Thursday, November 18, 2004
Ross Did Not Want Title Used in Connection With TV Project, Witnesses at Discipline Hearing Say
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
An attorney and an agent for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin Ross told a judicial panel yesterday the jurist was clear that he was not to be identified by title in connection with a proposed television project.
Agent Susan Haber and Santa Monica lawyer Todd Rubinstein told the special masters hearing misconduct charges against Ross that the judge made it very clear that he was not to be identified as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in the campaign to sell a proposed syndicated reality-based series called “Mobile Court.”
The judge was “very” explicit that neither his name or title were to be used, Haber testified, giving her the impression that there was a legal stricture against it. Ross similarly told her that he could not take money for appearing in what has previously been described as a pilot for the show, in which people who had filed or were considering filing lawsuits would dismiss them and have them decided by a “judge” on the program.
“Mobile Court” was to include a twist on that concept, which was originated years ago when retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Wapner hosted “People’s Court.” In “Mobile Court,” the “judge” was to go to the scene of the dispute to hear the case.
The masters Tuesday saw and heard the tape of what Haber insisted was a “sales presentation,” not a pilot. The tape of two segments, in which Ross heard one case on a street where disputing neighbors lived and another at a strip club where a contestant claimed to have been wrongfully disqualified from a “Miss Wet on the Net” contest, was not of broadcast quality and was never intended to be seen by anyone other than a handful of programming executives, Haber insisted.
In response to a question from one of the masters, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael Smith, Haber acknowledged that she did not tell the producers about Ross’ concerns. It was her assumption the judge was taking care of that himself, she explained.
Asked by commission attorney Jack Coyle how the project could be sold without naming the host, Haber replied that at the time, the show “was just a concept.” When Coyle then asked “Were they just supposed to say ‘we can’t tell you,’ Haber replied in the affirmative.
Rubinstein, a former deputy district attorney who is a friend of Ross and said he handled the negotiations for free, confirmed Haber’s testimony. Asked why he did not insist on a contract provision barring the use of Ross’ judicial title, he said that “hindsight being 20-20, I should have,” but that he did not think of it at the time.
He also noted that the relationship between the parties was friendly, and that this was the first reality television deal he had ever worked on.
Ross’ attorney, Edward George, also called several witnesses in an effort to bolster the judge’s defense to a charge of “embroilment” in a case where he ordered a deputy public defender escorted from the courtroom after she interrupted him during the sentencing of a defendant for probation violation.
Deputy Public Defender Lisa Gordon claimed, and the commission charges, that Ross violated her client’s right to a formal probation violation hearing. But a deputy city attorney, a court clerk, and a court reporter all said that Gordon was out of line, raising her voice and being disrespectful to the judge.
Those same witnesses testified that Ross ran his court in a dignified manner, but that Gordon had tested his patience on other occasions. Veteran Deputy Public Defender Raymond B. Schweiger, who worked at the same court as Gordon, but was not present during, or involved in, the case that provoked the misconduct charge, said Ross “was patient, he was professional” in all of the lawyer’s dealings with the court.
Testimony in the case is expected to conclude today.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company