Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Retired Judge Ronald Sohigian Admonished by CJP
Ex-Jurist, Who Stepped Down Last Month, Draws Discipline for Third Time
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday publicly admonished retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian, saying he “treated attorneys in a sarcastic and belittling manner” while presiding over two civil matters, one in 2011 and 2012, and another last year.
It was the third time that Sohigian has drawn discipline from the commission. He drew an advisory, or “stinger,” letter in 1991 and a public admonishment in 2007.
The commission issued the most recent admonishment under its rule 115, meaning the judge waived his right to contest the discipline through public proceedings and gave up his right to seek review by the state Supreme Court. The commission acted by a vote of 7-3, with two members voting for lesser discipline, one for no discipline at all, and one not participating.
Retired Superior Court Judge
The commission said it had notified Sohigian of the intended discipline before he retired. He last presided over a courtroom on Feb. 27 and officially stepped down from the bench on April 16.
Yesterday’s action resulted in part from comments made toward attorney Michael Leight in connection with the case of DiBernardo v. Leight. BC365900.
On one occasion, the commission explained, Sohigian criticized lawyers, including Leight, for being unprepared for trial. When the attorneys explained that the case had been trailing for a month and that they had been told by another judicial officer that they would get several days of notice as to the start day, Sohigian responded:
“Don’t expect me to swallow that kind of thing. That is just [sic] that is preposterous. I mean, no – no lawyer with any – with any skill at all shows up here and says golly, I was just – I just walked out my office.”
The following day, the CJP recited, after Leight objected to a question and Sohigian overruled the objection, the attorney asked “Your Honor, why is that not hearsay?” to which the judge responded “I’ll explain it to you sometime when you pay tuition.”
Then in March 2012, during a colloquy regarding whether the plaintiff had failed to cite a statutory provision regarding authority to enforce a settlement, Sohigian addressed Leight in “a rude manner,” the commission said.
When Leight argued that counsel was obligated to cite authority, Sohigian responded: “You’re a lawyer of some experience. Does he have – does he have to tell you, by the way, here, give me your finger, let me show you, I’ll take you through – Here, right here, see – Does he have to do that?”
The other matter cited by the commission was a February 2013 appearance by plaintiff’s counsel in Avila v. Cervantes, BC480543. The judge treated counsel “in a sarcastic, belittling, and harsh manner,” the commission said, accusing counsel “of handling the case in a cavalier manner” and accusing her of “gamesmanship” in seeking a continuance a month before trial.
When she explained that she did not appear at a post-mediation status conference because opposing counsel was going to appear and explain what the parties had agreed upon, the judge commented:
“Was that your understanding? Tell me what provision of law authorizes a lawyer to represent simultaneously conflicting interests. I would be interested in knowing authority on that. Or if you’re running through the authority in your head right now, which you might be doing, tell me if you stumble upon in your own mind a massive body of authority that says that that’s absolutely prohibited. Indeed, if it occurs, it’s a basis for strict disciplinary measures, including such things as disbarment and so forth.”
The commission said Sohigian’s comments in both cases “were inconsistent with the judge’s duty to be patient, dignified, and courteous to those with whom the judge deals in an official capacity.” It rejected his argument that his comments toward Leight were designed to “curb his disrespectful and provocative behavior and…yet be short of a contempt citation,” saying the judge’s duty to act respectfully extends to “difficult litigants and counsel.”
Voting to admonish Sohigian publicly were attorney members Anthony P. Capozzi and Nanci E. Nishimura, First District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Ignazio J. Ruvolo, and public members Mary Lou Aranguren, Lawrence J. Simi, Maya Dillard Smith, and Adam N. Torres. Public member Sandra Talcott and the commission chair, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Erica R. Yew, voted for a private admonishment.
Public member Richard Simpson voted to close the matter without discipline. Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Maddock did not participate.
Sohigian was a judge from October 1988 until his retirement last month. Prior to his leaving the court, a staff member told the MetNews the judge would not speak to a reporter.
In its 2007 admonishment, the commission said he “engaged in a practice of abusing his judicial authority in connection with the issuance of orders to show causes (OSC’s) re sanctions” and “treated an attorney in a sarcastic and belittling manner.”
The 1991 stinger letter also resulted from improper practices in connection with imposition of sanctions.
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