CJP Chsatises Former O.C. Judge Derek Hunt
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday—for the second time—imposed a public admonishment on Derek Hunt, who retired in June as a judge of the Orange Superior Court.
Hunt has incurred reversals by the Court of Appeal based on his arbitrariness.
Ten members of the ciommission voted to impose a public admonishment; an eleventh member, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench, did not participate.
Hunt’s latest transgressions included sending an improper email to Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Kathleen O’Leary of the Fourth District’s Div. Three. On Sept. 27, 2022, O’Leary had directed the Orange Superior Court to “set aside and vacate its June 23, 2022, order” by Hunt expediting a defendant’s motion for summary judgment and to stick to the statutory time table, and the following day, Hunt said in an email to her:
“I may be stupid, but I know it when someone is saving face.”
The commission said “that Judge Hunt’s conduct in sending the email to Justice O’Leary constituted an improper ex parte communication with the appellate court, which also gave the appearance of embroilment, in contravention of his duties to refrain from initiating, permitting, or considering ex parte communications concerning a pending or impending proceeding (canon 3B(7)) and to refrain from engaging in discussions with a judge who may participate in appellate review of the matter (canon 3B(7)(a)).”
“Judge Hunt’s conduct also violated section 68070.5, subdivision (b) of the Government Code, which prohibits ‘communication direct or indirect between any judge hearing the writ and the judge or judicial officer of the court named as a party.’ ”
The commission said that Hunt’s “discourteous and intemperate remark to a judge in another court” was in violation of three canons.
In another case, Mohammad Nazih Abuershaid, now a lawyer whose office is in the City of Orange but then a deputy public defender, was suing for defamation as a “Doe.” He alleged that a senior member of his office had accused him of being a “terrorist” and the rumor was spreading.
In explaining why Abuershaid could not proceed psuedonymonously, Hunt “insinuated that Mr. Abuershaid was ‘hypersensitive,’ was a ‘snowflake,’ and needed to ‘litigate like a grown-up,’ the commission said, adding:
“Further, the remarks were gratuitous and unrelated to whether Mr. Abuershaid could legally file a complaint with a fictitious name.”
Another remark, it observed, “gave the appearance that Judge Hunt had prejudged the case before the parties had presented any evidence” and made other utterances that “were discourteous” and “gave the appearance of embroilment.”
In a third case, Hunt denied a motion to set aside a default which was taken without a warning to opposing counsel. In an Oct. 17, 2022 Court of Appeal opinion reversing Hunt’s order, Justice Maurice Sanchez of the Fourth District’s Div. Three said that Hunt “inexplicably” denied the motion for relief “and failed to address the breach of ethical and statutory duties” by the plaintiff’s lawyer.
He found Hunt’s “wholesale rejection” of two declarations to have been “arbitrary and unreasonable,” criticized the judge for questioning the defendant CFI’s integrity, and labeled a legal theory of his “unsound.” Sanchez declared:
“The matter is remanded for further proceedings. In the interest of justice, on remand the Presiding Judge of the Orange County Superior Court shall assign the case to a different judge.”
The commission said:
“Judge Hunt’s conduct in intentionally disregarding the law on default judgments went beyond mere legal error; the judge’s failure to be faithful to the law reflected bias against CFI, an abuse of authority, and an intentional disregard of CFI’s due process rights to a trial on its potential eviction. Judges are expected to know and follow the law….”
It faulted Hunt for making comments that were “discourteous and unnecessary” and having failed to “take appropriate corrective action” in response to misconduct on the part of the plaintiff’s lawyer.
The commission set forth:
“In determining to impose this public admonishment, the commission considered Judge Hunt’s recent prior discipline to be a significantly aggravating factor….In July 2022, the commission issued a public admonishment to Judge Hunt, finding that he had engaged in misconduct in four civil cases. In three of those cases, the judge denied the parties a full right to be heard before making orders in their cases. The judge also made remarks reflecting poor demeanor and engaged in conduct that gave an appearance of bias. Judge Hunt also received an advisory letter in 2009 for publicly commenting on a pending case. The judge discussed, with a reporter for a legal newspaper, a case in which the judge had presided over trial and post-trial proceedings, which was then pending, and about to be argued, in the Court of Appeal. The commission notes that some of the misconduct here is substantially similar to that for which the judge has already been disciplined. The commission further notes that Judge Hunt engaged in some of the misconduct at issue here after the commission wrote to the judge in connection with the prior investigation and after the commission issued the public admonishment just one year ago.
“The commission also considered Judge Hunt’s failure to fully appreciate the impropriety of his remarks as an additional aggravating factor….
“The commission determined that Judge Hunt’s conduct described above was, at a minimum, improper action.”
Hunt was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Pete Wilson on July 14, 1997.
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