Tuesday, April 13, 2010
State Panel Publicly Admonishes Judge on Trinity Superior Court
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday publicly admonished Trinity Superior Court Judge Anthony C. Edwards.
The commission said Edwards—one of only two superior court judges in the sparsely-populated northwest California county—acted improperly when he presided over cases in which he was disqualified, dismissed charges without legal authority and delayed decisions too long.
Members further faulted a negative comment Edwards made from the bench about local prosecutors, his involvement in a courthouse staffing matter, and the judge’s failure to maintain proper decorum by not asking a potential juror to remove a tinfoil hat during court proceedings.
The commission’s chairperson, Presiding Justice Judith D. McConnell of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. One, said the commission “determined that the conduct of Judge Edwards in these matters was, at minimum, improper action warranting a public admonishment.”
Edwards’ counsel, Kathleen M. Ewins of Long & Levit in San Francisco, told the MetNews that “the issues investigated reflect the unique challenges of a small community.” She said Edwards “does the best he can for the community he serves, and is an excellent judge.”
Ewins also said her client “respects the decision and knows the commission put in considerable time,” but “respectfully disagrees” with the decision to admonish him publicly.
According to the commission, Edwards presided over the arraignment of a family friend after previously disqualifying himself from the case, asked his wife—an attorney who was present in court—what to do and then took her suggestion to appoint a public defender.
Following the arraignment, he gave the defendant a hug as he walked past the jury box where she and other in-custody defendants were sitting.
McConnell rejected Edwards’s argument that he was authorized to conduct the arraignment because the only other judge in the county was also disqualified. She reasoned that the Superior Court would not have lost jurisdiction even if a visiting judge was not available to arraign the defendant within the time prescribed by law, and said that hugging the defendant created the appearance of bias or impropriety.
The justice also admonished Edwards for:
•Reprimanding the local court executive officer after the officer spoke with court staff about their failure to return to court on time after a lunch with the judge.
McConnell said Edwards’ order to the officer to remove any mention of the incident from a clerk’s personnel file and to pay the clerk overtime for keeping her after hours to speak about it reflected a disregard of the court’s obligation to the public, undermined confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and created an appearance of favoritism.
•Dismissing certain infractions and misdemeanors without legal authority on the basis that the defendants were cited to appear in one of the county’s unincorporated communities when they lived in another.
•Commenting in a crowded courtroom that a certain misdemeanor “was just another example of the DA overcharging.”
•Failing to decide at least four matters between 2005 and 2008 within 90 days after the date they were taken under submission.
•Failing to ask a potential juror, whom Edwards knew personally, to remove a tinfoil hat the potential juror was wearing as a joke during court proceedings.
Commission members joining McConnell included Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn; San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein; attorney Marshall B. Grossman, who was replaced last week by former State Bar President Anthony Capozzi; and public members Barbara Schraeger, Lawrence Simi, Sandra Talcott and Nathaniel Trives.
Attorney Peter E. Flores Jr. was recused from the commission’s vote, and public members Samuel Hardage and Maya Dillard Smith did not participate.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company