Thursday, March 3, 2005
CJP Censures Ex-Judge, Bars Him From Sitting on Assignment
Panel Says Former Yuba County Jurist Dishonored Bench While Helping Friends
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A recently retired Yuba Superior Court judge was censured yesterday by the Commission on Judicial Performance for using his office to grant favors to friends and family members charged with traffic offenses.
The CJP imposed the maximum possible penalty on retired Judge David E. Wasilenko. In addition to the censure, the commission barred Wasilenko from sitting on assignment or otherwise performing court-appointed work.
The former judge engaged in nine instances of willful misconduct and one instance of improper action, the commission found.
In a 10-0 decision, the commission said Wasilenko, who retired in January after 20 years on the bench, improperly acted to benefit 10 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 commission found Some of the cases were misdemeanors, and the judge acted without notice to the prosecutor, the CJP noted.
The commission adopted the findings of a panel of special masters, made up of Third District Court of Appeal Justice Rodney Davis, Solano Superior Court Judge Ramona J. Garrett, and San Mateo Superior Court Judge John W. Runde.
In several of the cases, the commission acknowledged, the judge granted dispositions that were no more lenient than what the offender might have expected had he or she not known the judge. But the commission agreed with the masters that Wasilenko committed misconduct by providing “a favored procedural track through the court system” for persons he knew well.
The commission rejected the suggestion that it take into account the facts that Wasilenko was a lifelong resident of sparsely populated Yuba County who was often called upon to hear cases involving persons with whom he was “familiar on some level,” particularly in traffic court.
The CJP explained in its decision:
“By their terms, the canons impose uniform statewide standards. Whenever an assigned case involves a party the judge ‘knows,’ the judge must be particularly vigilant to ensure the appearance and reality of independence and impartiality. The situation may arise more frequently in a small town than a major metropolitan area, but the judge’s ethical duties are the same irrespective of population statistics. In any case, the demographics of Marysville and Yuba County are irrelevant to the misconduct engaged in by Judge Wasilenko. Repeatedly diverting non-assigned cases so as to be in a position to afford preferential judicial treatment to family, friends and others specially situated is improper under the canons and intolerable in every county in this state.”
The decision is subject to review at the discretion of the state Supreme Court.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company