Friday, July 20, 2001
Couwenberg Doesn’t Deserve Removal for Lying, Lawyer Tells CJP
By DAVID KLINE
San Francisco (CAPITOL)—Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patrick Couwenberg should be censured or suspended for telling lies about his past, but should not be permanently removed from the bench, his lawyers told the Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday.
“We firmly and strongly believe that it is a judicial career worth saving,” Thomas Goethals of the Laguna Hills firm of Pohlson, Moorhead & Goethals said.
The disciplinary commission’s own lawyer, however, said Couwenberg is “just so far beyond salvation, the defense argument is just an absurdity.”
Commission on Judicial Performance lawyer Jack Coyle added:
“If Judge Couwenberg is not removed, then lying is not a removable offense in California.”
For just over an hour, the lawyers presented their arguments to the eight members of the commission in attendance. After listening to the testimony in the ornate courtroom of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, commission members quickly left the building. They did not indicate when they will issue the written decision that will decide Couwenberg’s professional fate.
The judge, who sat silently through the public hearing, has claimed that he suffers from “pseudologica fantastica,” a psychological disorder that he claims caused him to lie on his judicial application, in public presentations and to commission investigators.
Witnesses testified at a weeklong hearing in February that Couwenberg lied about his military service, claiming to have served in Vietnam and to have earned a Purple Heart when he was in fact a stateside reservist discharged on medical grounds; claimed to have gone to schools he didn’t attend and to have altered the dates of his attendance at those he actually went to; claimed to have worked for a law firm that never employed him; and falsely claimed to have worked for the CIA in Southeast Asia.
Edward P. George Jr., who along with Goethals represents Couwenberg, said the judge — who continues to hear criminal cases in Norwalk — is receiving psychological treatment and appears to be making progress in regard to recognizing the truth and not fabricating stories about himself.
George said that while the commission’s formal options do not include suspension, Couwenberg would agree to an informal version such as a public censure with a condition that the judge periodically provide proof that he is receiving psychological treatment.
“He’s worth taking a chance on,” George said, citing pro-Couwenberg testimony submitted to a panel of commission special masters by prosecutors and defense attorneys alike.
Three commission members—Third District Court of Appeal Justice Vance Raye, Los Angeles attorney Marshall Grossman and San Francisco lawyer Michael Kahn, the commission chair—asked questions of both sides while other commissioners remained silent.
Ray questioned why the commission, having “personally experienced” Couwenberg’s lying, should keep him on the bench.
Grossman expressed concern that leaving Couwenberg on the bench would in effect reward him for falsifying his credentials to get the job.
“How can we look ourselves in the face...[after continuing the career] of someone who procured the position in the first place by fraud?” Grossman asked.
Coyle said the commission’s decision should be an easy one.
“He just has to be removed,” Coyle said. “In the real world, if you lied in your job, you get fired....If you lie under oath, you go prison.”
Two of the commission’s public members—Michael Farrell and Gayle Gutierrez—were absent from yesterday’s session. Farrell, an appointee of the Senate Rules Committee, has generally absented himself from commission duties since before his term expired Feb. 28, but officially retains his unsalaried position until a successor is appointed.
There is one vacancy on the panel, in a public member post to be filled by Gov. Gray Davis. That slot has been vacant since last year.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company