Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Riverside Judge Tells CJP He Has ‘Conformed Hours’ to Expectations
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Riverside Superior Court Judge Christopher Sheldon, accused by the Commission on Judicial Performance of routinely leaving work early, has admitted that he did so before his colleagues complained, but not since.
In his answer to a notice of formal proceedings, filed Thursday, Sheldon acknowledged that he used to leave the Indo courthouse after completing the dependency calendar, which usually occurred before noon, but denied that his superiors were unaware of this practice.
“In fact, no superior raised any issue with me regarding my hours until September 12, 2008, and when it was raised, I conformed my hours to their expectations.”
He also denied, without elaboration, that he had not sought to make himself available for other judicial work in the afternoons.
Now that he has filed his answer, the case will be referred to a panel of three judges sitting as special masters by appointment of the state Supreme Court, who will hear evidence and make findings for consideration by the CJP.
Sheldon was dubbed the “Jogging Judge” by a local newspaper after being admonished by the CJP in 1998 for leaving his courtroom clerks to sign off on negotiated criminal dispositions while he ran up and down the courthouse stairs for exercise.
The notice of the current proceedings reads, in pertinent part:
“You have been assigned to the dependency department in Indio since August 2005. The dependency calendar routinely concludes before noon. Since approximately January 2006, you routinely have left the courthouse for the day after the calendar is concluded. You have not informed your superiors of your routine absences during court hours, and have not sought or received authorization for these half-day absences. On occasion, the juvenile delinquency judge in Indio has handled ex parte dependency matters during your afternoon absences. You generally have not sought to make yourself available for other judicial work during these absences.”
The commission alleged that Sheldon violated ethics rules requiring that judges uphold the integrity of, and promote public confidence in, the judiciary and perform their duties diligently.
Sheldon is represented by San Diego attorneys Reg Vitek and Heather Rosing.
In his previous case, Sheldon was disciplined for running a misdemeanor pretrial calendar by having the attorneys negotiate dispositions, generally involving negotiated pleas in exchange for probation, with or without jail time, and leaving it to the court clerks to stamp his name on the orders.
The commission found that Sheldon was derelict in not personally taking the bench and making certain that the defendants were entering their pleas knowingly and voluntarily, in not imposing sentences in open court, and in leaving the courthouse during the calendar on one occasion without arranging for another judicial officer to cover.
It also found that he engaged in improper extrajudicial activity by exercising on the stairs while his courtroom was in session, and that he had undermined confidence in the judiciary.
The commission noted in mitigation that Sheldon had acted out of a desire to make the conduct of the calendar more efficient; that he stopped the improper practices after about six months, after being counseled by his supervising judge; and that he had taken on the misdemeanor pretrial calendar in addition to his other duties. But it also found that an admonishment was necessary because Sheldon “abandoned his fundamental responsibilities;” failed to appreciate the impropriety of his actions, which he had defended throughout the proceedings; and created a poor public image.
Sheldon, who turned 60 last week, has been a judge since October 1989, when then-Gov. George Deukmejian named him to the Desert Municipal Court. He had been a sole practitioner in Blythe for more than six years before that, and was a Riverside deputy district attorney earlier in his career.
He was elevated to the Riverside Superior Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1992.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company