Constituents Question Oklahoma Comedian Judge's Impartiality
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma - He's a judge who wants you to laugh at him. That's because on top of being a district judge, Mike Claver moonlights as a stand-up comedian. But his hobby has raised questions about his ability to be impartial on the bench.
Judge Claver posted several videos of his comedy routine on YouTube.
His jokes target gays, Baptists and include puppets. Some of the videos were shot in Claver's judicial chambers.
Claver's YouTube channel was viewed by fewer than 200 people, but some were his constituents and they were offended. In fact they sent the Oklahoma Impact Team a folder full of anonymous complaints.
A very concerned Okmulgee citizen writes, "This is shameful to think a person in his position would be allowed to make life decisions of another person. I say get him out of office..."
Another anonymous writer asks, "How can a judge, in his courtroom, ask you to swear on the Bible to tell the truth and then later that night use it in his filthy comedy act to make fun of it?"
Attorney Jack Brown helped write Oklahoma's Code of Judicial Conduct... a mandatory set of guidelines for judges.
"A judge should maintain the dignity of judicial office at all times," said Brown.
Brown wouldn't comment on any specific judge, but said they all know what they're getting into when they take office and know they have to abide by that code on and off the bench.
We asked if the complaining constituents were being too hard on Judge Claver, noting that his comedic hobby is in fact an extra judicial activity.
"Judges need to understand that yes they can and will be held accountable," said Brown.
In the Code of Judicial Conduct it says judges shouldn't express bias or prejudice that would call into question a judge's integrity or impartiality. It says, "Examples include jokes or other remarks that demean individuals based upon their race… religion… or sexual orientation."
We took Claver's YouTube videos to the Oklahomans for Equality headquarters. Toby Jenkins, the director of the organization, watched several of Claver's comedy routines.
"I think he certainly stepped out across the line enough that he would be investigated," said Jenkins.
Jenkins says he's heard worse gay jokes, but still thinks Claver's jokes are inappropriate coming from someone with so much power. He says it's always disturbing when someone is made fun of just because they're different and that Claver appears to be doing just that, taking schoolyard bullying to the next level.
"I think I would ask that he recuse himself from my case," said Jenkins.
Judge Claver would not respond to our questions on camera, but did talk to us on the phone.
"I'm absolutely not prejudice against any kind of gay people," said Claver.
He says his jokes are not meant to offend anyone. He says he has gay family members and when it comes to religious jokes, he himself is Baptist.
"I really think that if we can't be making jokes about our own religions and our own selves then we shouldn't be making jokes at all," said Claver.
Claver acknowledged he's currently being investigated by the Council on Judicial Complaints.
He says he voluntarily removed his YouTube channel and put his comedy appearances on hold. But, he makes no apologies for the context of his jokes and says he has not broken the code of judicial conduct.
That council would not confirm nor deny an investigation into Claver or offer any comments on the complaints.