Friday, September 4, 2015
Judge Reprimanded for Slow Work, False Pay Reports
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A Humboldt Superior Court judge was publicly admonished yesterday for failing to issue timely decisions in 20 cases and submitting false affidavits that claimed he had no cases under submission for more than 90 days.
Judge Dale Reinholtsen, who served as presiding judge in 2013 and 2014, drew private discipline in 2002 for similar misconduct, the commission disclosed in its ruling.
Reinholtsen signed salary affidavits seven times that falsely claimed he did not have any decisions pending more than 90 days, the commission said. Of the 20 cases in which rulings were untimely, the panel found, the delays varied from 93 to 209 days, and exceeded 150 days on six occasions.
He also took two cases, which had been consolidated, off the civil “fast track” without adopting a case progression plan, in contravention of his duties “under canons 3B(1) and 3B(8) to dispose of all judicial matters promptly and efficiently and to hear and decide all matters assigned to him.”
A lawyer representing the judge said there was no excuse for the delays and that the judge accepted the admonishment. But Eureka attorney W. Timothy Needham said the decision failed to reflect how overwhelmed judges are in the small, rural county.
There are currently seven judges and one commissioner. State court administrators determined in 2012 that 10 judges were needed. Reinholtsen worked 12 to 14 hour days, six days a week, according to affidavits submitted on his behalf, Needham said.
“If the system is broken due to judicial cutbacks and they don’t have the judges to do the work, it becomes impossible to get the work done,” Needham said.
The commission accepted that argument, in part, acknowledging that the average workload in Humboldt County appears to exceed the statewide average. But it also suggested that Reinholtsen, as presiding judge, could have delegated some of his caseload.
Needham said Reinholtsen couldn’t dump cases on other judges.
The commission said it took into account that Reinholtsen delayed signing affidavits on many occasions when decisions were overdue and that he had made efforts to avoid similar future misconduct.
Reinholtsen received a “stinger” letter from the commission in 2002 for a one-year delay in a case. The commission yesterday admonished him pursuant to its rule 115, meaning that Reinholtsen waived the right to contest the discipline through formal proceedings, and gave up his right to seek review in the Supreme Court.
The vote to impose the admonishment, the mildest form of public discipline available to the commission, was 10-0, with one member not participating.
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