Thursday, June 20, 2002
CJP Charges Riverside Judge With Sexual Harassment of Lawyer
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Riverside Superior Court Judge Arthur S. Block was charged by the Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday with verbal and physical harassment of an attorney who appeared in his courtroom.
In a notice of formal proceedings, the commission accused the 58-year-old jurist of improper conduct toward Deputy County Counsel Tanya Galvan, who represented the Department of Social Services in juvenile dependency cases. He was also accused of publicly humiliating a court interpreter and with improperly interceding on a defendant’s behalf in a matter before the Los Angeles Superior Court.
The judge’s lawyer said he would fight the charges.
The commission alleged that in May of last year, Block asked Galvan to remain in his chambers following a conference, then told her after the other lawyers had left that he was attracted to her.
“Without her consent, you picked her up from her chair and kissed her, putting your tongue in her mouth,” the commission charged. “You held Ms. Galvan against her will for several seconds while she tried to push you away and otherwise avoid being kissed by you.”
That incident followed two earlier episodes involving the judge, the commission said in its notice.
In October 2000, the CJP alleged, Block invited attorneys into chambers to discuss a case. While Galvan was speaking, the judge allegedly took her hand and wrote “relax” on it with a pen.
This humiliated the attorney, who sat down without finishing her remarks, the commission said.
Then in February of last year, the commission charged, the judge called Galvan—alone—to sidebar to discuss a legal issue, then reached out and began to fasten a button on the front of her suit. The “startled and offended” lawyer backed away and finished buttoning her suit herself, the commission explained.
The CJP charged Block with humiliating court interpreter Margie Stafford on two occasions in December 2000.
In one incident, Block allegedly had Stafford brought to his courtroom in handcuffs, then told her it was a joke.
In the other episode, the commission charged, the judge engaged in offensive behavior while Stafford was leaning over a juvenile for whom she was interpreting:
“You remarked to Ms. Stafford, in substance, that you knew why so many juveniles were requesting an interpreter,” the commission wrote to Block. “You then asked Ms. Stafford to approach the bench, and when she did, you said, in substance, that she knew why, and gestured toward and looked directly at Ms. Stafford’s breasts.”
The commission continued:
“Ms. Stafford felt embarrassed and offended. Because of this incident and the handcuffing incident, she asked not be assigned to your court again.”
Block was also charged with improperly threatening to banish Stafford from his courtroom when she appeared there solely as a spectator during a public trial several months after the two incidents, saying he had heard she had complained about him. When she said she had made no complaints, he told her she could stay, the commission alleged.
Block also violated the Code of Judicial Ethics by contacting Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Brandlin after an acquaintance of the judge complained about how his daughter was being treated with regard to a traffic case at the Airport Courthouse, where Brandlin is the site judge.
Block allegedly asked Brandlin whether the defendant—who was charged with driving while unlicensed, a misdemeanor, and driving with a broken tail light—could have the case disposed of without an appearance, and whether Block could personally verify that she was a licensed driver.
Brandlin, according to the commission, explained that the defendant would have to appear unless her attorney appeared on her behalf with court permission under Penal Code Sec. 977(a), and that Block could not verify the validity of her driver’s license. “Judge Brandlin followed up with a voice mail advising you not to contact him or his court again regarding the case, as it would be unethical to do so,” then wrote to Block warning him not to engage in ex parte contacts with the Los Angeles Superior Court regarding the case, the commission said.
Block had no involvement with the case after that, according to the CJP.
Block’s attorney, Edward P. George Jr. of Long Beach, said his client was “an exceptional judge” who “is highly thought of by the attorneys in the Palm Springs area.” The judge “very strongly denies the allegations here” and expects to prevail after a hearing.
Block’s answer is due July 2. A hearing will then be scheduled before three special masters appointed by the Supreme Court, who would hear evidence and make findings for review by the 11-member commission.
Block has been a judge since 1982, when he was appointed to the Desert Municipal Court by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. He became a Superior Court judge through court unification two years ago.
Prior to his appointment, he was a sole practitioner in Palm Springs for 10 years, handling family, business, and real estate law matters. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native is a graduate of Michigan State University and Brooklyn Law School, and once taught history and social studies in Detroit.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company