Wednesday, December 15, 2010
CJP Admonishes Judge Who Allegedly Drove Drunk
Commission Also Admonishes San Bernardino Jurist Over Deportment
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday publicly admonished two judges, including Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Melissa N. Widdifield.
Widdifield, who was appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2007 after serving for five years as a commissioner, was cited for a Nov. 18, 2009 incident in which she allegedly drove drunk.
San Bernardino Superior Court Judge John B. Gibson, who was admonished in 2000 for insensitive and inappropriate conduct, drew admonishment for displaying impatience, irritation and sarcasm towards attorneys, and for making “crude” remarks and gestures. The admonishments were issued under commission rule 115, meaning that neither judge contested the discipline.
Police charged Widdifield with driving her vehicle in a reckless manner while under the influence of alcohol, and with a blood alcohol level of approximately .09 percent, following a 1 a.m. traffic stop. The former criminal defense lawyer entered a nolo contendere plea to reckless driving May 14.
The 11-member CJP said that the unlawful action “evidences a serious disregard of the principles of personal and official conduct embodied in the California Code of Judicial Ethics” and eroded public confidence in the judiciary. Members also concluded that Widdifield’s actions were prejudicial to the administration of justice and brought her into disrepute.
Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Judith D. McConnell, the commission’s chair, was joined in voting for admonishment by Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn, former State Bar President Anthony P. Capozzi, San Francisco attorney Peter E. Flores Jr., and public members Barbara Schraeger, Lawrence Simi, Maya Dillard Smith and Nathaniel Trives.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein—who resigned from the commission to become her superior court’s presiding judge and was succeeded last week by Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Erica R. Yew, a former member of the State Bar Board of Governors—also voted for admonishment. Public member Sandra Talcott was recused and public member Samuel A. Hardage did not participate.
Widdifield could not be reached for comment.
Lack of Dignity
Gibson’s admonishment said he “failed to maintain high standards of conduct, failed to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary, and failed to be dignified, patient and courteous to those with whom he deals in an official capacity” in three matters earlier this year.
The judge became irritated, impatient and sarcastic with two defense attorneys in open court over the subpoenaing of witnesses, the commission said, and—using gestures—told one of the two in chambers that her male colleague was “incompetent” and that the colleague just stood in court scratching himself and “picking his nose.”
The commission also cited a matter in which Gibson allegedly gestured in front of his groin while telling two attorneys—one male and one female—in a hallway outside of chambers about his experience as a young defense attorney when a prosecutor verbally intimidated him while they were both standing at a urinal.
On another occasion, the commission alleged, Gibson referred to a tall, thin female attorney with short hair who appeared before him as a “Q-tip.”
Members of the CJP said they took into account a 2000 admonishment that alleged inappropriate acts toward a female employee. Those included sexually suggestive comments; writing and sending a sexually suggestive memo; writing and delivering another memo in jest about putting the employee to death; sticking his finger out of his robe while saying, “Say hello to Mr. Bobo;” and grabbing and kissing a female probation officer on the lips in the courtroom.
The commission members—except for Hardage, who did not participate—unanimously voted for public admonishment.
Gibson referred requests for comment to his attorney, Paul S. Meyer of Costa Mesa, who emphasized that his client “cooperated with the investigation by the commission and sincerely accepts the admonishment.”
Meyer told the MetNews that Gibson “regrets his insensitive statements and apologizes for his conduct in these limited instances.” The judge also “appreciates the many expressions of support he has received for his excellent judicial work,” Meyer said.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company