Thursday, September 2, 2004
CJP Adds New Charge Against Judge Kevin Ross
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
The state Commission on Judicial Performance, which in May lodged discipline charges against Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin Ross over his public television appearances, yesterday added an accusation that the jurist improperly sought to market a courtroom simulation television program in which he would star.
Adding a fourth count to the charges against Ross, the CJP said the judge contracted in 2002 with a production company for a show to be called “Mobile Court.” Ross was to resolve small claims cases, with the parties stipulating to be bound by his rulings.
The show’s premise was that the hearing would take place at the scene of the dispute. In the videotape produced to market the program, Ross heard a vandalism claim in a neighborhood where the vandalism occurred.
“In a second case, called ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” the CJP alleged, “you held ‘court’ in a strip club, and awarded an ‘erotic model’ $1,000 for being unfairly disqualified from a ‘Miss Wet on the Net’ contest.”
The videotape was shown to representatives of television stations, but found no buyers, the CJP asserted.
On the videotape, Ross presided over the cases as “Judge Kevin Ross,” and the marketing efforts listed him as “judge/host,” the CJP said. Among the ethical canons violated by Ross’ conduct, the CJP asserted, was Canon 2B(2), which provides that a judge “shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the pecuniary or personal interests of the judge or others.”
Ross’ contract provided he would be paid $5,000, the CJP claimed.
The CJP also postponed the hearing on the discipline charges against Ross, which had been scheduled to begin Sept. 13 in Pasadena. Sixth District Court of Appeal Justice Eugene M. Premo, Fourth District Justice Judith L. Haller, and San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith have been named to conduct the hearing as special masters.
Neither Ross nor his attorney, Edward P. George of Long Beach, returned calls yesterday. But the judge released a statement defending his conduct.
While he did appear in the video, Ross conceded, he did so on his own time and turned over the money he received to the county.
“My conduct both on and off the bench is of the utmost importance and I believe my actions as a prosecutor for eight years and as a member of the judiciary for the last five and a half years have clearly reflected that,” Ross declared in the statement. “Through the upcoming proceedings, I contend that I will be able to demonstrate that I have consistently maintain[ed]a high degree of deference for the legal profession.”
The previous charges against Ross included claims that four of his frequent appearances on KCET’s “Life and Times Tonight” violated Canon 3B(9) of the Code of Judicial Ethics, which says that a judge shall not “make any public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court.” Ross has argued the appearances were intended to benefit the public by informing it about legal issues and asserted he hopes the charges against him will help to clarify how far judges can go in discussing legal matters of current public interest.
In three of the television appearances cited by the CJP, Ross discussed legal issues involved in high-profile cases in which he was not personally involved. In the fourth, he talked about a juvenile offender who had recently appeared before him.
In his formal response to the previous charges in June, Ross said the appearances were consistent with the California courts’ efforts to educate the public about the judicial process and noted that other judicial officers had appeared with him on similar programs. He also contended that the restrictions on judicial comment on pending cases are unconstitutional.
The two other counts involve alleged unauthorized absences from court and instances in which Ross allegedly improperly communicated with criminal defendants or became “embroiled” in their cases. The absences also related to public appearances made by the judge.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company