Thursday, February 18, 2016
CJP Admonishes Judge for Ex Parte Conversation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday publicly admonished a Santa Clara Superior Court judge for an ex parte conversation with a prosecutor.
Judge Stuart Scott’s conversation with Deputy District Attorney Meeker, in which he critiqued her trial skills and made deprecating remarks about her opposing counsel, after the case had been tried but before sentence was imposed “undermined the integrity of the judiciary and the fair administration of justice,” the commission said in its decision.
Although the judge expressed remorse and cooperated with the commission’s probe, it said, public discipline was imposed because the incident involved serious official misconduct.
The case involved a misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer. As the commission explained it, Scott called Meeker into his chambers and proceeded to engage her in conversation, despite her telling him she had several matters to attend to in a nearby courtroom.
At the conclusion of the talk, Scott told Meeker:
“This conversation never happened.”
Meeker, however, reported the incident to her supervisor. The matter was brought to the attention of District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who notified the presiding judge and the public defender, and the matter became the subject of a report—as well as a scathing editorial—in the San Jose Mercury News last March.
Scott then reported himself to the CJP, which decided the matter under its rule 116. That rule provides that when the commission notifies a judge that it intends to impose a form of discipline less severe than censure, the judge may waive formal proceedings and Supreme Court review, and instead oppose the proposed punishment at a closed meeting of the CJP.
The judge responded to the proposed admonishment by noting that he was new the bench and hadn’t been to orientation yet; he was in his second month in office after having been elected unopposed the preceding June.
But Scott’s comments at the time showed he knew he was engaging in unethical conduct, and that he was aware—after 20 years as a prosecutor—of the impropriety of ex parte conversations, the commission said.
Rosen issued a brief statement when the issue became public. “We take our ethical obligations seriously, and we do what is right,” he said.
Scott recused himself from the case before sentencing, the Mercury News reported, and was transferred to a civil assignment after the Public Defender’s Office said it intended to “paper” him.
The court’s presiding judge Rise Pichon—a former CJP chair—issued a statement at the time, making no reference to Scott by name or to the specific incident.
“It’s the court’s position that all members of the bench will perform at the highest ethical standard,” Pichon said. “Should any judge fall short, the court expects that he or she will display a constructive attitude toward the problem and identify concrete steps to prevent further issues.”
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company