Thursday, August 17, 2006
CJP Admonishes Judge Iles for Violating Probationer’s Rights
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Orange Superior Court Judge Pamela L. Iles was publicly admonished yesterday for ordering an unrepresented probationer to jail for nearly one month without a hearing.
Iles clearly and convincingly disregarded Bryan Wagner’s fundamental rights in remanding him to custody without giving him notice or the opportunity to respond to the charges, the CJP found in a 6-3 decision.
“Judge Iles is an experienced jurist,” the commission wrote. “No reasonable or reasonably competent judge would assume or conclude that he or she could summarily incarcerate an unrepresented defendant, in the manner Judge Iles did here, without implicating fundamental rights.”
In addition, the commission ruled, Iles’ conduct violated canons 2A and 3B(2) of the Code of Judicial Ethics—which require judges to respect and comply with the law, and to be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence in the law.
The commission issued its decision and order after considering objections that Iles and her attorney, Edith Matthai, made in a secret June 28 appearance to contest the imposition of a public admonishment. Iles waived her right to a formal, public hearing before special masters.
Iles—-who at the time of the incident presided over the Domestic Violence Court at the Harbor Justice Center in Laguna Niguel—-had ordered Wagner into custody on Dec. 18, 2002, after the defendant apparently refused to cooperate with her judicial assistant regarding the payment of a $1,000 donation to a battered women’s shelter.
The donation was one of the conditions that Iles imposed when placing Wagner on probation in August 2002. Other conditions included enrollment in the Orange County Health Care Agency’s substance abuse program, which Wagner failed to do as directed, resulting in an order to revoke his probation on Dec. 16, 2002.
Wagner appeared before Iles on the 18th, voluntarily and without counsel, to request a payment schedule for the money he owed per the conditions of his probation, and Iles sent him to her judicial assistant, Leslie Howard, to discuss payment. When Wagner told Howard he was unwilling to pay the donation, Howard went to Iles’s courtroom, followed by Wagner, and complained to the judge. Iles, who by then was proceeding over another matter, ordered Wagner into custody because he was unwilling to cooperate with Howard.
Due Process Violation
When Wagner asked Iles why he was being placed in custody, the judge told him he was not cooperating with Howard and had violated his probation. She then ordered the bailiff to remove Wagner from the courtroom, appointed the public defender to represent him, and set an arraignment hearing for January 16, 29 days later. Wagner remained in custody without bail.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal granted Wagner’s subsequent petition for writ of habeas corpus, ruling that Iles failed to abide by due process requirements in revoking Wagner’s probation. In connection with probation revocation, the court said, case law requires that probationers be advised of their rights to a formal hearing, to be represented by counsel, to present evidence, to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and to disclosure of evidence against them.
The commission followed the court’s reasoning, finding that while Penal Code 1203.2 authorizes a judge to summarily revoke probation where appropriate, Iles failed to do so in accordance with due process. This was judicial misconduct and not mere legal error, the commission found.
Relying on the factual findings that Kern Superior Court Judge Roger D. Randall, sitting as referee, made for the appellate court, the commission found no support for Iles’ assertion that she notified Wagner of the basis of his arrest through his later-appointed counsel. In any event, the commission said, Wagner was entitled to notice and an opportunity to respond at the time Iles initially revoked his probation.
In coming to its decision, the commission noted Iles’ history of discipline: an advisory letter in 1988 for failing to abide by statutory requirements in imposing sanctions, an advisory letter in 1997 for improperly handing a domestic violence case; and a private admonishment in 2004 for displaying embroilment and partiality in a criminal case.
Voting for Iles’ public admonishment were attorney and CJP Chairperson Marshall B. Grossman, Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Judith D. McConnell, and public members Patricia Miller, Jose Miramontes, Penny Perez, and Lawrence Simi.
Voting for private admonishment were Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Rise Jones Pichon and public members Crystal Lui and Barbara Schraeger.
Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn was recused, and attorney Michael A. Kahn did not participate in the decision.
Calls to Iles were referred to Matthai, who told the MetNews that the commission omitted relevant facts from its decision.
When Iles ordered Wagner into custody, Matthai explained, he began yelling and screaming, causing such a disruption to the other proceedings over which Iles was presiding that she had no choice but to order him removed from the courtroom.
Iles shortly thereafter notified Wagner’s counsel, Orange County Deputy Public Defender Stephen Daniels II, of the reasons for Wagner’s probation revocation, Matthai said. Later that afternoon, Wagner was returned to the courtroom and conferred with Daniels, and Iles then set the probation revocation hearing date for January 16 after discussing the hearing date with Daniels, Matthai maintained.
Daniels expressed no concern that the revocation hearing date was nearly a month a away, since Iles’ well-known practice was to entertain a request to advance the hearing date at any time, Matthai said, adding that Daniels never requested bail for his client.
“[T]here is no evidence that Judge Iles acted in bad faith, abused her authority or disregarded Mr. Wagner’s fundamental rights,” Matthai said, explaining that she gave Wagner the opportunity to confer with counsel, and that case law permitted postponing the hearing with full due process rights until the formal probation revocation proceeding.
Iles believed her actions were in accordance with Sec. 1203.2(a) because at the time she remanded him into custody, she had probable cause to believe he was in violation of his probation terms, Matthai said. If her interpretation of the statute was incorrect, such mere legal error does not warrant imposition of discipline against the judge, she asserted.
“Here, if there was a procedural defect, it was unintended,” Matthai said. “Judge Iles’ goal was to get Mr. Wagner into the treatment he had been avoiding to attempt to end the continuing cycle of domestic violence in the Wagner home.”
Iles, 62, was appointed to the bench in 1983 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown and in 1998 was elevated from municipal to superior court after the two became unified under Prop. 220. She served as supervising judge of the superior court in 2000, 1999 and 1998; and as presiding judge of the municipal court in 1994, 1991, 1986, and 1985.
Matthai said Iles plans to retire next November.
Prior to her appointment to the court, Iles worked as both a deputy district attorney and a deputy public defender for Orange County.
She was admitted to the State Bar in 1975, after receiving her law degree from Western State University School of Law in Fullerton the same year.
Iles received a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from California State University, Fullerton in 1965.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company