26 November 2012

California Judges Association Verifies Multiple State Law Violations by Part-Time Judge Attorneys - Judge Laurie Earl Responsible for Enforcement

Sacramento Federal Court Eastern District of California – United States Courts, US District Court Sacramento, Judge William B. Shubb, Judge Edmund F. Brennan, Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr, Judge Carolyn K. Delaney, Judge Morrison C. England Jr, Judge Gregory G. Hollows, Judge John A. Mendez, Judge Kendall J. Newman, Judge Troy L. Nunley, Judge Allison Claire, Judge Dale A. Drozd, Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, United States Attorney Benjamin Wagner, Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie – Judge David De Alba – Judge Steve Lapham – Judge James Arguelles – Judge Bunmi Awoniyi – Judge Steven Gevercer – Judge Robert Hight – Judge Laurie Earl - Judge Thadd Blizzard – Judge James Mize – Judge Tami Bogert – Commissioner Peter J. McBrien – Commissioner Scott P. Harman – Judge Matthew Gary – Judge Paul Seave – Judge Jerilyn Borack – Commissioner Danny L. Haukedalen – Judge Eugene Balonon – Judge Kevin McCormick – Judge Kevin Culhane – Judge Sharon Lueras – Judge Raymond Cadei – Judge Michael Virga – Judge Maryanne Gilliard – Judge Trena Burger-Plavan – Judge Marjorie Koller – Judge Steve White Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim State Bar of California, State Auditor Elaime M. Howle Bureau of State Audits, Director Victoria B. Henley Commission on Judicial Performance Chief Counsel,
Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge Laurie Earl has failed or 
refused to enforce state law against judge pro tem attorneys who
use their temporary judge status for personal gain. 
The California Judges Association this month issued a Judicial Ethics Update [pdf] confirming that many Sacramento Family Court judge pro tem attorneys are in violation of the California Code of Judicial Ethics for misuse of the judge pro tem title on firm websites.

Last month, we reported that prominent, local family law attorneys who also serve as temporary judges in the same court were using the judge pro tem title for advertising and promotional purposes on firm web pages. 

Using "the prestige of judicial office or use of the judicial title in any manner...to advance the pecuniary or personal interests of the judge or others" is prohibited by state law.

To clients and potential clients, the judge pro tem title implies "insider" status among family court judges and employees, and some lawyers misuse the position to promote their law practice.

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The accusations of the attorney who brought the issue to our attention have now been verified by the California Judges Association. This month CJA issued their thirty-first Judicial Ethics Update. In response to ethical questions submitted by active judges, the annual update provides interpretations of the Code of Judicial Ethics. 

In response to an inquiry about temporary judge conduct, the update states:
"A temporary judge may not include the fact of serving as a temporary judge in any law firm or business advertisement including a biography on a law firm website." 
Using the title on a firm website is a violation of Code of Judicial Ethics Canons 1, 2, and 6D(9)(a), according to the CJA. Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge Laurie Earl is responsible for oversight of judge pro tem attorneys, including ensuring that they comply with the Code of Judicial Ethics canons applicable to temporary judges. 

Since the start of her term as presiding judge in January, 2012, Earl has failed or refused to hold the judge pro tems accountable for the misconduct. The relevant section of the recent CJA Ethics Update, and the applicable sections of the Code of Judicial Ethics are posted at the end of this article.

Sacramento Family Court reform advocates allege that under a tacit agreement, ostensibly "volunteer" judge pro tem attorneys are allowed by Earl and other judges to use the title on firm websites for promotion and financial gain as one form of compensation for operating the settlement conference program on behalf of the court. Other unlawful methods of compensation catalogued by reform advocates - including "rubber-stamped" court orders - are published on our special Judge Pro Tems page.

Court watchdogs assert that the benefits conferred to temporary judges under the clandestine compensation scheme amount to bribes, kickbacks, or emoluments that violate federal honest services law, other federal statutes, and California Penal Code § 94. An emolument is "any advantage, profit, or gain received as a result of one's employment or one's holding office," according to Black's Law Dictionary

Judge pro tem attorneys hold the state Office of Temporary Judge. In California, any judicial officer, including a temporary judge, who asks for or receives any emolument is guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

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