Judge criticized for vulgar courtoom exchange

A Floyd County judge has been publicly admonished for completely losing it in open court and trading vulgarities with a murder defendant in a heated and bizarre exchange that became an Internet sensation.

The state Judicial Qualifications Commission on Friday sent Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham Jr. a letter that said he had violated two judicial canons of ethics. The commission also noted that its letter to Durham will be published in The Rome News-Tribune.

“I’m very pleased we were able to reach a resolution,” said Durham’s lawyer, Lester Tate, who once chaired the judicial watchdog agency. “Judge Durham has an exemplary record on the bench, and this was uncharacteristic of him. He admitted he shouldn’t have done it.”

During a June 17 hearing, Durham, while being repeatedly insulted and threatened by murder defendant Denver Fenton Allen, let Allen get the better of him. When the transcript of the hearing became public, the exchanges were reported nationwide.

At one point, Durham told Allen he “looked like a queer” and challenged him to masturbate in front of him in open court. He also threatened to lock up Allen for years.

Allen, who is accused of beating fellow inmate to death in 2015, told Durham he would kill his family. “I’ll cut your children up into pieces,” Allen said. “I’ll knock their brains out with a (expletive) hammer and feed them to you. … The babies will be going, ‘Daddy, daddy, help me.’”

Durham told Allen it was his “guess” that he’d find Allen guilty and that Allen would then find out “how nasty I really am.”

In its letter, the judicial watchdog agency said Durham failed to avoid the appearance of impropriety and failed to discharge his duties “impartially, competently and diligently.”

Durham notified the agency of what he’d done before any investigation was initiated, quickly recused himself from Allen’s case and took full responsibility for his “improper and intemperate comments,” the commission’s director, Mark Dehler, wrote. The commission said it was impressed with Durham’s candor and contrition as well as his agreement to undergo sensitivity training and counseling.

“The commission also is convinced that you learned from this experience and will not allow yourself to be drawn into this kind of exchange again,” Dehler said.

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