Friday, November 19, 2004
Ross Defends Public Television Appearances as Inquiry Into Possible Misconduct Concludes
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin Ross, on the fourth and final day of his judicial misconduct hearing, yesterday reiterated his testimony that he did nothing wrong by discussing legal issues, including references to pending cases, during appearances on public television programs.
Ross said he realized that “most judges would err on the side of not doing this.” But the judge, one of the youngest in the state at the time of his election and accustomed to the spotlight after hosting a weekly radio program on KABC for two years, said he was proud of his outreach to the general community.
Of the 40 to 50 appearances that Ross made on KCET’s “Life and Times Tonight,” four are involved in the charges brought by the Commission on Judicial Performance. On two of those occasions, Ross referred to the unlawful force case against two Inglewood police officers, on another to a juvenile court case he was handling in Compton, and on another to the case of Patrick Ghilotti, a sexually violent predator whose bid for release from the state hospital went to the California Supreme Court.
Ross said he was careful to avoid the problems the state high court has identified as potentially flowing from judges’ comments on pending cases, such as an appearance of partiality.
Under the program format, he explained, he went on the air with judicial officers, court administrators, and attorneys who had expertise in the subject matter that he was due to discuss that evening. When one of the program hosts, Val Zavala or Jess Marlow, would ask a question that might require him to appear to be taking sides, he explained, he would throw it to the guest.
On one of the programs where he discussed the Inglewood case, for example, his guest was Bill Seki, a former prosecutor who now represents police officers in civil matters. Other guests, he noted, have included Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Jacqueline Conner, Michael Nash, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, Ana Maria Luna, Michael Tynan, and Dan Oki; Judge Harold Shabo, who has since retired; Commissioner Glenda Veasey; then-State Bar President Karen Nobumoto, and a MetNews reporter.
He stopped doing the program when the commission filed its charges, he explained, because he did not want to appear to be flaunting his position.
“These proceedings did have a chilling effect, even on me,” he told the special masters hearing the evidence, while adding that he still believes “judges should be doing this.”
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael Smith, one of the masters, noted that in discussing the juvenile court case, while Ross did not identify the juvenile, he did discuss a possible disposition of the case on the air, and asked if Ross saw a problem with that.
The judge said he saw no problem, because he had already discussed that disposition with the attorneys. But if he had a chance to repeat the episode, he said, “I would probably be a little more circumspect....I would have spoke in terms of a hypothetical”
With respect to some of the other charges against him, Ross reiterated his admission that he had improperly remanded a defendant—whom he accused of having provided false information about her identity—to jail even though the charges against her were traffic infractions.
He never attempted to avoid responsibility for that mistake, he said. In fact, when Supervising Traffic Judge David Sotelo discussed the incident at a judges’ meeting, without naming him, he freely admitted “I’m the idiot,” he recalled.
He also acknowledged that he went too far in questioning a defendant who was before the court without counsel for a progress report on charges of conducting religious services in his home without a permit. Action on the case had been informally deferred to allow the defendant time to obtain a permit or move the services to an appropriate venue.
With a number of the defendant’s disapproving neighbors in attendance and the city attorney asking for a trial date because the defendant was continuing to hold services for large numbers of people without a permit, Ross acknowledged, he continued to inquire of the defendant after he said he wanted to seek an attorney, and questioned his veracity.
Ross said he acted from the “the best of intentions,” and realizes he made a mistake. In the future, he said, he expects to work on “making sure that in my attempts to do good, I still do things the right way.” He noted that he has handled tens of thousands of matters, often sitting in high-volume courts, and urged the masters to consider previously presented evidence as to how he usually conducts court.
The masters—Smith, Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Judith Haller, and Ventura Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O’Neill Jr.—are expected to report their findings to the commission in early January.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company