March 18, 1998
Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Burton Bach has mounted an election challenge to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gary Klausner. He recites in a press release:
"In 1995 at age 65, Judge Bach took an early retirement when he was assigned by the Courtís then Presiding Judge, Gary Klausner, to serve in a courthouse far from his home, which would require him to drive at least one and a half hours each way in heavy rush-hour traffic.
"Judge Bach requested that he be re-assigned to the Pomona courthouse, which was 7 miles from his home, due to being a recovering heart patient, and submitted letters from his cardiologists stating that the stress would be detrimental to his health, Judge Klausner refused to relent and then requested that the Commission on Judicial Performance remove Judge Bach for not working."
Klausner had assigned Bach to sit in Norwalk at a time when a glut of three-strikes cases forced use of the Pomona Courthouse for criminal cases, only. Bach had been disqualified from hearing criminal matters after an Orange Superior Court judge, ruling on a statement of disqualification pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.3, held that Bach bore actual bias against the prosecution.
After being assigned to Norwalk, Bach stopped showing up for work and, after receiving inquiries from the commission, retired. He contended he did not qualify for a disability retirement in light of adequate health to perform the judicial function, albeit not at locations that were a long drive from his home.
"Judge Bach has filed for the seat now held by Judge Klausner," the press release sets forth, "claiming that Klausner is insensitive, insincere and insufferable."
Bach presents no showing that Klausner is "insincere" or "insufferable," and we donít believe that he is. We do feel, however, that Klausner did evince insensitivity and a lack of fairness in his dealings with Bach.
Klausner knew that Bach had a heart condition, that he lived in Ontario, and that bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway leading to Norwalk would be stressful. Some accommodation was in order. Bach suggested that he be assigned to the Central Courthouse, and take the train to and from work. Klausner would not compromise. He contended that each of the 52 downtown judges had to be able to handle overflow criminal cases. We question whether it would not have been possible to dedicate one courtroom in a massive courthouse to civil cases, only, out of regard for maintaining the health of a 12-year veteran of the court.
Does this apparent instance of intransigence and unkindness mean that voters should strip Klausner of his judgeship and return Bach to the bench from which he resigned?
The action of which Bach complains was administrative, rather than judicial, in nature. Much as this one action meant to Bach, it did not have broad ramifications for the court. It would hardly have justified Klausnerís colleagues denying Klausner a second term as presiding judge ó a cry which was not to be heard ó let alone justify his ouster by voters from his judicial post.
Bach reasons that if Klausner would act so oppressively toward a colleague, it must be imagined that he is all the more ruthless in his dealing with litigants. In essence, Bach wants a pattern of judicial misconduct to be presumed based on a single instance of a seemingly unjust administrative action.
While we agree with Bach that Klausner did show insensitivity in his handling of Bachís assignment, we do not believe that this logically leads to a conclusion that Klausner is unfit to serve as a judicial officer.
Controversy has not surrounded Klausner. He is a Republican who was appointed to the Pasadena Municipal Court by a Democratic governor. On the Superior Court, his colleagues elected him presiding judge without opposition, and awarded him a second term. He is intelligent, and possesses dignity without stuffiness. We have heard of no criticisms of his judicial performance. To the contrary, Klausner is widely held in high esteem by members of the bench and bar.
Bach points to no faultiness in the incumbentís performance on the bench, and in light of that, we cannot regard the challenge as other than ill-founded.
Inasmuch as we believe that Bach has failed to make a case for denying Klausner a further term as a judge of the Superior Court, there is no need to consider Bachís own qualifications. We would note, however, that we endorsed Bach twice in the past: in 1982, when, as a lawyer, he challenged a judge who was moribund and unable to work, and in 1988, when unions put up a candidate hoping to defeat Bach based on a ruling adverse to a union.
This time, however, we cannot endorse Bach. We urge the reelection of Robert Gary Klausner as a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 1998