Wednesday, October 9, 2002
CJP Slates December Hearing on Ticket-Fixing Charges Against Retired Superior Court Judge Simpson
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday slated a Dec. 9 hearing on charges that retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James R. Simpson attempted to influence the outcome of cases in front of other judicial officers.
The public hearing will take place at the Santa Ana headquarters of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Three, beginning at 9 a.m. It will be conducted by three special masters appointed by the state Supreme Court—Court of Appeal Justices Eileen Moore of the Fourth District, Div. Three and Dennis Cornell of the Fifth District and San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Joan Marie Borba.
As a former judge, Simpson could be censured, and could be barred from receiving court assignments. His tax-free disability pension of nearly $90,000 annually would not be affected.
Simpson is charged with six counts of violating ethics rules that require judges to act with “integrity and impartiality,” and prohibit lending the prestige of the office to advance private interests. Simpson denies that he ever intended to influence another judicial officer or violate any rule.
Four of the counts involve the judge’s friend Allen Brandstater. Brandstater is a conservative activist who was paid several thousand dollars to help run Simpson’s 1994 campaign for the court and who ran unsuccessfully for the Glendale City Council last year.
The commission charged that Simpson:
•Granted Brandstater a continuance of his probation revocation hearing after he failed to complete DUI school following a drunk driving conviction, even though the case had previously been transferred to Judge Laura Matz after Simpson recused himself.
•Improperly called Commissioner Steven Lubell into Simpson’s chambers in an attempt to resolve a “fix-it” ticket for Mark Enzenauer, a business associate of Brandstater who had done some work for Simpson as a videographer. (Enzenauer apparently couldn’t resolve the ticket without judicial intervention because his vehicle couldn’t pass a smog inspection.)
With Brandstater and Enzenauer present, the CJP alleged, Simpson called Lubell into chambers, criticized him for making Enzenauer wait for a long time in court—which Lubell denied—and asked Lubell what could be done about the citation.
Enzenauer eventually entered a guilty plea and was fined $135 after Lubell insisted that the matter be handled on the record and in open court.
•Arranged a continuance in a traffic case, pending before another judge, for Martha Thayer, a Glendale public relations consultant who is a longtime friend and sometimes business associate of Brandstater and has known Simpson for 30 years. The commission alleged that Simpson acted in the matter at Brandstater’s behest.
•Recalled a warrant that had been issued for Brandstater’s arrest after he failed to appear before another judicial officer on a charge of driving with improper tags.
In his formal response to the charges, Simpson denied that he intentionally violated any rules, and said his relationship with Brandstater did not constitute grounds for disqualification in the Enzenauer and Thayer matters.
The commission also charged Simpson with intervening improperly in several cases before then-Glendale Municipal Court Commissioner Dona Bracke.
Simpson allegedly contacted Bracke on several occasions between 1995 and 1997 to discuss traffic tickets issued to friends of his. Bracke, the commission said, responded on each occasion by informing Simpson as to her procedures for hearing traffic cases.
On one occasion, Simpson’s effort to help a friend actually occurred in open court, the commission alleged. After Bracke had previously declined to grant special treatment to the purportedly ill wife of a friend of the judge, Simpson—wearing his judicial robe—allegedly brought his friend into Bracke’s crowded courtroom while it was in session, told the commissioner who the man was, patted him on the shoulder “and assured [him] that Commissioner Bracke would take care of him.”
Simpson, in his response, did not deny that the incidents occurred but contended that he never sought to influence Bracke in any of the cases.
The jurist was also charged with having acted improperly in a 1998 case by asking a police officer into chambers and asking about possible resolution of a ticket the officer had given that day to someone Simpson knew. This implied that the judge was seeking favorable treatment for a friend, the commission said, an implication the judge denies.
Simpson was granted disability retirement last December. He was a judge for seven years, having been elected to the Glendale Municipal Court in 1994 and elevated to the Superior Court through unification in 2000. He is a former deputy district attorney and ran for the bench after 29 years as a prosecutor.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company