Sunday, July 26, 2009

Motive Uncovered!

We were literally stunned when we recently uncovered the fact that a representative for LA County's Board of Supervisors actually requested that local attorney bar associations submit amicus curiae ("friend of the court") letters to the California Supreme Court in support of judges in the appeal to overturn the Sturgeon decision which held that the payments the County had been making to judges for 20-some-odd years were illegal.

Suspicious and knowing there was no good reason for the County to take a position against its own interest and insist it should continue making huge bonus payments to judges, we investigated and learned that the following entities submitted amicus letters or briefs in the case: the LA District Attorney, the LA County Public Defender, and the Association of Southern California Defense Counsel (ASCDC). (See here, page 11.) (We note with interest that the LA County Bar Assn apparently rejected the request. We also note with great interest the ASCDC's surprising and naive revelation that "the California Legislature promised its continued support of local judicial benefits in return for judges' support of the 1997 Trial Court Funding Act and of the 1998 Trial Court Unification Act." There sure are a lot of people in bed together from what are supposed to be independent entities.)

If you are wondering, as we were, why on earth the LA County Board of Supervisors actually fought to continue making payments to judges after the Sturgeon decision relieved them of any possible obligation, here's what we found:

Article II, Section 4 of the county Charter:

"The County of Los Angeles shall have a Board of Supervisors consisting of five members ... They shall each receive as compensation for their services a salary, payable monthly from the County Treasury, which shall be the same as that now or hereafter prescribed by law for a judge of the Superior Court in and for the County of Los Angeles, except that retirement benefits shall be those now or hereafter provided by law for officers and employees of the County of Los Angeles."

That's right ... LA County Supervisors' salaries are dependent upon the amount that superior court judges get.

The California Constitution section which governs judges' compensation was specifically constructed to say that only the State may pay judges' salaries in order to avoid just this sort of improper situation. Yet here we are, with the guilty parties all grinning smugly like Cheshire cats after they managed to sneak through a late-night bill granting themselves retroactive immunity from criminal prosecution. (Note to Supervisors: nothing in SBX2-11 (may it soon rest in peace) grants you immunity for any monies you received as a result of your approval of the payments to judges.)

On a different subject, we note that LA County's payments to superior court judges were, all other arguments aside, illegal until February 20, 2009, when SBX2-11 was enacted. Because SBX2-11 granted retroactive immunity from prosecution, the payments cannot be recharacterized as having been legal all along.

And the 1988 Memorandum, an answer to their request for a legal opinion, proves judges and Supervisors knew all along that the payments were illegal. Yet they decided to do it anyway; it was many years before they were caught.

Richard Fine was factually, legally, morally and ethically correct and beyond reproach when he insisted the payments were illegal. As an officer of the court, he had a duty to press the issue.

Judge Yaffe was not wrong as a result of innocence about the payments' illegality. He knew full well, from several resources, that the payments were illegal at the time of Richard's disqualification demands. He also well knew:
* that the fact that he hadn't ruled in any substantial way against the County in years had the clear appearance of bias
* that he could not be both judge and adverse witness in the same trial
* that THREE Supervisors had illegally received campaign contributions from parties seeking project development votes in their favor
* that Richard had not received any notice of the secret January 8, 2008, hearing, thus the hearing could not lawfully proceed, making Judge Yaffe's order unquestionably "void"
* that his prosecution of Richard for his refusal to obey the "void" order was wholly improper, and his continuing refusal to release Richard in the face of all these facts is a crime against the tenets of justice
* that his judicial reputation is extremely unflattering, a black mark on the reputation of the superior court and judges as a whole.

One thing Judge Yaffe apparently doesn't know: taxpayers are no longer on the hook for paying damages when elected officials are found guilty of improprieties. Just ask Mike Antonovich.

Decent, moral, honest judges must be terribly ashamed of themselves by now for not having stepped up sooner. (Why didn't you?) Still, "late" is certainly better than "never," and the choice of never, even if by default, is not acceptable from one who wears a robe.

It's embarrassing enough as it is for us as citizens to watch it happen. Stop letting things get worse. Have you given any thought as to what will ultimately happen once this all plays out?

No, it won't be easy ... which is exactly how others of us know it's the right thing to do. If you don't understand why you need to stand up, read this. Then look in the mirror and, after reminding yourself of the purpose of the oath you took, the reason it was created in the first place, ask yourself if you're honestly abiding by it. When the whole story finally has a full airing, will you be perceived as part of the problem? Or will you be a part of the solution that leads the people out of this mess of apparent corruption that's being perpetrated against us all? Until then, can you give us any reason to have even an iota of confidence in the honesty of the judicial system in Los Angeles County?

We now await a ruling from the Ninth Circuit, assuming they can only conclude that being prevented from earning an income constitutes immediate, irreparable and continuing harm worthy of an emergency hearing. If it doesn't, nothing does.

[Next investigation: Did LA County continue to make payments to LA Superior Court judges after the Sturgeon decision was issued (10/10/08) and before SBX2-11 was enacted (2/20/09)? And if so, which judges, if any, rejected them?]

See "The Best Courts (Your) Money Could Buy" for additional details.

Also see "What Are We All Waiting For, Fellas?"


Stephen R. Diamond said...

Since the remuneration L.A. judges get from the County was termed "benefits," it shouldn't be added to the Supervisors' "salary," while the Supervisors' benefits are unaffected by judges' benefits.

Have you verified how much Supervisors' get? My guess is it's the amount the State pays judges.

Stephen R. Diamond

Honor In Justice said...

Records are being sought. Will post update of what we're able to uncover.