Thursday, October 25, 2001
CJP Hearing Delayed Amid Speculation Director May Be Ousted
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A hearing into misconduct charges against a former Sonoma Superior Court judge was continued indefinitely yesterday in the face of conflict-of-interest charges against the director of the Commission on Judicial Performance and speculation she could be dismissed from her post.
A panel of three superior court judges named as special masters by the state Supreme Court was to convene in San Francisco Nov. 6 to hear allegations that ex-judge Patricia Gray crossed an ethical line with her attacks on her election opponent last year.
But the commission said in a release yesterday that the hearing was “continued to a date to be determined.” The release listed Commission Counsel Richard G.R. Schickele as the media contact, contrary to the commission’s usual procedure under which Director-Chief Counsel Victoria Henley is the sole staff member who speaks to the press.
The announcement followed an early morning conference call among the commission’s 11 members. A source said the meeting was “quite heated” with regard to revelations that Henley’s husband is representing the plaintiffs in a medical malpractice suit against Gray.
The source said the CJP had instructed Schickele to launch an investigation into the disclosure of what Gray’s attorney, Mark J. Geragos of Los Angeles, described as the “irremediably irreversible prejudicial” misconduct by Henley.
The charges against Gray should be dismissed, Geragos contends, not only because Henley failed to disclose she is married to a lawyer suing Gray, but because the couple may have used the proceeding against Gray to gain leverage in the malpractice action.
“I’m glad they decided to at least temporarily suspend the proceedings, but they should dismiss this thing forthwith,” Geragos said yesterday. The misconduct is so blatant, and the damage caused by it so far beyond repair, that no investigation is necessary, he declared.
Phone calls to Schickele and Henley were not returned. An assistant to Commission Chair Michael Kahn said he would have no comment prior to today.
In a letter to Kahn and commission lawyers on Monday, Geragos said he had discovered that Henley is married to Louis Alexander Boli IV, and that he and Michael L. Boli are one and the same person. Michael L. Boli, of the Alameda firm of Boli & Caspari, is the plaintiffs’ attorney of record in Golithon v. Barrett, Sonoma Superior Court Case No. 222344, which has been set for trial Nov. 13.
The complaint alleges that Gray, who practiced law in Santa Rosa before her election to the bench in 1994, and her firm at the time missed the statute of limitations date in a suit on behalf of minors who claimed to have been sexually abused in foster care.
Boli told the MetNews yesterday that he did not become aware of the CJP accusations against Gray until they were made public last December. The Golithon suit was filed in August 1999.
Boli declined to discuss when Henley became aware of the malpractice suit, saying that “lots of lawyers” had cautioned him against doing so. “I think let’s let the investigation show what the investigation shows,” Boli said.
He would not comment on remarks attributed to him by a San Francisco newspaper, which quoted him on its website yesterday as saying that he told her about the suit in early 2000.
Boli said he told Henley he “had a lawsuit against” Gray and that “she should be aware of it,” according to The Recorder. His comments, he said, were prompted by news reports about Elliot Daum’s complaint against Gray to the CJP, the newspaper reported.
Daum, a former deputy public defender, unseated Gray in the March 2000 primary.
In what appears to be the first such case in California, the commission has charged that campaign mailers attacking Daum’s representation of some notorious clients constituted improper comment on pending cases and made the judge appear to be a “public advocate” rather than a neutral arbiter.
First Amendment Claim
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. Had he known of the conflict, Geragos said in his letter, he would have argued that the case falls under an exception to the doctrine which allows a federal court to enjoin state proceedings if the plaintiff cannot get a fair hearing or if the proceedings are brought with malice.
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.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company