Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Commission on Judicial Performance Censures Simpson and Block
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James R. Simpson and retired Riverside Superior Court Judge Arthur Block were censured yesterday in unrelated cases by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
The commission, which met in secret last week, accepted agreements that Simpson and Block had made with the commission staff. Each agreed to accept the maximum penalty that can be imposed on a former judge—public censure and a ban on receiving assigned work from any California court.
While losing the opportunity for the often-lucrative assignments, the jurists’ pensions are unaffected because the ethical violations to which they admitted are not crimes.
Simpson, 66, and Block, 58, both admitted improper involvement in cases involving friends. Block also acknowledged improper and offensive conduct toward a lawyer and a court interpreter.
The CJP accepted Simpson’s admissions to six counts of violating rules that require judges to act with “integrity and impartiality,” and prohibit lending the prestige of their office to advance private interests.
“The commission concludes, based on Judge Simpson’s stipulation that, prior to his retirement, Judge Simpson presided over matters involving friends, gave favorable treatment to friends, and tried to influence other judicial officers and police in their handling of matters concerning the judge’s friends,” the commission said in a 10-0 decision. “The commission hereby publicly censures Judge Simpson and bars him from receiving an assignment, appointment, or reference of work from any California state court.”
Marshall B. Grossman of Los Angeles, an attorney member of the commission appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, did not participate in the decision.
Simpson, who has suffered two strokes and two serious falls since his election to the bench in 1994, was granted disability retirement a year ago. By that time, he had already been under investigation by the commission for several months, and formal charges were brought last summer.
Simpson committed acts that were “unjudicial” and in bad faith, the commission found, when he failed to disqualify himself from cases involving his former campaign manager, Alan Brandstater, and involved himself in cases before other judges involving two of Brandstater’s associates.
Brandstater is a longtime Republican activist and was an unsuccessful candidate for the Glendale city council last year. Simpson was also active in Republican politics and was a prosecutor for 29 years before winning election to the Glendale Municipal Court.
He became a Superior Court judge through unification in January 2000.
The commission also found that Simpson improperly intervened in several cases before then-Glendale Municipal Court Commissioner Dona Bracke, and 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.
Block ended his 20 1/2-year judicial career last week. The commission reported in September that an agreement in principle had been reached to settle his case, and a stipulation was submitted last Monday—the day after his retirement took effect.
Block admitted that he had engaged in improper conduct toward Deputy County Counsel Tanya Galvan, who represented the Department of Social Services in juvenile dependency cases.
In October 2000, Block admitted, he invited attorneys into chambers to discuss a case. While Galvan was speaking, the judge allegedly took her hand and wrote “relax” on it with a pen.
This humiliated the attorney, who sat down without finishing her remarks, the commission said.
The judge also admitted that on another occasion, he called Galvan alone to sidebar to discuss a legal issue, then reached out and began to fasten a button on the front of her suit. The “startled and offended” lawyer backed away and finished buttoning her suit herself, the commission explained.
Block further admitted that he kissed Galvan in his chambers in May of last year. Galvan said she did not consent; Block said she did.
The commission said it was unnecessary to hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve the dispute because the conduct was improper in any event, and resolution of the consent issue would not alter the discipline.
Block also admitted that he publicly humiliated a court interpreter by implicitly commenting on the size of her breasts and that he improperly interceded on a defendant’s behalf in a misdemeanor traffic matter before the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Block had been a judge since 1982, when he was appointed to the Desert Municipal Court by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. He became a Superior Court judge through court unification two years ago.
Prior to his appointment, he was a sole practitioner in Palm Springs for 10 years, handling family, business, and real estate law matters. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native is a graduate of Michigan State University and Brooklyn Law School, and once taught history and social studies in Detroit.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company