Thursday, February 20, 2003
High Court Denies Review of Judge’s Removal for Ticket-Fixing
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday denied review of the Commission on Judicial Performance’s order removing San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Michael Platt from the bench for fixing traffic tickets and using improper influence.
The unanimous order by the justices means the 53-year-old Platt, who has been off the bench since the commission handed down its decision last August, loses his office and salary and cannot practice law without the approval of the Supreme Court.
Platt’s attorney, Albert Ellis of Stockton, declined comment, saying he had not had an opportunity to discuss the case with the judge.
The CJP voted 9-1 to remove Platt, a judge for eight years and a prosecutor for 15 years before that, saying he disgraced the judiciary by engaging in a pattern of misconduct, then exacerbated his wrongdoing by telling the commission that he didn’t see his actions as improper at the time.
The commission expressed incredulity at Platt’s claim that he did not realize it was unethical for a judge to intervene to help friends with cases in other courtrooms.
Commission member Ramona Ripston took the rare step of filing a written dissent. She said Platt’s record as a judge, prosecutor, and Marine—he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War—and the fact that he did not act for personal gain merited the lesser penalty of censure.
Platt was removed for dismissing citations in four traffic cases that would normally have been handled by other judges. The recipients of the tickets were Eddie Guardado, a Minnesota Twins relief pitcher who is a friend of Platt; Guardado’s wife and niece; and the minor son of a reserve deputy sheriff who occasionally served as a bailiff in Platt’s court.
The commission also found that Platt had violated ethical rules by involving himself in three cases involving people he knew, that were pending before other judges in San Joaquin County.
In one matter, a dependency case, Platt admitted that he discussed the case with the judge, then entered his courtroom through a side door during a hearing. The commission found that Platt “was not consciously attempting” to influence the outcome of the case, but violated the Code of Judicial Ethics by engaging in an ex parte communication with the judge trying it.
The other matters were a traffic case in which Platt informed a court commissioner that the defendant was Platt’s godfather, and a theft case in which the commission found that the judge attempted to use the prestige of his office to persuade another judge to release an acquaintance on her own recognizance.
In opting for removal, rather than a lesser penalty, the commission noted that Platt was privately disciplined in 1997 for selling candy and raffle tickets for charity from the courtroom and chambers, even after he was told by two other judges that this was wrong.
Ripston argued in dissent that the commission placed undue weight on the prior discipline, saying the misconduct was trivial in comparison with the judge’s good work on the bench and in the community.
Platt attended UC Davis after his military service, graduating in 1974. He earned his law degree from Pepperdine University in 1977 and joined the San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office that year.
He worked his way up to homicide trial deputy before leaving to open a solo practice in 1988, then returned to prosecuting two years later. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the Superior Court in 1994.
He was elected to a new term last November, despite the removal order, scoring 60.4 percent of the votes over opposition from five write-in candidates.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company