Oklahoma judge steps down after sending more than 500 texts during murder trial

Traci Soderstrom resigned as a judge for Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties.

February 10, 2024, 8:10 PM

An Oklahoma judge caught sending hundreds of texts and scrolling social media during a murder trial last year acknowledged her "inappropriate" behavior while resigning.

Soderstrom resigned on Friday, three days before she had been scheduled to go on trial in a special court.

Security footage showed Traci Soderstrom, a now-former judge for Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties, extensively on her phone during the June 2023 trial. The defendant, Khristian Tyler Martzall, was on trial over the 2018 killing of his girlfriend's 2-year-old son.

A subsequent investigation by the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined that Soderstrom texted more than 500 times with her bailiff during the trial "in which they mocked the physical appearance of attorneys, jurors, and witnesses and used offensive language to deride the State's attorneys," according to a petition filed in October 2023 by Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice M. John Kane IV.

PHOTO: Then-Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom is seen looking at her cellphone during a murder trial on June 8, 2023, in this still image from security camera video.
Then-Lincoln County District Judge Traci Soderstrom is seen looking at her cellphone during a murder trial on June 8, 2023, in this still image from security camera video.
Lincoln County Sheriff's Office

"There were some things that I did inappropriately," Soderstrom said during a press event on Friday. "I texted during a trial. It doesn't matter whether it was a traffic case or whether it was a divorce case or whether it was a first-degree murder case. I texted during the trial and that was inappropriate."

In his petition, Kane said that Soderstrom and her bailiff "called murder trial witnesses liars, admired the looks of a police officer who was testifying, disparaged the local defense bar, expressed bias in favor of the defendant and displayed gross partiality against the State."

Among the texts referenced, the then-judge said a district attorney was "sweating through his coat," described the defense attorney as "awesome" and called a prosecutor's witness a liar, according to the petition.

Soderstrom's pattern of conduct demonstrated "gross neglect of duty, gross partiality, and oppression" as well as a "lack of temperament to serve as a judge," Kane wrote in his petition.

In her remarks on Friday, Soderstrom pushed back against the characterization of her texts.

"The content and the insinuation and the volume and the length of those things I am not agreeing to because it doesn't matter," she said.

She also disputed that she displayed any bias in the case.

"I didn't make up my mind. Even if I had, that wouldn't have mattered, because I was not the fact-finder," she said.

An order of dismissal in the case filed on Friday notes that Soderstrom has voluntarily resigned and agrees to not seek any judicial position in the state again.

Soderstrom was elected as a judge in November 2022 and took the bench in January 2023. She had served for six months before the murder trial.

The defendant in the trial was eventually found guilty by a jury of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to time served.

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