Thursday, July 12, 2012
Commission on Judicial Performance Admonishes Judge For Contemptuous Treatment of Defense Lawyer
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Alameda Superior Court judge who told a criminal defense lawyer to “spend every waking moment” working on a case she was trying to continue case, to “work all day today, work all night” and “get up early tomorrow morning” was publicly admonished yesterday by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
Judge Morris D. Jacobson deprived Oakland attorney Anne Beles of the dignity and courtesy that judges owe to lawyers and others in their courtrooms, demeaned her in front of her client, and abused his authority, the commission said.
The commission imposed the admonishment under its rule 116, which means Jacobson waived his rights to formal proceedings and Supreme Court review, choosing to appear in a closed meeting of the commission to object to its proposed discipline.
The CJP explained that on Oct. 13, 2010, the judge was presiding over the criminal case of People v. Barrientos, which was on calendar for a motion to continue the preliminary hearing scheduled for the following day.
The judge indicated that he could not rule on the motion since not all of the defendants were present and that he would take up the continuance motion the following morning.
He then told Beles—an Oakland lawyer who has been a member of the State Bar since 1999 and is certified as a criminal law specialist—that he did not believe the 2,000 pages of discovery that had been delivered to her two weeks earlier was so voluminous that she could not have reviewed it in that time, and that she would have to spend the next 24 hours working on it before he would consider a continuance.
“Your Honor, I don’t need your advice on how to be competent.”
“That is contemptuous. That is contemptuous. That was disrespectful. Take a seat.”
The judge then required Beles to remain in the courtroom for about an hour—during which time he went into chambers to look at a checklist used in contempt cases—until a little after 11 a.m., then told her to return at 2 p.m. When she did so, she apologized for her earlier remark, at which time the judge required her to remain another half-hour before he accepted her apology.
Requiring the attorney to remain in the courtroom for a total of more than 90 minutes, the commission said, was tantamount to holding her in contempt without a hearing, the CJP said.
The commission also found it paradoxical that the judge detained the attorney “for over an hour and a half after having ordered her to spend every waking moment working on the case.”
That order, the commission added, was an abuse of authority because a judge has no power to direct an attorney’s after-hours social life or prevent her from working on other cases. It rejected Jacobson’s assertion that he was acting in accordance with statutes that discourage continuances and authorize imposition of sanctions upon lawyers who lack good cause for not being ready to proceed at the time a case is set for hearing.
“These statutes require a judge to deny a motion for a continuance absent good cause; they do not permit a judge to direct an attorney on how to prepare his or her case,” the CJP said.
The commission also noted that Jacobson had received a “stinger” letter in 2010 after he ordered an attorney to appear in court when no matter requiring the attorney’s presence was pending and ordered the attorney to remain in the courtroom for an un-calendared hearing.
“In the commission’s view, the judge’s repeat of similar misconduct reflects a lack of appreciation for the bounds of his authority and his duty to treat those who appear before him with courtesy, dignity and respect,” the decision read.
The vote to impose a public admonishment was 7-3, the commission said, with Chairperson and public member Lawrence Simi, attorney members Anthony P. Capozzi and Nanci E. Nishimura, Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn, Fourth District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Judith D. McConnell, and public members Adam N. Torres and Nathaniel Trives voting in favor.
Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Erica R. Yew and public members Maya Dillard Smith and Sandra Talcott voted in favor of a private admonishment. Public member Mary Lou Aranguren, the commission’s newest member, did not participate.
Jacobson has been a judge since 2005, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He had previously practiced for 17 years, first as a deputy attorney general and later as an Alameda deputy district attorney.
He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and of Hastings College of the Law, and has been an adjunct faculty member at Hastings since 1994. He was recently named an advisory member of the Judicial Council by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company