Tuesday, April 28, 2009
CJP Sets Argument on Charges Against Sacramento Jurist
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Oral argument before a panel of special masters regarding possible misconduct by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Peter J. McBrien will commence on May 29, the Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday.
Special masters Fifth District Court of Appeal Justice Dennis A. Cornell, Orange Superior Court Judge Gail A. Andler and Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Denise DeBellefeuille will conduct the 9 a.m. hearing at the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco. It is open to the public.
Evidentiary hearings took place April 1-3 after formal proceedings were instituted against McBrien in September, alleging that the jurist, while presiding over a routine marital dissolution between Ulf and Mona Carlsson, had improperly threatened counsel with contempt, become embroiled in the proceedings, and then abandoned the trial.
The Third District Court of Appeal held that McBrien’s behavior had “openly violated” the precepts of due process and so infected the integrity of the process that reversal was required without an assessment of actual prejudice.
McBrien was also charged with engaging in improper ex parte communications in two separate trials, but Ulf Carlsson told the MetNews “the whole hearing was about my case.”
The CJP’s notice alleged that McBrien’s conduct in these three cases constituted willful misconduct, persistent failure or inability to perform the duties of a judge, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
In his answer, McBrien acknowledged having pushed the attorneys in the Carlsson case to move the case along, in accordance with the two-day trial estimate, but denied having abandoned the trial, threatened counsel with contempt, or engaged in other impropriety.
He also denied having acted improperly in the other two cases cited by the commission.
San Francisco attorney James A. Murphy of Murphy, Pearson, Bradley and Feeney is representing McBrien. Commission Trial Counsel Andrew Blum is presenting the case against McBrien.
Following completion of the oral argument, the special masters will provide the CJP with a report containing their findings with respect to the charges. This report is due June 16.
The parties will have an opportunity to respond to the report through briefing and argument before the commission, and if the commission determines that the charges are proved by clear and convincing evidence, it may impose discipline as provided in the California Constitution. Charges that the commission determines are not proved will be dismissed.
The CJP—which is composed of three judges, two lawyers, and six public members, and chaired by Justice Judith D. McConnell of the Fourth District Court of Appeal—publicly admonished McBrien after he pled guilty to misdemeanor vandalism for chopping down oak trees on public land because they obscured the view of the American River from his home in April 2002.
McBrien, 63, was appointed to the Sacramento Municipal Court in 1987 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian, and elevated by Deukmejian to the Superior Court in 1989.
The jurist last year survived a recall campaign and defeated write-in candidate Matthew Jay Smith—a lead appellate court attorney with the Third District Court of Appeal—in the November election.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company