In 2018, on Mother’s Day, two-year-old Braxton Danker was tragically murdered. His accused assailant, 32-year-old Khristian Tyler Martzall, treated him as a human punching bag. Despite the severity of the case, Martzall was only convicted of second-degree manslaughter and was subsequently released for time already served. Interestingly, the presiding judge was caught being preoccupied with her phone throughout the trial.
Security footage from the Chandler courtroom, acquired by The Oklahoman, displays Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom, 50, visibly engaging with her phone. The footage shows her browsing Facebook, searching for GIFs, and texting during the trial unfolding, even as the victim’s mother tearfully testified.
Soderstrom had underscored to the jury that they must either switch off their devices or put them in airplane mode to ensure undisturbed attention. Despite her advice, Soderstrom was repeatedly seen engaging with her phone during the trial, as shown by the courtroom camera footage.
District Attorney Adam Panter expressed his disappointment and shock, noting that the judge had “spent hours of the trial on her cell phone both texting and scrolling through social media.” He criticized her lack of attention to the case, which went against the standards jurors were held to.
Soderstrom chose to relocate the camera rather than address her actions in response to her behavior being caught on camera. Defense attorney Velia Lopez praised the judge’s performance, stating that she hadn’t noticed any phone usage.
Texting is a unique situation for the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, as no previous cases have involved a judge mindlessly texting during a trial. According to The Oklahoman, such behavior could potentially lead to the invalidation of a criminal conviction if it’s determined that the judge was “absent from the bench during proceedings.”
As stated in the Code of Judicial Conduct, Oklahoma judges are expected to maintain public confidence in the judiciary’s independence, integrity, and impartiality. The Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints is conducting investigations into Soderstrom’s conduct, though no official confirmation can be given due to legal privacy protections around such investigations.
Judge Soderstrom was elected last November and took her oath in January. Her term will end in 2027.
This incident follows a recent scandal wherein a murder conviction was overturned due to a former Oklahoma County judge, Tim Henderson, having a relationship with one of the case’s prosecutors.