Thursday, November 30, 2006
CJP Admonishes Orange County Judge for ‘Sarcastic’ Remarks
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished Orange Superior Court Judge James M. Brooks yesterday for making “sarcastic, demeaning and intimidating” remarks to litigants.
Comments by the 20-year jurist violated ethics rules requiring that judges appear patient, dignified, and courteous in their treatment of the parties and that they refrain from exhibiting bias, the commission said in its decision. Brooks apparently did not contest the admonishment.
In one case, Brooks presided over a hearing regarding the failure of litigants to appear for their depositions. After one litigant explained that on the day before his deposition was scheduled he awoke with a “very intense pressure” in his chest, and was told by his doctor to immediately go to the nearest hospital, Brooks replied:
“Gee. I wonder what’s going to happen when we put you in jail, Mr. McMahon. Your little ticker might stop, you think?”
During the same hearing, Brooks ordered another litigant, Elizabeth McMahon, to appear for her deposition, then said to her attorney:
“[T]ell her to bring a check for $5,000. That’s the sanctions I’m imposing for her contempt and contemptuous conduct towards the court and Mr. Kim. . . . If she doesn’t show up on the 27th it will be [$]10,000 payable to the court. I’d mention jail but it might give her a heart attack.”
Brooks said in a minute order that if Elizabeth McMahon didn’t appear for her deposition as ordered, sanctions would be imposed in the amount of $10,000.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the $5,000 sanction in an unpublished opinion, but ordered Brooks to vacate the part of his order threatening the $10,000 sanction, saying:
“[N]o authority exists for the court to threaten sanctions of $10,000 should Elizabeth again fail to appear for deposition. The court plainly could not adjudicate Elizabeth in contempt for failure to appear in the future without first holding another contempt trial . . .”
In another matter involving ownership of certain property, Brooks said during a hearing:
“Mrs. Joher, the mother, Sosha or whatever her name is, she’s the one that Joe, among others, has turned everything over to, put everything in her name a lady that probably doesn’t know where the restaurant is a lady that, in her own country - I put a question mark I know it’s Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon -probably a very nice lady, probably doesn’t know how much she owns, I don’t think.”
The commission noted that Brooks had previously been disciplined for similar conduct. In 1996 he received an advisory letter addressing comments by him which the CJP described as reflecting ethnic bias, including referring to Hispanic defendants as “Pedro” issuing a bench warrant for an Asian defendant for “ten thousand dollars or twenty thousand yen” and stating to an undocumented Hispanic defendant, “[y]ou have more names than the Tijuana telephone book.”
In 1999, Brooks received another “stinger” letter for remarks to a defendant at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing about how Brooks would have handled an assault on a member of his own family.
The CJP quoted Brooks as saying he would “go down and punch [the defendant’s] lights out” and that instead of calling the police, “it would be, ‘touch them, you die.’”
In 2003, Brooks received a private admonishment for conduct including referring to the parties in a case, the operators of a mobile home park, as “Nazis” and analogizing their actions to that of the Nazis during the Holocaust, the CJP found.
The CJP noted that in another matter, in the course of denying a plaintiff’s motion in limine to exclude reference to his status as an undocumented alien, Brooks made remarks conveying his stereotypes of undocumented aliens, including that they place burdens on taxpayers by receiving benefits to which they are not entitled.
The Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed a judgment in that case, and remanded it for retrial before a different judge, saying of Brooks:
“[T]he court recited a veritable litany condemning and impugning the character of undocumented immigrants, including plaintiff, who place a burden upon the taxpayers by obtaining educational, medical, housing, and other services (‘yada, yada,’ i.e., the list goes on) to which they are not entitled, and then add insult to injury by suing the providers, such as ‘the good doctor [defendant]’ in order to make ‘a pot of [undeserved] money.’”
Brooks won election to one of Orange County’s municipal courts in 1986, and became an Orange Superior Court Judge in 1998 when the municipal and superior courts merged. He was named “Judge of the Year” in 1989 by the Orange County Constitutional Rights Foundation, and in 1993 by the Orange County Narcotics Officers Association.
He received his bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach, and his law degree from the Southwestern University School of Law. He served as a Los Angeles deputy city attorney from 1972-73 and Orange County deputy district attorney from 1973-87.
Commission Chairperson Marshall Grossman, Court of Appeal Justice Judith D. McConnell, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Risë Jones Pichon, and pulbic members Crystal Lui, Patricia Miller, Penny Perez, and Lawrence Simi voted to impose a public admonishment. Attorney Michael Kahn and public member Jose Miramontes concurred with the imposition of a public admonishment.
Judge Frederick P. Horn, a colleague of Brooks on the Orange Superior Court, was recused and public member Barbara Schraeger did not participate.
The MetNews attempted to contact Brooks, but was told by his clerk that he is on vacation until Monday.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company