Friday, April 2, 2010
Judicial Performance Panel Says It Disciplined 31 Judges Last Year
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance disciplined 31 judges last year, while disposing of more than 1,100 complaints, the commission said in its annual report released yesterday.
Of a total of 1,115 complaints in which final action was taken, 1,007 were closed after initial review and 108 were referred to commission staff for further inquiry or preliminary investigation.
The 31 disciplined judges represent less than two percent of the judiciary. California had 1,755 authorized judgeships as of the end of last year.
Of the 77 cases that were investigated, three were closed following the judge’s resignation or retirement, and 74 were closed without discipline. Most cases do not get that far in the process, the commission explained, because they do not involve allegations of judicial misconduct and/or because the subject of the complaint is not a current or former California state judge.
Of the 31 cases in which discipline was imposed, one resulted in censure, two in public admonishment, three in private admonishment, and 25 in the issuance of advisory or “stinger” letters.
Eight of those cases involved improper demeanor or decorum or inappropriate humor, six were cases of “administrative malfeasance” such as conflicts between judges or failure to supervise staff, six involved failure to ensure rights of litigants, and four involved violations of procedures related to judicial disqualification, disclosure, or post-disqualification conduct.
Four involved abuse of office off the bench, four involved abuse of judicial authority in the performance of official duties, three involved failure to perform judicial functions, three resulted from ex parte communications, two involved bias or the appearance of bias for or against particular individuals not based on race or other group identification, and two resulted from misuse of court resources.
The remaining five cases involved abuse of contempt or sanctions power, comment on a pending case, delay in making decisions, improper political activities, and “miscellaneous off-bench conduct,” the commission said.
As part of the report, the commission each year summarizes the conduct for which judges received private discipline, with no identification of the court involved.
Conduct for which private admonishments were imposed included “inappropriate fundraising efforts on behalf of a candidate for judicial office, that included distribution of written materials that demeaned the judicial office,” and sending a letter to a local business complaining about the termination of an employee and threatening that the court and the judge would no longer patronize that business.
One judge drew a private admonishment for improper actions in three different cases, including contacting a lawyer’s supervisor ex parte to criticize the attorney’s performance, shouting at counsel and using improper contempt procedures, and refusing to appoint counsel when required by law.
Three judges drew stinger letters for making disparaging remarks about lawyers or litigants, two in open court and one in a published interview that also included the use of profanity. One of those judges also took two personal phone calls while in open court and left the bench each time for at least five minutes.
One judge drew a stinger letter for expressing bias against a litigant during a chambers meeting with counsel, one for threatening to hold citizens in contempt if they did not “cease and desist” communicating with grand jurors on certain matters, one for sealing court records without the required showing of good cause, one for drinking in a bar during court hours, four for failing to properly supervise subordinate judicial officers, three for refusing to hear matters properly before them or unjustifiably refusing to allow parties to be heard, and one for imposing “an illegal and unconstitutional probation condition that reflected disregard of fundamental rights.”
One judge drew an advisory letter for commenting publicly on a case then pending before the Court of Appeal, one for waiting six months to rule on a habeas petition, one for considering ex parte communications from the public in connection with a sentencing, one for granting a requested continuance without prior notice to the opposing party, one for mishandling a probation matter and causing the probationer to be erroneously arrested and jailed for a week, and six for multiple acts of misconduct that included failure to disclose personal relationships, disparaging remarks about counsel, vouching for the character of a party to a case before another judge, and acting in a manner reflecting embroilment with the defendant and counsel.
The commission also reported concluding 154 cases in which complaints were filed against commissioners and referees. The commission’s rules require that such complaints be referred to the local courts for investigation and imposition of discipline if warranted; the commission then has discretion to determine whether further proceedings are necessary.
In all but five of the cases, the CJP found no need for further involvement on its part. In three of the remaining cases, the commission investigated but took no action, while one resulted in an advisory letter and one—that of retired Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Ann Dobbs—resulted in censure for persistent failure to decide cases on time.
The advisory letter, the CJP explained, was issued for “usurping the prosecutorial function” by sustaining the judicial officer’s own objections to cross-examination questions and being rude to a defendant.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company