Friday, November 7, 2008
CJP Admonishes Judge for Calling Case ‘Waste of Time’
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished Orange Superior Court Judge John M. Watson yesterday for the second time in less than three years.
The jurist, 64, who has drawn rebuke from the commission on four prior occasions, tendered his resignation in October and stipulated to yesterday’s admonishment. He will leave the bench March 24, the court confirmed.
The commission’s decision, authored by Presiding Justice Judith D. McConnell of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. One, vice-chairperson of the commission, stated that Watson had displayed improper courtroom demeanor while presiding over an adversary hearing between Michael Papadopoulos and his neighbor, Patty Hickok.
Watson “failed to be patient, dignified and courteous with the parties and lawyers and became embroiled in the matter in violation of the Code of Judicial Ethics, cannons 2 and 3b(4),” McConnell wrote.
Papadopoulos had requested a full adversary hearing seeking a permanent injunction against Hickok, and rejected Watson’s recommendation for a mutual stay away order, but Watson said he was “irritated” that the matter was proceeding to trial.
“I do not think this is good sense or good use of these resources that I govern,” he said. “We have people that have real problems.”
Watson critiqued the litigation as “a relatively minor dispute over barking puppies and gardeners who come before 7:00,” and characterized the proceeding as “a waste of time,” and merely an opportunity for the parties to “call each other names.”
When Hickok’s attorney raised an evidentiary objection during a cross-examination, Watson sustained it, sarcastically remarking that the witness’ response was, “as important as anything else I’ve heard.”
McConnell noted that Watson’s comments “continued for several pages of transcript” and concluded the jurist’s behavior constituted “at a minimum, improper action.”
In a separate matter, McConnell explained that Watson had committed misconduct when he presided over three consolidated unlawful detainer cases in which the parties were not represented by counsel without disclosing that he had previously been a defendant in lawsuits for breach of the warranty of habitability filed by tenants of the judge’s rental properties.
The commission previously publicly admonished Watson for using his courtroom clerk to help with the day-to-day management of the two rental properties, and for using court resources and facilities to manage his personal real estate matters in February 2006.
Six months later, the commission privately admonished him for an email sent to other judges that was perceived as biased or prejudiced.
In 2004, the commission sent Watson an advisory letter expressing “strong disapproval” of conduct in two cases that included sarcastic, demeaning, and disparaging remarks, and impatience toward attorneys.
Watson also received an advisory letter in 1995 for admitting a defendant to bail after a hearing, then revoking the defendant’s bail status later that day, without notice or a hearing, based on an ex parte contact between his clerk and the police.
McConnell concluded that Watson’s resignation and agreement to not seek or hold judicial office or assignment would adequately protect the public from any future misconduct and the participating commission members unanimously voted for public admonishment.
Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick B. Horn, the commission chairman, was recused, and public member Samuel A. Hardage did not participate.
Long Beach general practitioner Anthony Cosio represented Papadopoulos and said that the action had been his client’s first experience with the judicial system, and that Papadopoulos had “felt insulted” and “demeaned” by the judge’s behavior.
“He was laughed out of the courtroom,” Cosio said. “[Watson] made a mockery out of the entire proceeding.”
During several points in the trial, Cosio said the judge put his head down on the bench to simulate sleeping, adding that he and opposing counsel Vincent L. Goodwin agreed to mutually dismiss the case “just to get out of there.”
Goodwin could not be reached for comment, nor could Watson or his attorney.
Watson currently presides over cases at the West Justice Center in Santa Ana. He was appointed to the bench in 1990 by then–Gov. George Deukmejian after serving one year as an Orange Municipal Court Judge, and 19 years as a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney.
He graduated from UCLA School of Law in 1969, and attended college at what is now Loyola Marymount University.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company