Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Miller Names Task Force to Probe Poochigian Leak
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
State Bar President Howard Miller late Friday named a group of current and former State Bar Board of Governors members to investigate charges that a confidential Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission rating was leaked to the media.
“JNE members take an oath that includes a commitment to keep all evaluations confidential, and JNE members know that any leak of confidentiality is a violation of Government Code Section 12011.5,” Miller said in a statement. The Los Angeles attorney was sworn in Saturday as the group’s president, a position to which he was previously elected without opposition.
The MetNews reported on Aug. 17, in a column by Editor Roger M. Grace, that the commission had rated former state Sen. Charles Poochigian, a Fresno Republican, “not qualified” for appointment to the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated Poochigian to the court Aug. 20. There has been no official disclosure of the rating, which is expected to occur a few days before a confirmation hearing before the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which is to take place Sept. 24 in San Francisco.
“The essential foundation of JNE is its commitment to confidentiality,” Miller said in his statement. “Breaching the oath and that foundation is an outrage that undermines the work of the entire Commission. We will follow this wherever it goes.”
The JNE Investigation Task Force will be chaired by William Gailey, a public member of the Board of Governors who is a former homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department and now heads a private investigation firm.
Also on the task force will be San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Northern California lawyer Richard Frankel, and Orange County attorney Joseph Chairez. Chairez is a member of the Board of Governors, while Dumanis and Frankel just completed three-year terms on the board, having passed up the opportunity to run for president.
Miller did not return a MetNews phone call yesterday. In comments to the Fresno Bee for a story appearing Saturday, he said that while he could not confirm that Poochigian was in fact rated “not qualified,” “We regard what may have happened here as very serious.”
The State Bar said in a release:
“If the task force determines that a JNE member breached confidentiality, it will report to the JNE commission and the president of the State Bar. If that occurs, the report will include a recommendation whether the Board of Governors should remove the JNE member from the commission and refer the violation for criminal prosecution. If an attorney is determined to be the source of a leak, that attorney may be subject to discipline.”
The appointment of the task force is reminiscent of the 1996 investigation into an apparent leak to the Los Angeles Times of the “not qualified” rating given to Janice Rogers Brown, who was up for appointment to the state Supreme Court. Brown was confirmed, and is now a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Following a three-month investigation, a committee appointed by then-State Bar President Jim Towery reported that it was unable to determine the source or sources relied upon by the Times, which cited the reporter’s shield in the state Constitution, as well as the Evidence Code, and declined to respond to the committee’s request for information.
Towery said at the time that the panel interviewed 63 individuals during the course of the investigation, including all members of the JNE Commission, some former JNE members, State Bar personnel, print shop employees and others who may have had access to JNE findings.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company