A disciplinary body has found that a D.C. Superior Court judge violated the code of judicial conduct by telling a police officer who pulled her over for speeding that she was a judge and suggesting that she deserved special treatment.
The judge, Susan R. Winfield, was arrested March 6 after she refused to obey the officer's order to return to her car. She later paid a $75 fine. The incident drew the attention of the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, which reviewed the matter.
In a finding released this month, the commission concluded that Winfield "made comments which were reasonably understood to suggest that, as a judge, she was entitled to 'professional courtesy' from the police and that her arrest should be reconsidered."
The commission, which reviews judicial performance and investigates allegations of misconduct, can sanction judges and, in extraordinary circumstances, remove them from the bench. But citing her "record of integrity," the commission concluded that Winfield's violation did not warrant any action.
Winfield, who has been a judge for 21 years and is stepping down this year, was driving to church when the officer stopped her for speeding on 16th Street NW.
In an interview after her arrest, Winfield told The Washington Post that she did not believe that she had been driving more than a mile or two over the normal 30-mph limit. With her teenage daughter in the passenger seat, Winfield stepped out of the car, she said, to find out what the problem was.
A dispute ensued. Using a megaphone mounted on the police cruiser, Officer Scott Fike ordered Winfield back into her car, but she continued to try to make her case to him. Fike got out of his car and approached her, and the debate over the alleged violation continued.
Although Winfield claimed to be going only slightly more than the normal speed limit, the area was a construction zone, and the limit had been lowered to 20 mph. The officer, Winfield said in the interview, told her that she was traveling 40 mph.
Winfield said she told the officer that she was a judge so that he would know that she was a well-intentioned, law-abiding person. But after reviewing the case and interviewing Winfield, the panel concluded she was trying to do more than that.
As she continued to press the matter with Fike, the officer handcuffed and arrested her.
The judge was taken to the 4th District police station. The commission found that, at the station, she continued to suggest that her arrest should be reconsidered.
The commission wrote that "Judge Winfield's conduct fairly gave the appearance of an attempt to lend the prestige of her office to advance her private interests."
Cited for speeding and for failure to obey an order, Winfield paid the fine and was released. She confirmed yesterday that she had appeared before the commission. She declined to comment further.
Winfield, who was a prosecutor before she was appointed to the bench, currently hears criminal cases, and she has applied for appointment as a senior, or part-time, judge when she retires.