Thursday, July 16, 2009
CJP Censures Ex-Commissioner Dobbs, Bars Her From Assignments
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured retired Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Ann Dobbs yesterday and barred her from receiving any future work assignments from any California state court, marking the first time the state’s judicial watchdog has disciplined a commissioner.
Proposition 221, which passed with 81 percent of the vote, extended CJP oversight to commissioners and other subordinate judicial officers in 1998. Commission rules, however, say the CJP will exercise that authority only when the trial court’s internal handling of the matter is deemed insufficient.
Dobbs, who served six years on the bench in the Family Law Department, stipulated to the discipline—which is the maximum the commission may levy on a retired judicial officer—and the underlying facts. The commission also referred the matter to the State Bar, which has the power to suspend or disbar a former judicial officer for misconduct occurring while he or she served in that capacity.
The nine members of the commission who voted on the matter unanimously found that Dobbs’ repeated failure to complete her cases in a timely manner created a “strong likelihood” that she would engage in a similar pattern of delayed rulings if she were permitted to serve as a judicial officer again in the future.
In California, judicial officers are expected to decide cases within 90 days of the date they are taken under submission and are prohibited from receiving a salary while any cause remains pending and undetermined.
All judges are required to execute an affidavit attesting that they have no case pending for more than 90 days prior to receiving their paychecks, and the Los Angeles Superior Court distributed the same affidavits to commissioners. Between 2002 and 2007, Dobbs failed to sign any affidavits, an omission that was not discovered until after her October 2007 retirement.
The court last year enacted new rules that expressly subject commissioners and referees to the requirement that they decide cases within 90 days, and swear each month that none of their cases have been held beyond the required time period. The court staff is now required to notify the presiding judge of any noncompliance.
Then-Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger said at the time that the new rules were a response to a “weakness” the Dobbs matter had exposed in the court’s oversight of subordinate judicial officers.
Case Tracking System
The Los Angeles Superior Court employs a tracking system for cases generated at the end of each month and distributed to all bench officers showing the number of cases each had under submission for 30 to 60 days, 60 to 90 days and over 90 days. This system was already in use when Dobbs was elected as a commissioner in 2001 and remains in effect.
Between 2003 and 2007, some of the cases appeared in the report for Dobbs under the 30-to-60-day and 60-to-90-day categories even though they been under submission for more than 90 days.
At various times in 2006 and 2007, Dobbs prepared information for these reports herself, rather than allowing her clerk to do so, inaccurately reflecting the status of certain cases she had under submission.
Some cases she had taken under submission never appeared in the reports at all, including some cases that had been undecided for more than 90 days.
Between 2006 and 2007 the court transferred a total of 354 matters that had been assigned to Dobbs to another judge for adjudication, but Dobbs still failed to complete her submitted cases on time.
On two occasions in 2007, Dobbs was given one week off in which she was to complete her caseload but she failed to do so each time.
In 2007 Dobbs’ supervising judge sent her three grievances from family law litigants complaining of delays ranging from six months to five years in receiving decisions in their cases. While Dobbs acknowledged receipt of the complaints, she never responded to the allegations contained therein.
When Dobbs retired that October, she agreed to complete work on undecided cases from home and took approximately 30 cases, of which 15 had been under submission for over 90 days.
During the three months after her retirement, Dobbs did not complete any of these cases and the court retrieved the files from her in January 2008. The cases were assigned to other judicial officers and mistrials were declared in at least 15 cases. Several cases also had to be retried.
The commission found that Dobbs had failed to observe high standards of conduct, act in a manner that promoted public confidence in the judiciary, dispose of all judicial matters appropriately and cooperate with other judges and court officials in the administration of court business, in violation of four canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics.
“Through her misconduct, the commissioner demonstrated an unconscionable disregard for the rights of litigants and the reputation of the judiciary,” the CJP said, asserting that her behavior was also prejudicial in that it caused “significant harm” to litigants and the court and “seriously undermined the integrity of the judiciary.”
Her attorney, Heather L. Rosing of Klinedinst PC in San Diego, issued a statement yesterday that Dobbs “accepted and acknowledged responsibility for her actions,” and expressed her client’s remorse.
“Former Commissioner Dobbs apologies profusely for her delays in ruling, and particularly for the frustration or pain she caused any family law litigants,” Rosing said. “She realizes now that she simply had more work than she could handle given her health situation, and that she should have sought assistance from her Court.”
The attorney maintained her client “did not intend any harm,” and “now realizes that her inability to handle the volume of cases had unintended consequences for the parties.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company