Monday, March 13, 2006
Judge Rodney Nelson, Facing Hearing On Fitness, Elects to Retire
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rodney E. Nelson, facing a hearing scheduled for today on his fitness to remain in office, will instead retire effective March 20, the Commission on Judicial Performance said Friday.
The CJP cancelled the hearing which was to begin today before three special masters in Pasadena.
The commission initiated action in December to force Nelson, who has been a Superior Court judge since 1995 and has been on medical leave since May of last year, to take retired status. The commission said it had taken the rare step because Nelson, 71, suffers from “degenerative brain disease” which is, or is likely to become, permanent and which prevents him from performing his judicial duties.
The hearing, originally slated for Feb. 6, was rescheduled in January. The state Supreme Court had named Sonoma Superior Court Judge Allan D. Hardcastle, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Thang Nguyen Barrett, and San Diego Superior Court Judge Desiree A. Bruce-Lyle to conduct the hearing.
Chief Counsel Victoria Henley said the CJP had received a letter from Nelsonís lawyer, Long Beach attorney Edward P. George Jr., advising the judicial watchdog agency that Nelson would retire. Henley said the letter did not specify why Nelson decided to retire.
Phone messages left for George were not returned Friday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge William A. MacLaughlin said Friday that court officials were “not involved at all” in Nelson’s decision to retire, but said he was pleased that the matter would be resolved without a hearing before the CJP.
“I think Judge Nelson was one of the highly respected judges of our court, and I’m sure everyone wishes him well,” MacLaughlin said. “I know I do.”
Judge Morris B. Jones said he and Nelson had become close while serving in courtrooms near each other, and called Nelson an “excellent judge.”
“We used to go every place together—.I thought Rod was one of the best judges we had here.”
The two jurists made a habit of arriving to work early, Jones said.
“Most times we would walk in the building together,” he commented, adding:
“You have to have a sounding board, and we were each other’s sounding board.”
Jones said Nelson had “reached a point where he was declining as far as his memory was concerned,” characterizing it as “more a medical problem, I would say, than being forgetful.”
Sources said the judge was advised to take the leave after lawyers told the court administration that he was behaving erratically.
No judge has been ordered retired by the CJP since it was empowered to take that action under a legislative constitutional amendment 15 years ago. Before the amendment, the state Supreme Court could order a judge retired on the CJP’s recommendation.
The high court last took such action against Supreme Court Justice Marshall F. McComb in 1977, finding that the then-82-year-old jurist suffered from “chronic brain syndrome, senile dementia,” and against North San Diego County Municipal Court Judge Charles Robert Roick in 1978.
Nelson, a Minneapolis native who earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota and his law degree at Columbia University, was practicing business litigation with his wife as the firm of Nelson & Nelson in West Los Angeles when then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the court in 1995.
He studied political theory for a year at Stanford before entering law school. He began his legal career in 1960 as an associate at O’Melveny & Myers before moving on to a series of partnerships. He started Nelson & Nelson in 1992 after six years as a partner at Bryan Cave, and was an arbitrator for the Superior Court before his judicial appointment.
In a response to the CJP’s allegations filed in December, Nelson denied that he was suffering from an illness or disability that would prevent him from resuming his duties.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company