Friday, August 17, 2001
Hearing Set for Ex-Judge Charged With Ethics Violations
Geragos Predicts Client Will Prevail Under First Amendment
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Sonoma Superior Court judge who lost a bitter battle for re-election in March of last year faces a November hearing on charges by the Commission on Judicial Performance that her attacks on her successful opponent violated the Code of Judicial Ethics.
The hearing on charges against ex-judge Patricia Gray, who is represented by Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos, is slated to begin Nov. 6 at the federal courthouse in San Francisco.
The hearing will take place before three superior court judges named as special masters by the state Supreme Court—Linda B. Quinn of San Diego, James W. Brown of Santa Barbara, and John E. Munter of San Francisco.
In what appears to be the first such case in California, the commission has charged that Gray’s mailed attack on Elliot Daum, a deputy public defender at the time, constituted improper comment on pending cases and made the judge appear to be a “public advocate” rather than a neutral arbiter.
Gray has claimed, both before the commission and in a separate civil rights suit, that her comments were proper and constitute free speech protected by the First Amendment. The federal suit was dismissed under the abstention doctrine, based on the pendency of the commission proceedings, but that ruling is on appeal.
Similar litigation has arisen as a result of attempts to discipline judges in other states for campaign statements, and one case—from Alabama—is now before the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Geragos said he is looking forward to the hearing. He predicted that the commission will ultimately “find that this is protected speech, core political speech.”
The case against Gray centers on a mailer entitled “Cop Killer,” a reference to a client of Daum’s accused of killing a Sonoma County deputy sheriff. According to the piece, “criminal defender” Daum “demanded that all charges against the cop killer be dropped” and “tried to stop the D.A. from seeking the death penalty.”
It also referred to two cases, one involving a “child molester” and the other an “armed robber,” both of which Daum tried in front of Gray. Daum, the mailer said, described the “tragedy” of the molester going to prison, accused the Probation Department of a “hatchet job” in recommending a maximum sentence of 10 years, and urged a three-year sentence instead.
In the robbery case, Gray’s mailer said, Daum called the prison system “the largest budding gulag in the world.” The attorney “pleaded for leniency” and “said the armed robber never would have used his gun if the store owner didn’t have his own gun.”
Gray imposed maximum sentences in both cases, the mailer noted.
In bringing charges against Gray, the commission also cited bold-type statements in the mailer that “Elliot Daum Cares About the Rights of Violent Criminals, Judge Patricia Gray Cares About the Rights of Crime Victims” and that Gray is “A Tough Judge Who Makes Criminals’ Lawyers Unhappy.”
The commission noted that the “cop killer” and “child molester” cases were both on appeal at the time Gray made her comments.
The mailer was misleading, the commission charged, in that it implied that Daum’s arguments on behalf of clients represented his personal views. It also tended to impugn the integrity of the judicial process by suggesting that criminal defendants and their lawyers might not be treated fairly in Gray’s court, the commission said.
Daum defeated Gray, 51.4 to 48.6 percent, after what the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat described as the bitterest and most expensive Sonoma judicial campaign in memory. Daum spent $175,000 on the race to Gray’s $106,000.
Gray is a native of Whittier and a 1967 graduate of Palmdale High School. She graduated from Mills College in Oakland and from the University of San Francisco School of Law, and was a sole practitioner in Santa Rosa from 1985 until her election to the bench in 1994.
She originally won an open seat on the Sonoma County Municipal Court and was elevated to the Superior Court by unification in 1998.
Although Gray has left the bench, she could be censured or admonished by the commission and may also be barred from receiving an assignment, appointment, or reference of work from any state court.
The controversial mailer may have done Gray’s campaign more harm than good, as four of her fellow judges retracted their endorsements before the election.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company