in the position, Carroll says that was not his motivation.)

And, as it turns out, a more serious concern about Eric Jeffery was being whispered about in the court. Klausner says it was just after Jeffery's appointment as assistant presiding judge that she learned something disturbing about Jeffery's past, something verified by court records.

In 1999, while Jeffery was working as a Phoenix city prosecutor, he was accused of harassing a young woman — to the point that she went to the Lake Pleasant Justice Court in Surprise and asked for an order of protection against him.

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29 comments
Jackson Petty
Jackson Petty

Wonderful article if one ignores the facts and common sense. What other job can you send emails like these to your supervisor and not get fired. Oh, and the article doesn't mention that Judge Carroll was also found to have violated his judicial ethics by his conduct. Let's see nasty emails and unethical judge and the City Council can't fire him?

The article suggests that Judge Jeffrey engaged in domestic violence but where is the evidence. Orders are issued all the time without any violence. Why should we assume that Jeffrey did anything wrong because a judge in Surprise issued an order? Any evidence there was violence? Physicial abuse. New Times don't need no stinkin facts. They only get in the way of a good story.

Why should anyone believe that Judge Carroll wasn't upset when his wife didn't get the job his wife wanted. It may be logical but as long as Mike denies it, it can't be true. Let's believe the unethical judge not our brain.

Oh, when Judge Carroll and Judge Klausner met, wasn't Judge Carroll married? Does any of this raise questions for the author? No, the author just wants to be a mouth piece for the Carroll's. What a wonderful couple.

I am ecstatic that the Phoenix taxpayers will not be paying their salaries anymore. Maybe Mike can get a job where he has to hustle for a living and find the perfect boss who doesn't mind when he sends offensive emails and acts unethically.

Jeff Taylor
Jeff Taylor

Certainly there has to be some explanation, so i would think prior to this past year. I too have an order of protection against me from contact with my x-wife and my 7 year old son. I have been looked at with disdain and fear from members of the faculty at the madison school my son attends to members of the City Council (although NOT Mayor Gordon and Councilman Stanton who've both gone out of their way to say hello and were gracious)I have been tapped by our legislature as an expert on child safety and have administered a DES licensed day care for children of homeless parents. This daycare became the "flagship" of DES licensure. My life long friends have said "what in the world did you do?"...and my answer is "nothing". I broke into my own house after a bike ride to lunch. The "act" was not done in anger and my wife was not home...not even in the same city. I was simply locked out. I have never lifted a finger in anger against a woman in my life. I teach others in the county jail how not to commit acts of violence though.... As the law states, as does my order, "I may commit domestic violence in the future" Civil liberties? My 7 year old would like to know what that used to mean. I have missed his first day of school, immeasurable time together, as it was I whose day was put on hold at 2:30 when I picked him up from school and would greet the principal warmly, the same principal who ignors my phone calls and has returned none. I was unrepresented legally and to date the one who gave birth has had 50 thousand in atty's fees. I do not use the word phrase "mother of..." as mothering isn't possible when my son goes to school when it's dark out and is picked up 12 hours later. But she IS a lobbyist representing a major utility. And who in elected office wants to anger a utility? I am not giving any weight or approval for the Assistant Presiding Judge's behaviors but to assume he committed a serious crime...well it may not be the case (although I'd bet he had legal representation) To promote one to the position of second in command without the experience nor respect of his fellow judges is causing dysfunction in the form of silence which will lead to more visible chaos. To be an effective presiding Judge means to experience that, what it is to be a Municipal Judge i.e. review and reappointment. What IS the dynamic/relationship between Ong Song and Jeffrey?? Something is there...but it is evident nobody is talking. ...and to the Judge with the 20 Years of experience "thank-you for your years of service" With Respect, Jeff Taylor

Eleanor Miller
Eleanor Miller

How interesting it is that those who write negative things about Judge Carroll (and his wife) are unable or unwilling to tell us who they are, like "concerned citizen." If he/she knows so much about the situation, and to which the rest of us are not privy, then please tell us who you are, and what important information you have. Please don't hide behind anonymity. It is unfair to the parties involved, and displays a shameful lack of courage (to put it politely).

As for Judge Carroll's support coming from "just" defense attorneys, the reading public should know that the prosecutors (and public defenders), who are also employed by the city, are not permitted to make public statements about situations like this, arising in the courts where they practice. If they could, I do not doubt that they, like the defense bar, would tell you that, win, lose or draw, when you left Judge Carroll's court you understood that you'd been treated fairly. You may not have liked the outcome, but you had been treated fairly, with decorum and dignity.

As for my being a defense attorney, I rarely, if ever, appear in Phoenix Municipal Court any more, and have not appeared before Judge Carroll in more than ten years, if not longer. It is not just "defense attorneys" who felt Judge Carroll was a fair and impartial judge. It is us speaking out because we are the only ones allowed to do so. And if you review the previous comment I sent, one of Judge Carroll's most vocal supporters was a retired city court judge, who was, unlike the serving judges, free to do so. As you might imagine, any other judge, still sitting on the bench, who supported his retention were afraid to speak out because they'd be next on the "hit list."

Sadly, everyone seems to be focusing on Judge Jeffrey's situation instead of the real problem: an administrative, presiding judge who is unwilling to accept constructive criticism, and would rather do the wrong thing than admit she is/was wrong.

As I noted previously, Phoenix Municipal Court is the largestin the Valley. As a citizen living/working in the Valley, you are far more likely to have to appear there than in other courts, where more serious matters (felonies) are handled. Do you want that court to be administered by someone who prefers to be a dictator, than someone who is willing to listen to other, experienced, well-intentioned colleagues, and make judicious and well considered administrative decisions? The answer is apparent to everyone except the City Council.

Eleanor L. Miller

A Concerned Citizen
A Concerned Citizen

Don't be fooled, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, for with this article, the New Times has produced yet another highly biased piece of garbage posing as "journalism" when objectivity was too far out of reach and drawing its own conclusions by relying on commonly held fears of "civic corruption" in order to get to print when unable to obtain both sides of the story. Hey, "silence = guilt" right? It certainly couldn't mean that there is far more to this story than meets the sensationalistic eye of this "newspaper". Congratulations, New Times, you have once again proven yourselves only slightly above supermarket tabloids with your outstanding commitment to the "truth" in print.

manresa
manresa

Im just concerned about the whereabouts within the courtroom ...That was an eye opener and a dissapointment that someone can be easily appointed to a big responsibility without knowing someone's history, not to mention one's experience. That makes me wonder about the person's credibility. Can I trust that person ruling the courtroom?..guess we shouldn't be playing the "deafmute" game here...

manresa
manresa

That was an eye opener....Im dissapointed that it's that easy to appoint someone to take such responsiblity without digging his past. At least investigate and check on it. Things like this should be brought out in the open...now that makes me wonder?

Eric Daure
Eric Daure

Great article!

I hope it will light a fire under this court and the city council.

Only one thing you overlooked - There is another possible explanation for all thisthan that Song Ong screwed up: She may be corrupt. Ditto the city council.

Thank you for getting this into the light of public scrutiny.

Kenny B
Kenny B

Alex,I don't really understand what 'Internationl" relations means as it relates to DPS. I can ASSURE you that DPS officers do not spend much time in Phoenix court. I was in court 3-4 days a week. I saw these "ass clowns" ruin many cases because both of them were sooooo buddy buddy with defense attorneys. As for the gentleman who wants an investigation because an Order of Protection was issued. I agree, but he needs to understand that these judges and JP's issue these orders to save their own ass a lot of the time. No matter how goofy the "victim" sounds the order will most likely be issued. You can thank O.J. for that. Because a person does not contest the order does not mean they are guity. Since it is a public record why don't the Klausners find out the disposition of it and then proceed. Honestly, I don't think the Klausners gave all the info contained in the e mails. Also, Ong is an idiot and she to just happens to be a defense attorney's dream. If you and the other officer had cases before the Klausners you will probably have a different opinion if you really cared about you cases....

Troy
Troy

Alex from DPS has a good point and I strongly agree with him. I've spent numerous years in Law Enforcement and also have dealt with the Judicial system. People should be held accountable for their actions and that includes Judges. Jeffery's past should have been investigated deeper than it was. To have a order of protection against him raises some concern about his integrity and morals. It seems to me that Judge Song Ong has failed the good people of Phoenix and has abused her power. It seems to me that Jeffery "Smooth Talked" himself into the position he now holds.

I applaud Judges Carroll and Klauser for speaking out. If nothing is said about a problem or concern, it will never get fixed. It is frustrating to see things like this happen within our legal system. Cops work so hard and put their lives on the line everyday to see the Judicial system fail, but thats another topic. Bottom line is that an investigation should be done on both Judge Ong and Jeffery. There is always two sides to a story, but seems to me that someone is hidding something.

Regards,

Troy

Alex
Alex

I'm a DPS officer and I work in international relations. I speak to lots of judges and you were wronged. "Karyn your husband did great work." as was told to me by Scott H. another officer who worked with me. If a judge had some thing small happen in his pas ok whatever. But an order of protection against him, WOW! that should of been looked in to. Its like if you want a driving job you have to show proof of driving history, why not proof of all legal history nothing left out. I had to do provide proof of both Driving an Legal...

Kenny B
Kenny B

Rich,Good statement, "anything you say can and will be used against you"City E Mail's really belong to the city, not just the author. I HEARD and I stress HEARD Carroll wrote some NASTY stuff and "accidently" pushed the wrong button and his E Mail went throught the court building. All the attorneys that think he and Klausner are so SPECIAL just happen to be defense attorneys. You are dealing with two "ASS CLOWNS" here....Bottom line is they were kicked out of the "GOOD 'OL BOY/GIRL CLUB".....

rich
rich

Anything you say CAN and WILL be USED against you,it's not just in court it's in life.What right does someone have to read someones mailwithout probable cause.I'm more worried about the invasion of privacy

Pamela Walsh
Pamela Walsh

What you have here is a Judge (Song Ong)with a hunger for power and control, and no integrity, another Judge (Jeffery), also, a controling person (a protective order, what else?) with an abundance of arrogance, and a Judge (Carrol) who had the courage to speak up in his emails, and did so respectfully, that was fired, while only one Judge (Klausner) had the integrity to stand for what was right and bring attention to what is probably a "bigger" problem then just one firing! While other Judges and City Council were complicit in the matter, which allows for the city's court system to cater more to the rising careers of Judges then to concern itself with citizens getting the justice that they are supposedly afforded in this country! In this judicial system, it seems that too many people (Judges) have "thrown integrity out with the baby and the bathwater!" The ones with integrity are paying the price, and so are the citizens of Phoenix!

Kenny B
Kenny B

I can offer first hand information that the city municipal court is home of the good'ol boys & girls. Carroll fell out of loop and felt he got robbed. I filed numerous complaints with the Judical Conduct Board on many judges in the past 27 yrs. All they got were letters placed in their file.However, one guy did get "KICKED"out but he pissed off his buddies and my complaint was use as a reason to get him off the bench.A hearing officer was "asked" to leave in January of this year. I complained about him for 20 years and nothing happened. Finally he pissed off his buddies and they got rid of him.Klausner and Carroll were part of this group and when things went bad they scream like kids.The city judges will not respond to any questins about this incident because they all are weak and scared. I am certain Defense Attorneys will be happy to stand up for Klausner and Carroll, I wonder why.

Shirley Gorman
Shirley Gorman

I just finished reading your article on Judge Ong's dictatorial rule of our city's Municipal Court. The city council has the responsibility to ensure our judges are moral and fair. Sounds to me like someone has the "hots" for Jeffrey and doesn't want to acknowledge the big problems he brings to our city. How can those of us who are very disturbed by this "judge's" actions and the loss of two long-term judges in trade for her "Jeffrey", do to change this situation............

Marcus Winsom
Marcus Winsom

How much actual research went into this article? I swear, the 'New Times' is actually just an 'Onion' spin-off where the big payoff won't come for several years when they finally announce that all of their past reporting was really just a series of parodies and spoof articles. Now THAT is comedic commitment.

Marc, 23, Gilbert

MT Thomas
MT Thomas

Now I am confused. Fenske reports that Carroll was fired just because he sent three emails and intimates that Song Ong overreacted by failing to, among other things, meet with Carroll about his concerns.

Yet his wife states in the comments that "There were face-to-face meetings both before and after the e-mails were sent." So which is it?

bil
bil

Just another political coverup wheras the truth has to be discovered by the "alternative" news source and therefore does not hold any water. I thank the New Times for discovering the real meaning behind what most politicians do and that is pad their own pockets. I am just sorry that there are no politicians who will stand up and clean up the mess.

Eleanor Miller
Eleanor Miller

I am an attorney who has practiced in this state for over 30 years. I was one of the attorneys who spoke to the City Council just before it fired Mike Carroll, and asked them not to do such a terrible thing to a just and honorable man. I was one of many, including a judge who had previously retired from the bench and had known Mike and his work as a judge, for many, many years.

The "hearing" was a joke. The firing was a "done deal" long before any of us went to the Council and told it the truth about Song Ong and what was going on in Phoenix Municipal Court. Judge Jeffrey's background aside, it was the lack of Song Ong's ability to handle a clearly administrative issue without running to the Council like a frightened baby to its parent for "protection." Is that really the kind of judge the Council wants running the largest city court in the Valley?

Apparently so. Guess why? Because only a short time before the Mayor and Council had made a very public announcement, lauding themselves on appointing the very first Asian woman to a position of such power and esteem. Diversity, it seems, has "come a long way, baby."

The dispute between Song Ong and Mike Carroll was a minor one, relative to the things that happen at city court, and which she, as presiding judge, must handle. If she couldn't handle a small administrative problem like this, without running to the Council, ask yourself how she is handling far more important administrative issues at the court. But I guess the article you printed explains it pretty well.

Shame on the City Council, and shame on the judges at the city court who, unlike Karyn Klausner, are afraid to speak out.

Eleanor L. Miller

Mary Carroll
Mary Carroll

I am Judge Carroll's sister. Although we speak often, I don't have the opportunity to see him much with jobs, family, etc., however, on an occasion when we, as a family, finally managed to all get together in Phoenix, we went out to dinner. Our waiter came up, introduced himself, looked over at Mike and said, "Judge Carroll" with great surprise. He then explained he once had to appear before him in court, and thanked Michael for his compassion, his guidance and the fact that he afford this young man the ability to get back on track, which he attributed to my brother. He had returned to school and could not thank Michael enough for his fair and positive experience in court. Mike was embarrassed I believe, as he felt that was his job, but he was also happy to see positive results. I am sure there are many stories, but I was witness to this one. For anyone to write a comment saying it is good Judge Carroll is gone, one can only surmise (due to a lack of last name, brave man!) a hidden agenda in collusion with those very people who refused to talk to the reporter to support their position. Mike made a huge difference in the legal system, he was in the paper at times due to difficult cases, and he ALWAYS handled it with grace. Finally, to suggest my brother would not have a face to face discussion is plain ridiculous, judges have face to face every day in court. You don't get that high up in government by being afraid. PS: I have known Mike for 53 years and I NEVER saw him flip anyone off or lose his temper in a fit of anger. I believe James, that makes my claim much stronger than yours. Respectfully, Mary Carroll

Karyn Klausner
Karyn Klausner

To James: Well it's good to see that you are courageous enough not to hide behind your keyboard. Exactly who are you? How do you profess to know any side to this story? I guess I would know that if I could just glimpse behind your keyboard. There were face-to-face meetings both before and after the e-mails were sent. Then there were attempts at face-to-face meetings that were refused. Welcome to the new milennium, James, where electronic communication is often how we talk to one another. Perhaps it is sad to see this trend, but Judge Carroll's use of it was by no means impersonal. If you really knew him, you would know that he is someone always willing to talk, and talk he did to deaf ears. I would hope that there is more to Judge Carroll than just this story; I would hope we are about more than just one story in our lives. In case you missed it, Ms. Fenske asked for responses from all those mentioned in this story and all she got was silence. "Good riddance"? Put down your middle finger, James, the City of Phoenix has lost big time here, no matter which side of the story you are on.

Karyn Klausner

James
James

As with everthing, there are two sides to a story. And there is certainly more to this story, and Judge Carroll, than reported. Are readers actually this gullible?

Moreover, when did it become acceptable to hide behind one's computer and fire off aggressive email messages, rather than a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation? Judge Carroll's approach was no different than the "mild mannered" guy who flips you off in traffic for something that angers him, but, if it happened in a store, would he still challenge you? To me, the fact that a Judge would be incapable of interacting with others on a personal level but feels empowered hiding behind a keyboard, is troubling, and I say "good riddance."

M. Petrone
M. Petrone

As a former resident of Phoenix, and at the time a proud one, it is sad to see that this once great city has followed (or beat) the national trend of unfair and unlawful treatment of Judges and AG appointments. Civil liberties are disappearing very rapidly, and in this case, the abuse of power is astounding. How did this happen and where were the Council Members?! Obviously bought and paid for. How sad for Phoenix, at this juncture, glad I left. The head Judge should lose HER job over this, she is obviously a bias, unfair and spiteful person. How else to explain denying Phoenix residents of all those years of experience that served the City of Phoenix so well that Judge Carroll received SEVERAL prior reappointments......wait, a few emails. Gee, we all should get fired I guess.

John Rosty
John Rosty

Suzanne Dondeville - Your comments sound like those of every parent who declares that "my child would never do that. He/she was a good kid." I bet even Jeffrey Dahmer's parents thought he never did what he did and they probably supported him with the same blind faith you have simply because "they knew him." Open your eyes. Good people do bad things.

anne
anne

unsubstantiated, baseless allegations with no support or evidence? are official court documents all for nil? strange. i'm thinking jeffery's hapless past wouldn't matter much if the more immediate issue of his inexperience before a courthouse of established judges was addressed when carroll, as it appears he should have, voiced his credible concern over a colleague's decision-making. how hard would it have been for song ong to justify her selection with, let's say, a lunch meeting? the "reply" button on her email browser? we're talking judges here. we're talking about a branch of gov't that's called to hold itself accountable, no? you highly educated leaders of our community seem remarkably silly to me (i'm not referring to klausner/carroll). and while we're on it... why in the world is the city council responsible for these appointments? does any one else see a conflict of interest here?

Suzanne Dondeville
Suzanne Dondeville

I have known Judge Jeffery for many years. The unsubstantiated, baseless allegations are just that - allegations, with no support or evidence. Furthermore, and more importantly, I know without question that they are unequivocally and completely FALSE. Judge Jeffery is a man of high integrity, dignity, caring, and is above-all a proponent of the law, not a violator of it. He is, and has been supported by many for the excellent work he has done for the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix legal community as a whole. We who know him have, and will continue to support him especially in the face of inflammatory and unsubstantiated allegations.

Mindy K. Reyes
Mindy K. Reyes

Bravo to Judges Klausner and Carroll. There is no one better suited to tell the truth about this situation. The committment is obvious, not only to eachother, but to share with the world, the true injustice that has occured here. Both Judges should be issued formal letters of apology with invitations to return to what they both did in stellar fashion! Song Ong should not only be immediately terminated, but should be brought up on charges not the least of which being conduct unbecoming of a judge. She is an embarrassment to our system of justice. Should nothing be done, we are setting the stage for all to believe it is normal practice to oust the person simply asking why. This was a pure tar and feathering of a person who simply chose to exercise his right as well as the right we all have, to free speech. Innocent, upstanding citizens of character, not to mention respected Judges, have been the recipients of intolerable behavior. The wrong must be made right!

Steve
Steve

Anyone who has been in court knows that an individuals' well-being is not a priority to the court. This shows just how much injustice there is, and we the people have absolutely no power to change that. This is reason to believe that no effort will ever be taken to rectify this, and that anyone who is cited for even the smallest of citations should expect to receive the same amount of injustice. If this is how a judge gets treated, imagine how a citizen with no legal connections will be treated. My advice-do not, under any circumstances, end up in court knowing that justices like this will be deciding your case. They will likely be deciding your fate, and how long you will be in county jail, and we know how well cared for you are in the sheriffs custody. Absolutely appalling and scary!

David Stiers
David Stiers

It seems time for the citizens to demand an investigation into this. The beauty of our country is that nobody is supposed to be above the law and it seems like she thinks she is. If the city won't comment on this the citizens should go to the meetings and demand to be heard.

 
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