Thursday, August 17, 2011
Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani Admonished for Abusing Authority
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday admonished Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani for abusing her authority, violating constitutional rights, and terminating a defendant’s pro per status without legal cause.
It was the third time the Long Beach jurist, a trial judge since 1995, has been disciplined, the commission noted. Comparet-Cassani drew international attention, including denunciation by Amnesty International, after she ordered a bailiff to activate a stun belt worn by a verbally disruptive defendant in 1998.
That defendant later received a $275,000 settlement from the county.
The commission disclosed in its decision yesterday that Comparet-Cassani was privately admonished for her conduct in that case, and that she received an advisory, or “stinger,” letter in 2006 for questioning a criminal defense attorney in open court about where and when she went to law school, when she passed the bar, and whether she was “up to” handling the case.
The panel voted 10-0 to impose the admonishment under its rule 115, meaning the judge did not contest the proposed discipline following preliminary investigation. The CJP said Comparet-Cassani admitted that she violated Evan Perkins’ right to represent himself on theft and drug charges, and that she was wrong in concluding that his having received outside legal help, which he denied, was grounds for revoking his self-representation.
The judge did not respond to a telephone message left with her courtroom clerk.
The commission explained in its decision that Perkins was originally represented by appointed counsel, but was allowed self-representation by Comparet-Cassani in January of last year.
At a subsequent hearing, he presented two motions, a Brady motion for discovery of exculpatory evidence and a Pitchess motion for discovery of police personnel records.
The judge, according to a transcript, sharply questioned Perkins about whether he had prepared the Pitchess motion himself, asking him to explain the relevance of several cases that he cited. Perkins admitted that he could not do so, but denied having received an attorney’s assistance in preparing the papers, saying he had found the cited materials “off the computer” and “using stuff from the law library.”
‘Lying to the Court’
Comparet-Cassani responded that Perkins was “lying to the court,” and that he was “getting legal assistance,” which was “improper if you’re pro per.” The judge then said Perkins was “obstructing justice by using the assistance of counsel when he’s not allowed to,” revoked the defendant’s self-representation, and appointed a lawyer from the bar panel.
The Court of Appeal, following the district attorney’s concession that the judge was wrong, issued a notice of intention to grant the writ. The justices said Comparet-Cassani had committed a clear abuse of discretion.
The judge then restored the defendant’s pro per status, mooting the writ petition.
The commission explained yesterday that neither receipt of outside legal help, nor lying to the court about having received such assistance, would be grounds for denying a defendant the Sixth Amendment right to represent himself or herself.
Comparet-Cassani told the commission that her concern was that Perkins was filing motions to delay the proceeding, which could be a valid ground for revoking pro per status. But the commission said that claim was unsupported by the record.
“The judge’s conduct violated canon 2A (judge shall respect and comply with the law and act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary) and canon 3B(2) (judge shall maintain professional competence in the law),” the commission said.
The panel also found fault with the judge’s demeanor, saying that while the defendant “remained respectful toward the judge throughout the hearing,” Comparet-Cassani breached the ethical requirement that a jurist “be patient, dignified, and courteous” while performing his or duties.
Commissioners approving the admonishment were Fourth District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Judith McConnell, Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Erica R. Yew, attorneys Anthony P. Capozzi and Nanci E. Nishimura, and public members Barbara Schraeger, Lawrence Simi, Maya Dillard Smith, Sandra Talcott, and Nathaniel Trives.
Public member Adam Torres did not participate.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company