Friday, December 15, 2006
Arguments Set in Case Against Judge Charged With Delaying Decisions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judicial panel is scheduled to hear argument Jan. 18 in San Francisco in the case of an Alameda Superior Court judge charged with violating rules of conduct by failing to decide cases on time and falsely swearing that he was keeping up with time limits.
The special masters—Court of Appeal Justices Eugene M. Premo of the Sixth District and Kathryn Doi Todd of this district’s Div. Two; along with Stanislaus Superior Court Judge William A. Mayhew—heard evidence last month in the case of
Judge Robert J. Freedman, formerly the assistant presiding judge of the Alameda Superior Court.
The Commission on Judicial Performance has charged Freedman, 62, with having taken cases under submission for more than 90 days on 24 occasions. While around half were cases in which decisions were made a few days or weeks past the deadline, there were several matters that were decided between three months and 11 months late, and one in which a judgment and statement of decision were not filed until more than three years after paperwork was submitted.
With respect to the last matter, Freedman said in his answer that he does not know when the paperwork was submitted and that he did not know the matter was under submission until the plaintiff alerted him to that fact earlier this year, and that he acted promptly at that time.
As to the other cases, Freedman admitted exceeding the 90-day deadline, but denied that he intended to violate the rule or that his actions reflected negatively upon the court or harmed litigants. He attributed the delays to “a tremendous docket,” particularly during a four-month period when a colleague took an assignment to the Court of Appeal and Freedman covered both his own load of 300 cases and 25-45 matters per day in the Law and Motion Department.
The commission further alleges that Freedman filed approximately 30 affidavits in which he swore falsely that he had no cases under submission for more than 90 days. State law requires that every judge file such an affidavit each month and prohibits the controller from issuing the judge’s paycheck if the affidavit is not filed.
Freedman admitted that he filed the affidavits and that he in fact had cases under submission past the deadline when he did so, but denied that he intended to swear falsely.
The judge also admitted that while serving as supervising judge in Hayward, Freedman failed to act within the five-day deadline for ruling on over 200 applications by allegedly indigent litigants for fee waivers, as a result of which the court later ordered nearly $10,000 in fees refunded.
Freedman explained that he believed, unrealistically as it turned out, that the most efficient way of handling waiver applications, which came in the rate of over 200 per month, was for him to rule on all of them himself.
While he decided “the vast majority” of them within the five-day period, he said, he could not do so in all cases, and eventually “learned from his mistakes and did his best to improve the system through the creation of a judicial rotating Work Queue.”
If the allegations are proven, Freedman could be removed from the bench, censured, or publicly or privately admonished. While no California judge has been removed from the bench for violating the 90-day limitation on holding cases under submission, a Fresno Superior Court judge, Robert Z. Mardikian, was censured in 1985 for taking between 131 and 430 days to decide 14 cases.
Antelope Municipal Court Judge Pamela Rogers, who subsequently took disability retirement, was admonished in 1998 for having seven cases under submission for more than 90 days.
Then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Freedman to the old Oakland-Emeryville-Piedmont Municipal Court in 1996 and elevated him to Superior Court in July of 1998. He currently sits at the Administration Building in Oakland hearing civil cases.
He has sat on the Judicial Council’s Civil & Small Claims Advisory Committee and was a faculty member at the California Judicial College from 1998 to 2002. He also chaired a Committee of Bar Examiners task force on online legal education.
Before his appointment to the bench, he was in private practice with the firm formerly known as Wald, Freedman, Chapman, and Bendes in Oakland for more than 25 years. He also served as an adjunct professor of law at John F. Kennedy School of Law, and is a former president of the Alameda County Bar Association and of the Alameda County Bar Foundation.
Freedman was admitted to the State Bar in 1969. He is a graduate of UCLA and Boalt Hall.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company