Thursday, May 17, 2012
S.C. Denies Review of Removal of Orange County Judge Stanford
Justices Also Agree to Decide Whether Undocumented Immigrant Can Be a California Lawyer
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday denied review of the removal of Orange Superior Court Judge Richard W. Stanford Jr. by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
No justice voted to grant review of the CJP’s order. The commission earlier this year ordered the judge from office for a pattern of misconduct involving the diversion of traffic tickets for his pastor, his court clerk, and his son-in-law over a five-year period.
No judge has successfully challenged a removal order since the CJP was given the power to take that step, part of Proposition 190, approved by voters in the 1990s.
In other action at their weekly conference in San Francisco, the justices agreed to decide whether an undocumented immigrant may be admitted to practice law in California.
Stanford’s attorney, Paul Meyer, told the MetNews it was unfortunate that the high court would not review the commission’s rejection of several mitigating findings by the special masters. The three-judge panel credited Stanford’s expression of regret and testimony that had not fully understood the impropriety of his actions at the time.
In the case of Stanford, the commission noted that a panel of special masters found nine instances of willful misconduct on Stanford’s part, although the removal order was based on only seven instances because the others were beyond the statute of limitations.
The pattern only ended, the commission said, after Stanford issued written directions to a clerk to enter a disposition for his son-in-law, and the clerk, upon recognizing the defendant as being related to the judge, gave the document to her supervisor to assign to someone else.
The supervisor reported the matter to the deputy court operations manager, who alerted then-Presiding Judge Kim Dunning.
‘You Can’t Do This’
Dunning testified that she met with Stanford and informed him that “you can’t do this,” due to the appearance of impropriety. She said Stanford told her he thought that it was not unusual for a traffic defendant to have fines and fees reduced or eliminated, but she informed him that recent fiscal issues had impacted the collection of these penalties.
During the meeting, Dunning said, Stanford was “receptive and cooperative,” and she opined that he had “missed the issue” up until that point. She said Stanford admitted his actions, and volunteered that he had taken similar actions in the past, but he did not disclose that he had handled a ticket for his clerk and did not provide details about his assistance to other friends.
Stanford subsequently wrote a check for the full bail amount of the ticket issued to his son-in-law, and then asked a traffic clerk to enter the disposition. Dunning testified that she did not expect Stanford to order a disposition in this matter following their meeting, but she claimed “responsibility for this because I didn’t articulate [how the matter was to be handled.]”
When he appeared before the special masters, Stanford claimed that he had “missed” the potential for a conflict of interest in adjudicating the traffic tickets for his friends and family, and had “a blind spot” which prevented him from realizing the impropriety of his actions.
That was no excuse, the commission found.
“[E]ven if the judge’s misconduct was an aberration or motivated by his proclivity to help others, we find it implausible that Judge Stanford was entirely unconscious of the impropriety of his actions when he handled the traffic tickets of family and friends,” the commission said, in an order signed by its then-chair, Fourth District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Judith McConnell.
McConnell reasoned that the jurist’s “26 years on the bench, long career as a prosecutor, and reputation as a ‘by-the-book’ judge who does not ‘cut corners’ and is knowledgeable, diligent and follows the law negates any possibility that he missed the issue.”
The CJP also declined to adopt the finding by the special masters that Stanford was reasonable in believing his actions conformed to common practices in the trial court.
McConnell emphasized that the dispositions ordered by Stanford were “unusually lenient,” and that “it has never been proper to waive fees and fines in traffic court for no reason or to benefit friends and family.”
Stanford, 65, was tapped for the Central Orange County Municipal Court in 1985 after 12 years in the District Attorney’s Office. He was elevated to the Superior Court in 1998.
In the case of Sergio G. Garcia, the justices unanimously directed the Committee of Bar Examiners to show cause why the court should grant the committee’s motion to admit Garcia. The committee found Garcia, who lives in Chico and runs a document preparation and legal research service, according to his website, to be a law school graduate who has passed the bar exam and to be of good moral character, and thus fit to practice.
The Supreme Cor t invited the attorneys general of the United States and the state, among others, to file amicus briefs, and identified five issues to be briefed within the next month by the parties and amici:
“1. Does 8 U.S.C. section 1621, subdivision (c) apply and preclude this court’s admission of an undocumented immigrant to the State Bar of California? Does any other statute, regulation, or authority preclude the admission?
“2. Is there any state legislation that provides — as specifically authorized by 8 U.S.C. section 1621, subdivision (d) — that undocumented immigrants are eligible for professional licenses in fields such as law, medicine, or other professions, and, if not, what significance, if any, should be given to the absence of such legislation?
“3. Does the issuance of a license to practice law impliedly represent that the licensee may be legally employed as an attorney?
“4. If licensed, what are the legal and public policy limitations, if any, on an undocumented immigrant’s ability to practice law?
“5. What, if any, other concerns arise with a grant of this application?”
According to a blog post, Garcia was brought illegally into the United States by his parents at the age of 17 months and is one of at least four undocumented immigrants who have graduated from law school and applied for admission in various U.S. jurisdictions.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company