Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Oral Arguments Slated in Riverside Judge’s Discipline Case
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Oral arguments in the discipline case of Riverside Superior Court Judge Robert G. Spitzer, charged last summer with backdating orders and failing to decide cases within the time required by law, are set to take place Aug. 29, the Commission on Judicial Performance disclosed yesterday.
The hearing, open to the public, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
In a notice of formal proceedings dated July 18, 2006, the commission said that Spitzer 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 an 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 a case involving the City of Moreno Valley and the Southern California Association of Governments, Spitzer allegedly backdated a judgment and writ of mandate by nearly a year. When one of the parties appealed, 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.”
In another matter where a defendant 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 minor, 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, the CJP alleged.
Spitzer denied both allegations in a response to the notice of formal proceedings filed last September.
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.
In April, a panel of special masters appointed by the Supreme Court issued an 82-page report detailing its findings of facts and conclusions of law. Among other things, the special masters—Court of Appeal Justice Fred K. Morrison, Third District
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Mary Joe Levinger, and Sonoma Superior Court Judge Mark H. Tansil—said they did not find clear and convincing evidence that Spitzer backdated the judgment and writ of mandate in the City of Moreno Valley matter.
While noting his explanation as to why he did not have the document processed after signing it “borders on being nonsensical,” and was “imprudent and negligent,” the panel concluded it was “sufficiently plausible to raise a substantial doubt.”
Concerning the automobile accident matter, the special masters found by clear and convincing evidence that Spitzer engaged in willful misconduct by meeting with the victim’s mother outside the parties’ presence and “attempted to enlist her in his efforts to persuade the DA’s office to drop the murder charge and charge the defendant with vehicular manslaughter.” Among other things, he acted in bad faith and violated his obligation to perform his judicial duties without bias or prejudice, they concluded.
If the commission determines that charges are proved by clear and convincing evidence, it may remove, censure, publicly admonish, or privately discipline the judge, who has been on the Riverside bench since 1990.
Spitzer’s attorney, Reginald A. Vitek of Seltzer Caplan, McMahon & Vitek in San Diego, did not return MetNews phone calls.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company