Thursday, September 5, 2002
Hearing Slated on Harassment Charges Against Palm Springs Jurist
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday it has scheduled an Oct. 21 hearing in Pasadena on charges of misconduct against Riverside Superior Court Judge Arthur S. Block.
Block, a judge since 1982, is accused of having verbally and physically harassed an attorney who appeared in his courtroom and of improperly interfering in a matter pending in another court.
The state Supreme Court has appointed superior court judges Jack Komar of Santa Clara County, Vincent J. O’Neill Jr. of Ventura, and Dana M. Sabraw of San Diego as special masters to conduct the hearing.
The commission accuses Block, who now sits in Palm Springs, of improper conduct toward Deputy County Counsel Tanya Galvan, who represented the Department of Social Services in juvenile dependency cases.
The commission alleges 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. He then kissed her without her consent and held her against her will while she tried to push him away, the commission claims.
Block filed a response, saying his conduct with Galvan on that occasion was entirely consensual. He denied the commission’s allegation that on an earlier occasion, he 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 judge also denies that he humiliated court interpreter Margie Stafford in December 2000 by having her brought to his courtroom in handcuffs, then telling her it was a joke. The incident was a gag in which Stafford willingly participated, Block insisted in his formal response.
The judge denies that he threatened to banish Stafford from his courtroom when she later appeared there solely as a spectator during a public trial .
Block acknowledged 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, but denied doing anything improper.
The commission’s charge is that Block 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 contends that he made no effort to influence the case, but called Brandlin because he was concerned about the possible mistreatment of the defendant, an Orthodox Jew and the daughter of a local rabbi.
As Block explained it, the woman had asked if her case could be moved up because it was Friday afternoon and her religious beliefs precluded travel after sundown, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. The bailiff responded “I don’t care,” raising questions of “religious insensitivity and possible anti-Semitism.”
Block’s attorney is Edward P. George Jr. of Long Beach.
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