Wednesday, November 19, 2008
San Francisco Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Publicly Censured
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday publicly admonished the assistant presiding judge of the San Francisco Superior Court for improperly advancing trial dates and substituting counsel.
Following a contested hearing on Oct. 21, the CJP found that Judge James McBride, 57, had engaged in improper conduct while presiding over the master criminal calendar in several cases in late 2006 and early 2007.
McBride—responding to the commission’s investigation—acknowledged having advanced trial dates in multiple criminal cases in which the defendants had not waived their right to a speedy trial, but claimed that he did so to avoid the possibility that the case would be dismissed if it were not tried by the speedy trial deadline.
He further contended that he had the judicial authority as supervising judge of the criminal courts to manage the criminal trial docket and advance cases when a courtroom became available, but the commission, in a decision by its chair, Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn, determined that McBride’s advancement of trial dates was contrary to fundamental principles or fairness and due process.
Horn detailed two instances where deputy public defenders had matters scheduled for hearings in McBride’s court but were unavailable to appear and McBride removed the attorneys from their cases. Absent any evidence of a conflict of interest, or indication that the attorneys’ representation was inadequate or that defense counsel’s absence had impaired court proceedings, he explained, McBride’s conduct amounted to unlawful interference with the attorney-client relationship.
The judge’s conduct also created the appearance that he was acting out of pique and for the purpose of punishing the deputy public defenders for not appearing in his court, Horn wrote, noting various other instances where McBride made “rude,” “condescending,” “sarcastic,” and “denigrating comments” to attorneys before him in violation of Canon of Judicial Ethics 3B(4), which requires judges to be patient, dignified and courteous to those with whom they deal in an official capacity.
Presiding Justice Judith D. McConnell of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. One, attorneys Peter Flores and Marshall Grossman, and public members Barbara Schraeger, Maya Dillard-Smith, Sandra Talcott and Nathaniel Trives voted with Horn in favor of public admonishment. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein and public member Lawrence Simi were recused, while public member Samuel A. Hardage did not participate.
The commission has not previously disciplined McBride publicly, but the jurist has faced criminal charges in the past. In 1999, he avoided prosecution for three misdemeanor counts of spousal abuse and one of witness intimidation for allegedly preventing his wife from making a police report by consenting to undergo a year of domestic violence counseling.
McBride, a former police officer, served as an assistant district attorney and maintained a private civil practice before being appointed to the San Francisco Municipal Court in 1994 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson.
He was elevated by unification in 2000, and has been honored by the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association and the San Francisco Bar Association’s Barrister Club as Judge of the Year. On Jan. 1, he will succeed current Presiding Judge David Ballati.
Among his notable cases, McBride presided over the lawsuit regarding ownership of Barry Bonds’ record-setting 73rd home run ball.
A San Francisco native, McBride attended college at U.C. Berkeley, and graduated from the university’s law school in 1979.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company