Wednesday, December 17, 2008
CJP Admonishes Judge Over Improper Statements
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished Alameda Superior Court Judge Christine K. Moruza yesterday for making comments from the bench and in chambers which demonstrated a lack of patience and bias, undermined the justice system, or were inappropriately personal.
Although the commission noted that Moruza has not been the subject of prior discipline in her 11 years on the bench, it outlined 11 occurrences between 2005 and 2007 which “suggested abandonment of the judicial role and embroilment.”
Moruza waived her right to formal proceedings and Supreme Court review. She did not contest the commission’s disciplinary decision.
Among the statements the commission took issue with were Moruza’s comments from the bench to a defendant being represented by the public defender that “[y]ou get what you pay for,” and, “[i]f you want really good service, then you pay an attorney $10,000….”
Also, during a morning calendar, Moruza told Alameda Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Campos “those who have attorneys that they’re paying go first and those who you [sic] have a free attorney go second and it’s just the way it works here.”
Moruza’s remarks suggested that she believed indigent defendants were entitled to receive, and did receive, inferior legal services and court access , the CJP said.
During the commission’s investigation, the jurist admitted that making the comments was wrong, and self-reported the Campos incident. She denied having any bias against indigent defendants and explained to the commission that the “you get what you pay for” comment was an effort to impress on the defendant that he should be grateful for the justice system and the representation of the public defender.
The jurist also made comments in two domestic violence matters, opining that one was a “crazy waste of time” and that pursuing it amounted to “stupidity,” and asking in another if “this [was] another case where we’re going to ruin the relationship between the victim [and defendant].”
She admitted to the commission that her remarks were inappropriate and could have led an observer to think she had prejudged the cases, but she denied having a bias against domestic violence cases in general.
The commission found the jurist’s remarks in chambers to counsel in a domestic violence case “to the effect that she had tried to slap her husband once, that he had been quicker and slapped her back” and the judge’s disclosure that she had once called the police on her husband due to domestic violence were inappropriately personal and undignified.
Moruza had also once told a prosecutor in a felony assault case that her son might have reacted similarly to the defendant in the defendant’s situation and compared a defendant in another case—“an ornery old guy”— to her own father, the CJP found.
The jurist told the commission that she recognized statements about her own life experiences were inappropriate and assured the CJP that she will not share personal information or matters related to personal relationships in the future in her role as a judge.
The commission also found that Moruza had abused her authority on two occasions by setting trial dates several months away, despite prosecutors’ request for earlier dates, because it gave the appearance she set the date because of her view that the cases—one in which she had expressed concern the victim was using to gain an advantage in a pending family law case and another which she had characterized as raking an “old man” “over the coals” for something he possibly “didn’t know…was not okay”— should not be tried.
Mitigating the incidences of misconduct, the CJP noted that the judge had taken immediate steps to address the problems brought to her attention after the commission instituted a preliminary investigation by enrolling in 16 hours of group anger management counseling.
In light of her forthrightness in self-reporting one incident, her willingness to concede the impropriety of her actions, and her lack of prior discipline, the commission determined that institution of formal proceedings was not necessary for protection of the public, and that public admonishment was an appropriate resolution.
Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn, the commission chair, Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Judith D. McConnell, attorneys Peter E. Flores and Marshall B. Grossman, and public members Barbara Schraeger, Lawrence J. Simi, Maya Dillard Smith, Sandra Talcott and Nathaniel Trives voted to impose a public admonishment.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein and public member Samuel A. Hardage did not participate in the commission’s decision.
Moruza took the bench in 1997. Her current term began in 2005. She could not be reached for comment.
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