Thursday, April 20, 2006
Removal of Judge Kevin Ross From Bench Left Standing by S.C.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday denied a petition by former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin A. Ross to review the Commission on Judicial Performance’s Nov. 16 order removing him from office.
The court, which met in San Francisco yesterday for its weekly conference, acted without dissent, issuing a brief order.
A ruling in Ross’ favor would not have restored him to the bench, since he resigned Jan. 12.
His attorney, James A. Murphy of San Francisco, said Ross wanted to “clear his good name.” A favorable ruling would also have assured his right to practice law and opened the possibility of his serving as a judicial officer in the future.
‘Disappointed, Not Surprised’
Murphy told the MetNews yesterday he was “disappointed, but certainly not surprised,” that the court declined to look at the case. It’s an “uphill battle” to get the Supreme Court to review a CJP order, he said.
“[The justices] have abdicated responsibility for discipline of judges to the commission,” he commented. Ross’ case, he said, should have commanded the justices’ attention since the commission viewed the judge’s conduct in a far more negative light than the special masters who heard the evidence.
The commission found that Ross violated defendants’ constitutional rights, made improper comments to the media, used his office in an effort to promote a tasteless concept for a television program, and prevaricated when confronted by the commission about his conduct.
Murphy questioned the commission’s judgment in saying that Ross lacked candor, based on comments that Ross himself made to the commission rather than on any finding by the masters “How can they reach that conclusion without considering the demeanor of those witnesses,” whose testimony before the masters contradicted that of the judge.
In his filing, Murphy argued that the commission deprived Ross of his rights to “due process and fundamental fairness,” that basing his removal on media comment deprived him of his free speech rights, that he cannot be removed for his role in the proposed television program because was not acting in a judicial capacity, and that he was being unfairly punished for having defended himself before the commission.
Murphy said yesterday he did not know whether Ross would ask the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari on the federal constitutional issues. He noted that he recently lost a bid to have the high court hear the case of former Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Bruce Van Voorhis, who was removed from office for conduct that included insulting lawyers, staff members and jurors in open court.
The State Bar’s Web site lists Ross as an active member as of March 22, but a bar spokesperson said the listing will be changed to reflect yesterday’s order by the high court. Art. V, Sec. 18(e) of the State Constitution, provides in part that “[a] judge removed by the commission is ineligible for judicial office...and pending further order of the court is suspended from practicing law in this State.”
Ross was elected to the Inglewood Municipal Court in 1998, unseating Judge Lawrence Mason, an appointee of then-Gov. Pete Wilson. Ross, one of the youngest judges in the state at age 34 when he took office, was elevated to the Superior Court by unification in 2000.
He earned his law degree from Southwestern, serving there as president of the Black Law Students Association. He ran unsuccessfully for the Los Angeles City Council in 1995 and hosted his own radio talk show.
Murphy said that Ross is hoping to revive his career as a talk show host.
In other action taken at the conference, the justices:
•Ordered Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal to issue an order to show cause in the case of accused murderer Jesse James Hollywood. Attorneys for Hollywood, allegedly a former San Fernando Valley drug kingpin, are challenging a Santa Barbara Superior Court judge’s denial of their motion to disqualify the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the case.
Hollywood, who was captured in Brazil last year after nearly five years at large, is accused of masterminding the kidnapping and murder of the 15-year-old half-brother of a former friend who owed Hollywood a drug debt. His attorneys claim the lead prosecutor in the case, Ronald Zonen, abandoned his role as dispassionate public advocate in order to assist the producers of “Alpha Dog,” a feature film based on the case that is set for release next month.
Zonen claims that he has no interest in the success of the film project, but that he cooperated with the producers because he felt the exposure would help lead to the arrest of Hollywood, who was taken into custody by Brazilian police after a traffic stop.
James Blatt, lead counsel for Hollywood, told the MetNews that he was gratified he would get a hearing on his contention that “lawyers, whether prosecutors or defense attorneys, should not become consultants while a case is pending...whatever our motives might be.”
He said it was ”unprecedented for a prosecutor to turn over his entire file” to motion picture producers prior to trial, and that Zonen’s doing so had created a highly prejudicial climate, since potential jurors would be able to see the film before jury selection begins.
•Agreed to decide whether the tolling of the statute of limitations for a malpractice action against a law firm continues after the responsible lawyer leaves the firm if he or she continues to represent the client.
The Court of Appeal for this district, Div. Two, answered that question in the affirmative on Jan. 10 in Beal Bank, SSB v. Arter & Hadden, LLP, reversing a contrary ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John P. Shook. Div. Two reinstated a claim against Arter & Hadden resulting from the firm’s representation of Beal Bank, SSB in its efforts to collect default interest on certain loans.
The bank sued the firm along with Eric Dean, a partner at the firm at the relevant times, and Steven Gubner. Gubner was an associate at Arter & Hadden when he began representing the bank, and continued to represent it after leaving to create Gubner & Associates—which became Ezra, Brutzkus & Gubner—in December 1998.
Beal Bank was unable to recover the interest, due to an adverse ruling by a bankruptcy judge while Gubner was still at Arter & Hadden. The bank, represented by Gubner’s new firm, lost its appeals, then sued its former lawyers, with Shook ruling that the one-year limitations period with respect to Gubner began to run when he left Arter & Hadden and expired before the bank’s complaint was filed.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company