Tuesday, October 2, 2001
McConnell ‘Well-Qualified’ for Appeal Post—JNE Panel
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Fourth District Court of Appeal nominee Judith McConnell will go into her confirmation hearing tomorrow armed with a “well-qualified” rating from the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation but will also face a detractor unhappy with the judge’s rulings in a lawsuit involving celebrity author Deepak Chopra.
The JNE Commission gave the San Diego Superior Court judge its second-highest rating in a report dated nearly two years ago. A Sept. 12 letter to Chief Justice Ronald M. George from commission chair Pauline Weaver of Fremont cited an evaluation dated Oct. 23, 1999, but kept under wraps until now.
McConnell is “intelligent; hardworking; possesses a wide range of judicial experience as a trial judge since 1978; courageous in ruling on difficult issues; a leader in eliminating bias in the judicial system; enjoys an exceptional reputation with the bench and bar,” the JNE report said.
Gov. Gray Davis nominated McConnell, 57, in August to fill a vacancy on the San Diego-based Div. One of the Fourth District.
Five jurists and attorneys have lined up to support McConnell at the afternoon hearing at the Ronald Reagan State Building, including Kathryn Karcher, lawyer for parties who opposed Chopra in several lawsuits. Karcher, of the San Diego firm of Gray Cary, said in a Sept. 21 letter to the chief justice that assertions by Chopra’s lawyers that McConnell was biased and had an improper relationship with Karcher’s firm were “totally and completely without merit.”
Attorney Carla DiMare of Rancho Santa Fe, lawyer for Chopra, is the only speaker slated to oppose McConnell at the hearing.
In a Sept. 18 letter to George, DiMare called McConnell a “corrupt judge” who is unable to be impartial or “understand the concept of an independent judiciary.” DiMare claimed McConnell has been investigated by the FBI and “barely escaped prosecution” in connection with a scandal in which several San Diego judges were convicted in 1996 of accepting improper gifts from lawyers.
DiMare also alleged that she and her firm have been the subject of retaliation by San Diego courts since she first filed a complaint against McConnell.
The record released yesterday also included a Sept. 28 letter from McConnell, in which she called DiMare’s conduct in the Chopra lawsuits “extremely disrespectful, hostile and unrelenting.”
The judge ultimately recused herself, “feeling I could no longer cope with the continuing offensive behavior of counsel and still be fair to the litigants.” McConnell was just one of several judges who recused themselves.
She said DiMare and her firm “relied on a theory of corruption in the courts rather than developing a cogent legal argument on behalf of their client.”
She said she was investigated by the FBI only as a routine part of her 1993 nomination to the federal bench.
Slated to speak on McConnell’s behalf are Weaver, Karcher, Div. One Justice Richard Huffman, San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Wayne L. Peterson, San Diego lawyer and former JNE chair Judith Copeland, and Davis’ chief of staff, Lynn Schenk.
The Commission on Judicial Appointments for McConnell’s hearing will be George, Attorney General Bill Lockyer; and Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Daniel J. Kremer of Div. One.
If confirmed, McConnell will succeed Justice Don Work, who died May 16. She has served as a San Diego trial judge since her appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1978.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company