Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Hearing Set for Riverside Judge Accused of Backdating Orders
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A hearing has been scheduled on charges by the Commission on Judicial Performance that a Riverside Superior Court judge backdated orders, failed to decide cases within the time required by law, exhibited bias and embroilment, and engaged in other misconduct.
The CJP, in a release issued yesterday, said that a panel of special masters would hear evidence in the case of Riverside Superior Court Judge Robert G. Spitzer on Jan. 22 in the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Riverside courtroom.
The state Supreme Court has appointed Third District Court of Appeal Justice Fred K. Morrison, Sonoma Superior Court Judge Mark H. Tansil, and Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Mary Jo Levinger as the special masters.
In a notice of formal proceedings dated July 18, the commission said that Spitzer, 57, issued orders with dates that were many months earlier than those on which the orders were actually made, often failed to decide cases within 90 days, filed false salary affidavits, failed to issue orders, engaged in ex parte communications, gave the appearance of and demonstrated bias, conducted independent investigations and demonstrated embroilment, and failed to cooperate during the commission’s investigation.
In his verified response, Spitzer denied backdating orders.
He acknowledged that on one occasion in 2004, he was directed by then-Presiding Justice Douglas Miller, now a Court of Appeal justice, to resolve a number of outstanding matters, but denied that he ever knowingly filed a false declaration saying he had no matters under submission for 90 days. The filing of such a declaration each month is a prerequisite to a judge being paid.
Spitzer did acknowledge that on June 7, 2004, Miller directed that his paycheck be withheld because of an apparently unresolved summary judgment motion that had been under submission since February.
The commission contends that an order regarding the motion was entered June 9, but Spitzer contends that he had already signed a ruling on or about May 10 and given the document to an assistant for processing. He denied the CJP’s allegation that he told the assistant to backdate the ruling.
Spitzer also denied that he backdated a judgment and writ of mandate in a case involving the City of Moreno Valley and the Southern California Association of Governments by nearly a year. The CJP noted that the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal as untimely on the ground that the notice of appeal was filed “approximately thirteen months following the entry of judgment.”
Spitzer claims that he signed the judgment in a timely manner, although the date of entry was not file-stamped until 11 months later.
The judge also denied allegations of improper conduct in a criminal case that led to his being blanket-affidavited by District Attorney Grover Trask. The six-term district attorney said it was the first time he had ever taken such a measure, and he later relented and agreed to consider allowing Spitzer to hear matters brought by his office on a case-by-case basis.
The defendant in that case was charged with murder, child endangerment, driving under the influence of alcohol and other charges stemming from an automobile accident which resulted in the death of a child.
The commission charged that Spitzer, in a continuing effort to persuade the district attorney’s office to dismiss the murder charge and prosecute the defendant for vehicular manslaughter, contacted the victim’s mother without the parties’ knowledge and suggested she use her influence to convince the district attorney to drop the murder charge.
Another judge granted the prosecution’s motion to remove Spitzer from the case after the mother testified she felt that she was being pressured by Spitzer to tell the district attorney to drop the murder charge.
Spitzer denied pressuring the mother or becoming embroiled in the case. He acknowledged that he spoke to the mother, but did not elaborate as to the circumstances, other than to say that he explained to her the difference between murder and manslaughter and the possible sentence for manslaughter.
The judge also denied having refused to cooperate with the CJP. He said he responded to the commission’s July 2005 preliminary investigation letter in January of this year, and insisted that the delay was not unreasonable.
The special masters appointed will conduct an evidentiary hearing where the parties will have an opportunity to introduce evidence and examine and cross-examine witnesses. If the commission determines that charges are proved by clear and convincing evidence, it may remove, censure, publicly admonish, or privately discipline the judge.
Spitzer, who is represented by San Diego attorneys Reg A. Vitek of Seltzer Caplan, McMahon & Vitek and Heather L. Rosing of Klinedinst PC, has been a judge since 1990, when then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed him to the Riverside Municipal Court. He was elevated to the Superior Court in 1998 as a result of unification.
A graduate of UCLA and of USC’s law school, the Ohio native practiced with a Beverly Hills firm and later as a sole practitioner in Los Angeles between 1975 and 1977 before joining the Riverside District Attorney’s Office, where he was promoted to supervising deputy in 1983 and served in that capacity until his appointment to the bench.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company