Monday, July 26, 2004
Ethics Panel Reactivates Case Against Yuba Superior Court Judge
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance on Friday reactivated a discipline case against a Yuba Superior Court judge charged with using his office to grant favors to friends and family members charged with traffic offenses.
Proceedings in the case were stayed May 28 after Judge David E. Wasilenko’s attorney contended his client was too sick to help in the preparation of proposed findings or attend oral arguments. A hearing before a panel of special masters had been conducted earlier that month, and oral argument before the masters was scheduled for June 8.
In an order made public Friday, the CJP said it was reactivating the case because it had not received the medical documentation of Wasilenko’s illness it requested in June. Wasilenko advised the CJP July 15, through his lawyer, that he was unwilling to submit medical documentation in the absence of an order that would keep it sealed, the order said.
According to a letter from his Wasilenko’s lawyer, the CJP order explained, the judge suffered a medical incident soon after the hearing which was determined to be a “stress-related illness with symptoms similar to that of a heart attack.” But the order said the only documentation of illness received by the CJP consisted of letters from a doctor stating the judge should be excused from “work and work-related duties.”
A CJP spokesperson said yesterday that Wasilenko is represented by San Francisco attorneys James A. Murphy and Harlan B. Watkins of Murphy, Pearson, Bradley and Feeney. The CJP order did not identify the individual lawyer who communicated with the agency on Wasilenko’s behalf.
The order said Wasilenko could request a further stay, but only if the request is accompanied by “medical evidence describing the specific medical condition underlying the request, an explanation of how the condition prevents respondent from assisting counsel and how long the condition is likely to persist.”
Wasilenko would also have to “address the issues of whether respondent has either a right or need to participate in his counsel’s preparation of findings and presentation of oral argument, and concerning a proper balance between any such interests and the resulting delay in the proceedings,” the order said.
The order said it “would appear” that any medical documentation filed would have to be open to public inspection under provisions of the state Constitution and commission rules, though it added that the CJP “would consider points and authorities in support of a contrary position.”
The order set an Aug. 2 deadline for the submission of proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and a Sept. 1 deadline for the special masters to issue a final report.
In its notice of formal proceedings, the commission accused Wasilenko of “willful misconduct in office, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, and improper action....”
The commission said Wasilenko, a judge since 1985, improperly acted to benefit nine people whose cases he should not have heard. One person was the wife of his first cousin, one was a woman with whom he had a “close personal relationship,” one was a friend of his daughter, and others were persons whom the judge had known for several years.
In each of the cases, the judge heard the matter, even though it was not assigned to him, the notice said. Some of the cases were misdemeanors, and the judge acted without notice to the prosecutor, the commission alleged.
Murphy did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company