Wednesday, February 3, 2010
CJP Rebukes Retired Superior Court Judge Brett Klein
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday censured retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brett C. Klein and barred him from holding future judicial office or sitting on assignment, pursuant to a stipulation.
Klein was rebuked for his handling of Cohen v. Windsor Fashions, Inc., No. BC381468, a class action against a women’s clothing store chain for alleged violations of the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act.
The parties in that case reached a preliminary settlement awarding each class member a $10 voucher that could be used at any California Windsor Fashions store, $2,500 to class plaintiff Jacqueline Cohen, and $125,000 in fees for class counsel, Yorba Linda attorney Neil B. Fineman.
Judge Susan Bryant-Deason granted preliminary approval of the settlement and set a hearing for final approval for Jan. 16, 2009. However, because she was ill on that day, the proceeding was reassigned to Klein.
After the fairness hearing, Klein added language to the proposed settlement order requiring that Fineman and Cohen be paid in the same commodity as class members. The MetNews obtained a copy of this order and subsequently published an article about the case.
On Jan 29, 2009, Klein sent an e-mail to Bryant-Deason, in which he said he was “trouble[d]” by his ruling and referred to the revisions he had made to the proposed settlement as “unusual.” He suggested that he could order reconsideration of the joint motion for final approval sua sponte and then recuse himself so that Bryant-Deason could decide the matter.
Klein did so on Feb. 2, 2009, and Bryant-Deason later signed a new order incorporating the original terms of the settlement.
The CJP—which is composed of three judges, two lawyers, and six public members, and chaired by Fourth District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Judith D. McConnell—found that Klein “abandoned his role as a neutral arbitrator and gave the appearance of being punitive toward the plaintiffs’ attorney and grandstanding to the press,” manifesting his personal embroilment and bias in the case through the “highly unorthodox manner” in which he modified the awards to Fineman and Cohen and his transmission of a copy of the order to the MetNews.
Klein also “engaged in a pattern of sarcasm and improper remarks toward the attorneys” during the fairness hearing reflecting “a failure to be patient, dignified and courteous to those appearing before him,” the commission said, which constituted “at a minimum, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.”
Approving the stipulated discipline—the maximum the commission may impose upon a former judge—the commission noted that Klein had previously been disciplined for similar misconduct and yet “continued to engage in the same type of misconduct.”
Klein received an advisory letter in 2002 for making improper and unprofessional remarks at a hearing about an attorney who was not present and was publicly admonished two yeas later for actions he took after a judgment he entered was reversed by the Court of Appeal.
He said in a statement yesterday:
“I tried to do my best for my 20 years as a Los Angeles trial judge. My retirement date was planned well in advance—well before this discipline proceeding began. Of course, I regret that I find myself in these circumstances. I think the Commission on Judicial Performance in this case has exceeded its lawful role and has improperly made itself an arbiter of the correctness of judicial rulings.”
The former Court of Appeal research attorney and law professor, who sat on assignment in the Court of Appeal, stepped down last November.
Klein was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1990 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian and was elevated upon unification in 2000.
He is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, and is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania and California.
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