Wednesday, December 30, 2009
State Bar Ends Investigation Into Poochigian Leak; Source Not Found
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The State Bar of California said yesterday its investigation into the unauthorized leak of Fifth District Court of Appeal Justice Charles Poochigian’s confidential Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission rating has concluded without identifying who disclosed the “not qualified” assessment.
The MetNews reported Poochigian’s rating in an Aug. 17 column by Editor Roger M. Grace before an official disclosure was made.
The State Bar Board of Governors formally appointed an investigatory committee in September. Aided by independent professional investigators from a private firm, the committee conducted interviews of more than 70 people involved in the rating process and obtained statements under penalty of perjury, a State Bar spokesperson said.
Grace said that the Metropolitan News-Enterprise will be making a Public Records Act request “to find out how much money was squandered on a private investigation firm undertaking a mission that was certain to fail.”
The failed investigation was the second such undertaking by the State Bar, which had launched a similar effort in 1996 to identify the source of 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.
Following a three-month investigation, a committee appointed by then-State Bar President Jim Towery reported that it was unable to determine who was responsible for the leak.
Brown was confirmed, and is now a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
State Bar President Howard Miller issued a statement emphasizing that “[t]he integrity of the entire JNE process rests upon a commitment to confidentiality,” and vowed that the organization “will always take with the greatest seriousness, and vigorously investigate, any future breach of JNE confidentiality.”
The committee was chaired by Board of Governors public member William H. Gailey, a former Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective and the current head of a private investigation firm.
Other members included San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, the board’s former Regulation and Discipline Committee Chair Richard A. Frankel and former Orange County Bar Association President Joseph L. Chairez, a current member of the Board of Governors.
In addition to creating the investigatory committee, the State Bar also established a separate committee to review all JNE-related policies, procedures and guidelines including appointments and standards used by JNE. That committee is expected to complete its work by the spring of 2010, the spokesperson said.
The JNE rating of Poochigian based on his lack of “actual practical legal experience” required of an appellate justice was criticized by Chief Justice George at a hearing of the Commission on Judicial Appointments where Poochigian’s appointment was ultimately approved despite the rating.
At the hearing, George expressed doubt that the JNE Commission had followed Government Code Sec. 12010.6(d)—part of legislation enacted two years ago in an effort to increase the diversity of the bench—requiring the State Bar to “consider legal experience broadly, including, but not limited to, litigation and nonlitigation experience, legal work for a business or nonprofit entity, experience as a law professor or other academic position, legal work in any of the three branches of government, and legal work in dispute resolution.”
Poochigian, a Fresno Republican, served in the state Assembly from 1994 to 1998 and the Senate from 1998 to 2006.
A graduate of California State University, Fresno and Santa Clara University School of Law, he practiced with Steven Vartabedian—now a justice on the Fifth District—and with the Fresno law firm of Dowling, Aaron and Keeler.
He also served as chief deputy appointments secretary under Gov. George Deukmejian and as appointments secretary under Gov. Pete Wilson.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company