Thursday, December 3, 2009
Judicial Commission Publicly Admonishes San Diego Judge Coates
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday publicly admonished San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert C. Coates for a second time for abusing the prestige of his office and misusing court resources.
The commission said Coates—who was similarly admonished in 2000 for using court resources to prepare personal documents—violated judicial ethics standards by improperly using the prestige of his office and title to advance pecuniary or personal interests, and by failing to act in a manner promoting confidence in the judiciary.
Members who voted to impose public admonishment cited personal letters Coates sent to his health insurer and financial institution, his memorandum to an undersheriff indicating problems in the Sheriff Department’s training functions, and his letter to a non-governmental organization regarding global warming and climate change using his title and court address.
Eight of the commission’s 11 members voted to impose a public admonishment, while three did not participate.
Coates, 72, has been a San Diego judge since 1982, when he was appointed to the San Diego Municipal Court by then-Gov. Jerry Brown after 11 years of private practice. He joined the Superior Court upon unification in 1998.
In 2000, he was publicly admonished for making extensive use of court secretaries and other court resources to prepare more than 100 personal documents from 1993 to 1998. He also received an advisory letter regarding his use of court resources to prepare and send documents connected to his personal involvement in civic activities.
The 2000 admonishment also addressed a pattern of demeaning and discourteous conduct toward court staff and persons appearing before him, including yelling and cursing.
In 1988, Coates received an advisory letter for shouting and screaming at a litigant in a temporary restraining order proceeding. He also received a private admonishment in 1991 for sentencing a defendant on a speeding case based on his subjective diagnosis that the defendant was “addicted to something,” and for calling a “hearing” and requiring the attendance of several attorneys to inquire into the operation of the Alternate Defender’s Office.
Voting to impose yesterday’s public admonishment, commission members noted that Coates had continued to abuse his office’s prestige and misuse resources, “notwithstanding his prior discipline…, notwithstanding direction from his presiding judges that he cease such conduct, and notwithstanding advice he received from the California Judges Association…Ethics Committee to avoid such conduct….”
“Judge Coates’s recalcitrance manifests indifference toward the erosion of public confidence in the judiciary that results from irresponsible behavior by judges. This repeated ethical indifference warrants another public rebuke.”
Commission members Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Judith D. McConnell of the Fourth District’s Div. One, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein, Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn, Los Angeles attorney Marshall B. Grossman, and public members Barbara Schraeger, Lawrence J. Simi, Sandra Talcott and Nathaniel Trives voted for a public admonishment. Public members Peter E. Flores, Samuel A. Hardage and Maya Dillard Smith did not participate.
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