Metropolitan News-Enterprise
Monday, January 24, 2000
Page 12

Antelope Municipal Court

Judge Says Challenger Appears in Court Inebriated; Challenger Says Judge Puts in Short Hours


(First of Two Parts)

With court unification, Judge Pamela Rogers, elected in 1994 to the Antelope Municipal Court, has become a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court. However, the contest for the Municipal Court seat she formerly held was already in progress when unification was effected on Saturday, and voters in the erstwhile Antelope Judicial District will decide whether Rogers will retain her countywide judgeship or whether it will be turned over to one of her two challengers. The major rival is Palmdale attorney William Allen Clark.

In casting their votes, the denizens of the county's northwest corner will be called upon to decide the validity of cross accusations.

Rogers alleges that Clark appears in court in the afternoons intoxicated. He denies it.

Clark charges that Rogers puts in short hours. She denies it.

Also in the race is perennial candidate Larry Layton, who is consistently rated "not qualified" by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. and is not viewed as a serious contender.

Rogers does not merely hint that Clark imbibes excessively. She comes right out and labels him an "alcoholic."

She says his intoxication after lunch is "real obvious." As a deputy district attorney prior to her election to the bench six years ago, she was "at some of those lunches" at which Clark was downing copious amounts of alcohol, Rogers claims. "I recall being personally amazed the guy could still walk," she comments.

Since she became a judge, she adds, "I've had him in prelims in the afternoon," asserting that his intoxication was apparent to her.

Rogers says of Clark's alleged alcoholism: "He has a reputation for it in the legal community."

Clark responds that he might have a drink with a prosecutor after court hours, just to "break the ice," and also acknowledges: "I've been known to have a cocktail at lunch." But he insists he has no problem with liquor.

Stresses Energy Level

What he does have, he proclaims, is energy. That's what he says that he can bring to the job of judge, and that's what he says Rogers lacks.

Clark, who tops six feet and exudes robustness, says he works 65-80 hours a week. Carrying out the duties of a trial judge, he comments, requires putting in more than a "9 to 3—with two hours off for lunch—day." That's all the time Rogers had been devoting to her judicial responsibilities, up until the campaign started, he contends.

"I don't think she has the energy or the stamina the job takes," Clark says.

He terms her a "five-cylinder engine hitting at an 8-cylinder block."

Rogers labels the allegation that she puts in short hours a "complete fabrication." She declares:

"I work until after 5:00 at night on trials. I do not take two hour lunches. I'm typically more willing to take an hour for lunch. We don't have breaks during the day."

Rogers adds: "I can be criticized—but certainly not for my work hours."

Interviews conducted by the MetNews provided substantiation for neither candidate's allegation.

Intoxication Not Observed

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Luros, who served in the Lancaster courthouse for a two-year stint that ended last week, says Clark has appeared in his courtroom "close to a hundred" times. "I have never seen him impaired or under the influence," Luros relates. The jurist has endorsed Rogers.

Another judge who has endorsed Rogers but defends Clark on this point is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frank Y. Jackson, who supervises his court's North District, headquartered in Lancaster. He says he has known Clark for "a number of years" and "never saw that alcohol was a problem." Jackson expresses familiarity with the rumor that Clark "does drink in the evenings," but declares: "I've never seen it affect him in court."

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Steven Ogden, a member of the Antelope Municipal Court until its demise, says that while Clark does have a reputation for downing drinks "after court hours," he has "never" seen the lawyer under the influence of alcohol while in court.

Eugene Siegel, a Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner who sits in Lancaster, says he has known Clark for about 20 years and used to share office space with him. Clark appears in his courtroom "once a week, probably," he notes. Has he seen Clark intoxicated in court? "No—never in court—never," he answers.

Ronald Coen, a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court since 1987, says that when he sat in Lancaster at the start of his judicial career, Clark was in his courtroom "almost every day." Since he's moved to a courtroom in San Fernando, Coen says, Clark has had occasion to appear before him, and was defense lawyer in a case that lasted several weeks. He says that Clark "never appeared to be under the influence." He terms Clark a "good criminal lawyer," adding: "He knows his stuff."

'Never, Ever'

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Juelann Cathey, who served on the Los Angeles Municipal Court up until last Saturday, says that Clark has appeared before her "numerous times." She declares that "never, ever" did she suspect he was under the influence in her courtroom. "If I'd seen that," she remarks, "I would have taken him into custody."

A member of the District Attorney's Office who says he's had "plenty of opportunities to observe" Clark in court "over the years," observes that any drinks Clark may have had at lunch have "not affected his performance in court—ever."

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Randolph A. Rogers, husband of Pamela Rogers, served until last Saturday as a judge of the Antelope Municipal Court. He says that Clark has appeared in his courtroom about once a month, but in the mornings. Randolph Rogers says he has not personally observed Clark displaying signs of intoxication. He relates that he understands from what others have told him that Clark still consumes alcohol with his lunch but is "more circumspect" than he used to be, and it is no longer discernible at afternoon court sessions that he has been drinking.

Two courthouse staff members who dispute the charge that Rogers puts in short hours—her courtroom clerk, Debbie Altieri, and rotating court reporter Cheryl Billips—also come to Clark's defense with respect to the allegation that he appears in court in an intoxicated state.

Altieri, who has been a courtroom clerk for 25 years, says she has observed Clark in the courthouse over the past 15 to 20 years. While noting that has not had "a lot of contact" with him, she reports: "I can't say that I've ever seen him intoxicated."

Billips says she's observed Clark in court about once a week over the past 12 years. Has he ever appeared to her to be intoxicated? "No, never," she responds.

Clark's Allegation Disputed

The allegation that Rogers puts in short days is "definitely not true," Altieri, the judge's clerk for three years, insists. Altieri says the standard quitting time in Rogers' courtroom is 5 p.m., and, she attests, that's been so for the entire three-year period.

Billips labels Clark's allegation "totally false." She says of Rogers:

"She's not a judge who leaves early. She's a very hard-working judge."

Rogers is there calling cases at 9 a.m., Billips relates, and it is "not unusual for her to work past 5." The court reporter says that Rogers takes a lunch break of an hour-and-a-half duration, "sometimes shorter than that."

Working in that courtroom is "not a cruise," she remarks.

Billips says if Rogers runs out of work, she will typically "ask other judges if she can help out."

The Superior Court's Supervising Judge, Jackson, confirms that as a municipal court judge, she was "always willing to help" by accepting Superior Court cases. If she had been putting in short hours, he says, it would have gotten back to him. "I've never heard any rumor to that effect," he declares.

Ogden says he assumes Rogers' courtroom operates a full day. He says he bases his assumption on the fact that Rogers will indicate at times throughout the day an availability to take cases. "I'm the preliminary hearing judge," he explains. "She calls me when she's free, and takes cases."

Randolph Rogers labels his wife "one of our hardest working judicial officers." He complains that she's "too hard-working." At the end of the day, he notes, "I'm always waiting on her." The husband explains that she volunteers for work and "takes on too much."

Undertaking too many cases was the root cause of a public scolding of Pamela Rogers in 1998 by the Commission on Judicial Performance. In particular, it admonished her for keeping seven cases under submission for more than 90 days.

The major focus of the commission's widely publicized investigation of Rogers had nothing to do with a delay in deciding a case, however. The matter that drew the panel's attention was the ill-effects on Rogers of prescription drugs she took for migraine headaches—a matter that did not result in discipline.

The commission dismissed the charges relating to drug use without prejudice, and agreed to a dismissal with prejudice if monitoring, which is to last through June 30, provides no basis for further action. The commission recited in its 1998 Annual Report:

"Judge Rogers took prescribed drugs, including narcotic drugs, for serious medical conditions, primarily migraine headaches. Some of these medications carried a risk of drug dependence which could be inconsistent with the responsibility of a judge. The judge sought and received expert medical assistance to manage her condition without narcotics. Since April 1997, the judge has used only non-narcotic medications, and has not appeared to be under the influence of medications at work. It was stipulated that the judge appeared to have remedied the underlying medical problem that gave rise to allegations regarding her use of medication."

In late April 1997, following a weeklong preliminary hearing, Rogers went on a five-week leave of absence and underwent detoxification. An article in the Antelope Valley Press reported that throughout the hearing, attorneys and observers "were critical of Rogers..., citing tardiness, lengthy diatribes from the bench and occasional mood swings."

While assailing Rogers based on her purported lack of energy, Clark has not hurled charges related to her former drug problem. "I would like my campaign not to dwell on that," he says.

With his attention drawn to the matter, however, he says of her use of the drugs: "She should have known better." Clark reports that seven out of 10 persons he talks to in the judicial district are aware of Rogers' erstwhile problem.

Deputy Public Defender Manuel Martinez—a vocal detractor of Rogers—discloses that he spoke with an investigator for the commission at a time when Rogers was having difficulty functioning on the bench and told him of other persons whom he should contact. Martinez says he can understand Rogers' need to use the drugs that were prescribed for her, but asserts that in light of the effects they had on her, "she should have stayed home." Instead, he observes, "she drove to work in that condition," commenting she ought to have been arrested for being under the influence. "I think she disgraced the bench and should have resigned back then," he asserts.

Rogers stresses that she never used drugs other than as prescribed. "Those medications affected my energy levels—especially in the mornings," she recalls, noting also that the side effect of a dry mouth affected her speech. The jurist says she is now taking experimental medication that lacks adverse side effects—which, she notes, she is paying for, at a high price, because her insurance company is denying coverage since the drug has not yet gained acceptance.

Delay in Rulings

Little public attention has been lent the matter which formed the basis for the discipline: failing to decide seven matters—four Superior Court law and motion matters and three Municipal Court trials—for a period exceeding 90 days.

Judges are expected to turn in monthly affidavits declaring that they have not had cases pending for more than 90 days—the statutorily prescribed penalty for failing to do being loss of salary until the judge catches up and executes the declaration. Although Rogers was behind in her work, she did not falsely state under oath to the contrary. The commission report noted: "[D]uring this time, court administration was not having any of the municipal court judges execute salary affidavits."

It added that Rogers "was voluntarily handling a superior court law and motion calendar, in addition to a full time municipal court calendar."

The judge comments that the double workload was simply too heavy to maintain.

She expresses some regret at having settled the case with the commission, but points to practical considerations. She discloses that she used up a year's salary on the fees of her lawyer, Ephraim Margolin of San Francisco, and on expert witnesses.

Lawsuits Against Clark

Rogers' legal problems are dwarfed, however, by Clark's.

—Clark on Jan. 17, 1996 filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy. He claimed liabilities of $597,655.84 and assets of $186,150.00. Clark was discharged as a bankrupt the following April 29.

—The largest debt listed by Clark was a $340,178.01 malpractice judgment against him, entered March 30, 1993. The complaint alleged that Clark accepted employment to represent one Charles Powell in connection with an uninsured motorist claim, did no work on the case, and allowed a dismissal to be ordered based on the expiration of the statute of limitation. Clark recites that the debt was discharged in bankruptcy. "I've never had malpractice insurance," he notes.

—Clark represented William Odett in an action filed against him on June 24, 1997 for assault and other intentional torts. Based on the repeated failure of the defense to respond to discovery, a default judgment was entered against Odett on July 17, 1992. The law firm of Potter and Kostas associated in as counsel and moved for relief from default. It attached a copy of a declaration of fault from Clark which, under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 473(b), requires relief where the lawyer's confessed neglect is found to have caused the default and where the motion is filed within six months. In his declaration, Clark said in his declaration: "Due to the pressure of the heavy criminal calendar, I kept putting off responding to plaintiff's discovery and due to the same the applicable time period within which to respond expired." The memorandum of points and authorities in support of the motion categorized Clark's malfeasance as "so egregious as to amount to positive misconduct." (The plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment which was unopposed; judgment was entered for $18 million; the judgments were vacated by stipulation, apparently as the result of a settlement.) Clark attributes the failure to respond to discovery to a lack of cooperation on the part of the client.

—A former client, Loraine Fleming, sued Clark, along with Marvin Levin, identified in Fleming's Aug. 22, 1988 complaint as Clark's partner. She alleged that the lawyers accepted employment to defend her in an action, but failed to file an answer or other responsive pleading, leading to a default judgment against her. On Nov. 28, 1990, another attorney secured an order vacating the default judgment. The order was predicated on Clark's declaration admitting that the default was taken as the result of his mistake, inadvertence, surprise and neglect. The order recited that the default "was entered as a direct result of attorney error." Fleming's malpractice action was then voluntarily dismissed with prejudice on Jan. 4, 1991. Clark stresses that the upshot is that the lawsuit against him was dismissed. "I'm out of it," he remarks. He notes that Levin was not his partner—he says they merely shared space—and says his involvement in the case was limited to filling in for Levin during periods of his illness.

—Pending against Clark and others in Los Angeles Superior Court is a malpractice action filed in 1997 on behalf of a minor. It is alleged that in 1981, the minor, then 2, was represented by Clark and others in guardianship proceedings following the death of the child's mother; the grandparents were appointed guardians of the estate; the court ruled that there was no need for an accounting with respect to funds belonging to the minor inasmuch as they were in a "blocked" account; the funds had not been placed in a blocked account and neither Clark and his co-counsel so apprised the court; the child's grandparents looted assets. The complaint seeks recompense from Clark and the others for funds which it has not been possible to recoup from the grandparents. The allegation as to Clark is that he was negligent in failing to have the funds placed in a blocked account. Clark counters that both the grandparents and their attorney stated in declarations under penalty of perjury that the funds were in blocked accounts, and he had no reason to suspect this was untrue. Attorney David R. Smith of Kansas City, Mo., who will be representing the plaintiff at trial, counters that Clark "should have checked." Clark had a duty, he maintains, to make certain the funds were, in fact, blocked, failed to meet that duty, and was therefore negligent. The plaintiff is seeking about $300,000. Trial is scheduled to commence Feb. 7.

—An Oct. 21, 1980 complaint was filed by Gaston Lauzon, alleging that Clark accepted employment to represent him in a products liability action but failed to file a complaint within the statutory period. Clark says he has no recollection of Lauzon and assumes he "didn't pay a dime" in connection with the action.

Layton, Rogers' other challenger, has also been the defendant in litigation, somewhat back in time. In 1989, a former client sued him alleging inadequate representation in a criminal matter. The complaint alleged that Layton advised him to plead guilty to felony residential burglary; he did; he was sentenced to six years in prison; a different lawyer brought an action for a writ of habeas corpus which was granted on the ground that the representation by Layton was "totally inadequate" and deprived the defendant of potentially meritorious defenses. The client had spent 14 months in prison prior to his release, the complaint set forth, adding that he subsequently was allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor petty theft. The action against Layton was settled.

In a 1983 action, a client sued Layton for failing to file a complaint within the statutory period; Layton settled the suit against him by agreeing to pay $10,000.

Tomorrow: a further look at the candidates.

Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000