Thursday, October 20, 2016
CJP Brings Laundry List of Misconduct Charges
Panel Accuses Alameda Commissioner of Appearance of Bias, Sexual Remarks, Frequent Sarcasm
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday disclosed a long list of misconduct charges against Alameda Superior Court Commissioner Taylor Culver.
Culver, who presides over traffic court in downtown Oakland, routinely speaks to defendants in a sarcastic manner, sometimes giving an appearance of a pro-police bias, the CJP said.
He has also violated ethics rules by taking misdemeanor pleas without a stipulation, taking guilty pleas without informing defendants of the charges, creating an appearance of bias by announcing in court that he would not hear arguments about the amounts of fines, and refusing to consider individual circumstances when defendants ask to perform community service instead of paying fines.
Culver was featured in a recent East Bay Express feature entitled “The High Cost of Driving While Poor,” taking a localized look at the issue of unaffordable traffic fines, highlighted in the U.S. Department of Justice report on Ferguson, Mo. and recently by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and the Judicial Council of California.
The Express reporter cited his own observations of Culver’s courtroom behavior, dovetailing with the charges brought by the CJP, and those of Sherman Kassof, a Lafayette-based antitrust lawyer who said he had filed a complaint after observing Culver on his own day in traffic court, attending subsequent court sessions, and obtaining recordings of Culver’s proceedings through a public records request.
The state Constitution gives the CJP jurisdiction to discipline subordinate judicial officers, although its rules provide that such cases will first be referred to the employing court. If that court’s actions are deemed inadequate, the commission may conduct the same proceedings as in the case of judges.
Patient, Dignified, Courteous
The commission charged that Culver repeatedly violates the requirement that a “judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants,” citing 31 separate cases. Among other things, the judge told one defendant he was “just telling me a fable,” asked another why a police officer would “put his career on the line to lie about you,” and told another, who denied having received a letter changing the time of a hearing, that he had heard that excuse “2,000 times.”
In another case, a defendant asked if the police officer had video of him speeding. Although the officer said he did, Culver denied the defendant’s request to play it.
The request should have been made prior to the hearing, the commissioner said. “That’s all part of being your own lawyer,” Culver explained.
This was, the commission said, “a failure to accord [the defendant] a full right to be heard according to law and violated [Culver’s] duty to ensure that disposing of the matter promptly and efficiently did not take precedence over [his] obligation to dispose of the matter fairly and with patience.”
In another case, a defendant argued that his slow speed through an intersection indicated that he had, in fact, stopped, contrary to the charge.
Culver allegedly responded that he didn’t know why the defendant was “suffering wonderment,” continuing:
“They don’t speed through it, they slow up, don’t stop, and they move through it between five and eight miles an hour, which makes sense because what jackass would go through the stop sign at full speed?”
Comments Were Improper
Use of the term “jackass,” the commission said, “constituted a failure to be dignified and courteous, and a failure to maintain courtroom decorum.” The reference to the defendant “suffering wonderment,” the panel added, “was sarcastic and reflected a lack of patience, dignity, and courtesy.”
In one case, when a driver contested the driving speed supposedly caught by a type of radar speed gun known as LIDAR, the commissioner allegedly responded sarcastically that the LIDAR obviously overstated the vehicle’s speed by 21 miles per hour. “We gonna throw that LIDAR unit out as soon as this trial is over,” he allegedly said.
The commission also alleged that Culver on occasion commented on the race of his courtroom clerks, and that on the day of an earthquake, he made sexual references to what he would do if he knew he was about to die in an earthquake.
San Francisco attorney Arthur J. Harris, who represents the commissioner, told the MetNews Culver “disputes the charges made by the commission and looks forward to a full fair and impartial hearing.”
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company