Feb. 29, 2000
In light of unification, Pamela Rogers, erstwhile a member of the Antelope Municipal Court, has become a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
We endorse her, but with extreme reservations, if not qualms.
A judge who is doing his or her job with competence is, as we see it, entitled to job security. A comparison of the qualifications of the challenger and the incumbent should be made, in our view, only after a determination is arrived at that the incumbent is not performing adequately. With respect to the contest for Antelope Municipal Court Office No. 2, we believe a comparison of qualifications is warranted.
Is Rogers doing an acceptable job as a judge? Having endorsed her six years ago when she ran for the Antelope Municipal Court, it is with chagrin that we answer "no."
When she ran in 1994, we spotted potential. We did not know of her health problems—nor did many others. It has been asserted by a vocal member of the Alternate Public Defender's Office that Rogers made an assurance at an election forum that she suffered from no health problems that would interfere with her performance of judicial duties. We do not disbelieve the report, but cannot assert it to be accurate, not having covered the event. It is an undisputed fact, however, that complications from her pregnancy the previous year rendered more frequent and intense her bouts with migraine headaches. Ill health caused frequent absences in the first part of her term.
Rogers began taking prescription medicines containing narcotics and showed up in court in an impaired state, slurring words and behaving erratically. We do not fault her for taking medicines that had been prescribed for her. We do fault her for showing up in court in an inebriated state.
As the California Supreme Court spelled out in Mardikian v. Commission on Judicial Performance (1985) 40 Cal.3d 473, at 485: "A judge who is disabled from performing his duties in timely fashion has an obligation to seek relief, even to the extent of withdrawing temporarily or permanently from the functions of his office if the circumstances require it."
That case was cited in an appellant's brief in a case currently before the Court of Appeal for this district. The appellant pled guilty to charges relating to pornography after his suppression motion was denied. Suppression was sought on the ground that the magistrate, Pamela Rogers, was "cognitively impaired" when she signed two search warrants in January, 1997. It was during that period that she was performing judicial duties while experiencing the effects of morphine and Demerol.
We do not know whether the drugs affected Rogers' actions in connection with the warrant process, nor do we know in how many cases the outcome might have been different had the judge's mental faculties not been hampered. The point is: there should not be a question dangling as to what rulings or other actions might have stemmed from erroneous perceptions due to the effects of narcotics.
Rogers' drug problem apparently is behind her. The judge reportedly ceased taking the prescribed narcotics in April, 1997.
What is not behind her is her disputatious manner. She is engaged in a feud with the Office of Public Defender and with at least one other judge. The deputy public defenders and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Chesley McKay are, as she portrays it, out to get her.
In an interview last week with the Antelope Valley Press, Rogers declared that her statements concerning the alleged alcoholism of an election rival, attorney William A. Clark, were distorted and taken out of context. Rogers told the Valley Press that she had said in her interview with us that in a single instance, Clark appeared in her courtroom and she thought he had been drinking, but he did not slur his words.
Rogers' assertions are untruthful. The judge said in the interview with us that Clark is an "alcoholic" and that he had appeared in her courtroom in an intoxicated state multiple times. Her statements were in no way distorted or exaggerated. In a subsequent telephone conversation, Rogers expressed regret that she had been candid with us. Now, mendaciously, she denies having said what she said. To state the obvious, this reveals a lack of integrity.
In light of these factors, we believe it to be appropriate to consider whether one of Rogers challengers might be better suited for judicial service. We regret to say, we don't think so.
Rogers is not the only candidate in the race who has made hasty allegations. Clark alleged in interviews with us that Rogers puts in short days. We asked around about that and found no substantiation for his charge. Clark was unable to provide any. Clark displayed irresponsibility in uttering an accusation of such a nature which he could not back up.
Irresponsibility is a quality Clark has otherwise displayed.
The lawyer does not carry professional liability insurance, and notes, glibly, that he never has. What financial means does he have of making recompense to a client whose case he mishandles and to whom he causes harm? None. A client obtained a $340,178.01 malpractice judgment against him, and Clark's response was to block recovery by going bankrupt. This is not the conduct of an honorable man.
Other litigation against Clark was chronicled in an article on the judicial race.
Unlike Rogers and Clark, challenger Larry Layton—whose business cards used to read "attorney/evangelist"—has not demonstrated a lack of moral attributes. In the area of commitment to moral conduct he excels, and perhaps we err in not ascribing sufficient significance to that. However, we are simply unable to endorse him.
It's not that he lacks knowledge of law. Layton teaches a half dozen or so law students each weekend at the Larry H. Layton School of Law, an unaccredited school. He is the dean and sole professor there.
The candidate has broad interests. He is running this year as an "Actor/Attorney/ Professor." He appears in amateur productions in the Antelope Valley. Layton recently portrayed Santa Claus in "Miracle on 34th Street." In his candidate statement, he lists acting credits, but not accomplishments in court.
Layton has run (unsuccessfully) with various ballot designations in previous years. In 1994, he was a contestant in the race Rogers won; losing in the primary, he then mounted a write-in campaign in the general election against an incumbent; he challenged another incumbent in 1996; he ran for an open seat two years ago.
We are pleased to see, for Layton's sake, that he has this year pulled a rating of "qualified" from the County Bar (as did Rogers and Clark) in contrast to his "not qualified" rating in the past three election years.
The problem is, simply, that while Layton is a decent person, and has legal knowledge, he is, well, not exactly taken seriously. His propensity in the past for mixing law and religion, his Stassen-like quests for election to the bench including his senseless write-in campaign, and other activities have lent him an image in the Antelope Valley that is inconsistent with effective service as judge.
Rogers does have nearly six years of experience on the bench, and experience is an asset. She is avoiding narcotic drugs and, apparently, keeping up with her caseload. While her performance on the bench has been disappointing, and her recent untruthfulness quite disturbing, we cannot call for her ouster at the polls in light of our perception that neither challenger has superior credentials.
Notwithstanding that we are now apparently on Rogers' "enemies list," we once again endorse her, doing so with the hope the endorsement will not prove an embarrassment.
endorsement was subsequently withdrawn.
Copyright Metropolitan News Company, 2000