Friday, May 7, 2004
Superior Court Judge Kevin Ross Charged With Ethics Violations
CJP’s Misconduct Allegations Include Discussion of Pending Cases on Public Television Show
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin A. Ross was charged yesterday with three counts of judicial misconduct, including making comments about pending cases on a public television program.
Ross also was twice absent from court without authorization and treated criminal defendants inappropriately on four occasions, the Commission on Judicial Performance claimed.
The CJP cited four appearances by Ross, a former prosecutor, on the KCET public television program “Life and Times Tonight” during 2001 and 2002, saying he “improperly commented on pending cases.” Ross, who frequently appears on the public affairs discussion program, gained a seat on the Inglewood Municipal Court in 1998 by defeating Judge Lawrence Mason and became a Superior Court judge upon unification in 2000.
While the CJP’s notice of formal proceedings did not specify the objectionable comments, it did identify the dates and cases involved. Transcripts of “Life and Times Tonight” are available on the KCET Web site.
On Jan. 15, 2001 Ross talked with host Val Zavala soon after being assigned to hear juvenile cases. He discussed the circumstances of a 15-year-old arrested for cocaine possession, explaining why he chose to order the youth placed in a treatment program.
Noting that the youth’s lawyer had sought six months probation, Ross commented:
“I wasn’t convinced because I’m looking at this kid and what was very compelling to me is that he looked like me. So I’m looking at someone that I almost feel like I’m looking in a mirror and I’m seeing this kid.”
Supreme Court Case
On a March 4, 2002 show Ross appeared to discuss whether convicted serial sex offender Patrick Ghilotti could be recommitted under the Sexually Violent Predator Act. The issue was then before the state Supreme Court, which issued its decision the following month, and Ross discussed the legal issues involved, commenting on the difficulty of determining whether a individual is “likely” to re-offend.
According to the posted transcript, Ross said:
“I think they’re going to need Miss Cleo to figure out how to, you know, determine this because it’s a very difficult issue. You’re taking the word ‘likely’ and you’re trying to put some sort of percentage or some sort of standard to that and the court is in a very tenuous position.”
On July 22 and Aug. 15, 2002 Ross talked on the show about the prosecution of white Inglewood police officers Jeremy Morse and Bijan Darvish, who were accused of a videotaped assault on a 17-year-old black suspect. In July he and attorney Bill Seki talked about issues involved in prosecuting police officers, while during the August appearance the discussion centered on why the case would be tried in Torrance rather than in Inglewood.
Among the canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics violated by the four appearances, the CJP asserted, is Canon 3B(9), which says that a judge shall not shall not “make any public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court.”
In 1998 the state high court censured then-Tulare Superior Court Judge Howard Broadman, since retired, for commenting on pending cases. Though Broadman had given media interviews about two of his own cases, the justices noted that even discussing a case in another court might be perceived as an effort to influence the outcome.
Both of the unauthorized absence allegations also relate to public appearances made by the judge.
In March of 2000, the CJP alleged, Ross arrived about an hour late because he was giving a radio interview about Proposition 21, a juvenile crime initiative statute.
In April of 2002 he asked for and was granted two days off to attend a California Association of Black Lawyers conference in Palm Springs. In fact, the CJP claims, there were no conference events scheduled during the first day and Ross spent the time taping a “Life and Times Tonight” segment and attending an inner-city economic summit.
The CJP also cited four instances in which Ross allegedly improperly communicated with criminal defendants or became “embroiled” in their cases and “abandoned [his] judicial role.”
In one case, the CJP claimed, the judge had Deputy Public Defender Lisa Gordon removed from his courtroom when she persisted in objecting to his proposal to informally resolve three misdemeanor probation violations by sentencing Gordon’s client to 90 days in jail. Gordon repeatedly said her client was unwilling to admit the violations and demanded a formal hearing.
After having her ejected, Ross imposed the sentence over the objections of another deputy public defender and then accused the defendant of lying to him—exhibiting embroilment, the CJP asserted.
The judge’s attorney, Edward P. George of Long Beach, declined to comment on the charges but said Ross would file an answer to them by the May 20 deadline.
Ross is currently assigned to Dept. 67 at the downtown Metropolitan Courthouse.
Ross emphasized his Democratic Party affiliations during the 1998 Inglewood campaign in which he unseated Mason, a Republican. He earned his law degree from Southwestern, serving there as president of the Black Law Students Association.
He ran unsuccessfully for the Los Angeles City Council in 1995.
The CJP is composed of three judges, two lawyers, and six public members, and is chaired by Third District Court of Appeal Justice Vance W. Raye. One of the public member seats is currently vacant.
Under the rules for judicial discipline, the state Supreme Court will name three judges to serve as special masters to conduct a hearing into the charges.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company