Experience of Being Subjected to Discipline Proceeding Will Make Him a ‘Better Judge,’ Ross Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Discipline charges brought against him by the Commission on Judicial Performance will make him “a better judge,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin Ross said yesterday.
Ross said he had not yet seen the 77-page report issued Tuesday by a panel of three special masters in the wake of weeklong November hearing on charges the jurist violated ethical canons by discussing pending cases on a public television program and appearing as a judge in a pilot for a television series. The CJP also charged that Ross behaved inappropriately toward several defendants who appeared before him.
But the judge said his attorney, Edward P. George of Long Beach, received a copy of the report and read him portions of it over the telephone. Ross said he was “pleased” with the panel’s finding that the CJP failed to prove that the “counts involving community outreach” involved misconduct.
“That really was a strong area of my wanting to proceed through this,” Ross declared.
The judge said he understood going into the discipline hearing that he had behaved inappropriately toward some of the litigants involved in the discipline charges. The CJP cited four instances in which Ross allegedly improperly communicated with criminal defendants or became “embroiled” in their cases and “abandoned [his] judicial role.”
The judge commented yesterday:
“That wasn’t any secret.”
He also came to understand that he should not have agreed to arbitrate small claims cases at the scenes of the underlying events as part of efforts to market a television series which would have been called “Mobile Court,” the judge acknowledged, though he said he was unaware at the time that he was violating a rule against a sitting judge serving as an arbitrator.
He knew, he said, that he would have to leave the bench if efforts to syndicate the program had succeeded and he chose to star in it.
But Ross said he contested the discipline charges in part because he believed it would send “absolutely the wrong message” to concede that it had been inappropriate for him to appear on the public television program “Life and Times Tonight” to discuss in general terms the legal issues involved in several high-profile cases.
“That’s something that makes me feel complete as a judge,” Ross said.
The panel, which was chaired by Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Judith Haller and also included San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael Smith and Ventura Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O’Neill Jr., said that the CJP established misconduct with respect to six counts, all of which except the “Mobile Court” count involved the judge’s courtroom conduct toward litigants.
The masters concluded that no misconduct had been established with respect to either the television appearances or two other public appearances which, the CJP had claimed, Ross absented himself from court without authorization to make.
Discipline, if any, will be determined by the CJP after further briefing and arguments which are expected to take place over the next two months.
Ross, a former prosecutor who gained a seat on the Inglewood Municipal Court in 1998 by defeating Judge Lawrence Mason and became a Superior Court judge upon unificiation in 2000, was a frequent guest on “Life and Times” during 2001 and 2002. He defended the appearances at the November hearing as consistent with the California courts’ efforts to educate the public on the judicial process, noting that other judicial officers had appeared with him or on similar programs.
Ross said yesterday he was happy that the panel had commented favorably on “my background and the types of things I’ve been involved in” and that the masters appeared to have been “impressed with the caliber of the individuals who came and testified” on his behalf at the hearing.
“Though I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this process, for me it was actually very insightful,” he commented, adding:
“I think it’s actually going to make me a better judge. I can be that much more efficient and effective and that much more in line with what I’ve always tried to do in my legal career, which is uphold the law.”
The masters heard arguments from George, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, and from CJP Trial Counsel Jack Coyle in Los Angeles in February. Coyle argued then that the masters should find not only that Ross violated canons of judicial ethics, but that he lied in his testimony before them to cover it up.
Ross said he was pleased that that the masters did not adopt what he described as Coyle’s “sinister” view of him.
“While the attorney obviously has a job to do and is looking for any type of behavior which is not consistent with being a judicial officer, I also think that there was somewhat of a disconnect between what these allegations were and the attorney’s perspective as to the type of person that I am,” Ross said. “I just don’t think that what was presented at the hearing was consistent with someone who would be as sinister as the attorney attempted to make me appear. I think I displayed to the masters someone who may have made some errors, but that overall is a person who really is trying to be the best judge he can be.”
Among the canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics violated by the four television 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 only one of the four appearances did Ross discuss a case that was from his own courtroom.
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 youthís lawyer had sought six months probation, Ross commented:
“I wasnít 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.”
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.
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.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company