Home Criminal Defense It’s Never Dull In California – Above the Law

It’s Never Dull In California – Above the Law


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The days of “party hearty” for California judges may be coming to an end. Given the post-Tom Girardi climate here, perks enjoyed by certain judicial officers who were recipients of his largesse may now be a thing of the past.

No surprise here. My question is why it took so long. For years, there have been stories about judges being feted, comped by lawyers. Girardi was the most egregious example, but I would hazard an educated guess that there have been others. Those good times may well be a thing of the past.

The California Supreme Court’s Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions is circulating a draft opinion that should provide guidance on whether a judicial officer could or should attend a particular function. Specifically, the committee frames the question as “whether a judicial officer may accept an invitation from a law firm to attend its 50th anniversary celebration, which will take place at the law firm’s office and include complimentary food and beverage.”

Many judicial officers over the years were guests at lavish functions both here in SoCal and elsewhere, events hosted by Girardi and his firm. Now it may be that judicial officers should decline those invitations. No way that solos or small firms could compete with such events. Judicial officers who attended Girardi functions apparently did not hesitate to do so. Hopefully, such hospitality did not influence any judicial decisions.

The answer in the commission’s draft opinion is succinct: Don’t attend such an event if you want to keep your judicial robes on. In other words, just say, “No.” And if being polite is important, then just say, “No, thank you.”

The draft advises that a judicial officer may not accept an invitation to a law firm’s 50th anniversary celebration as it could likely violate several canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics. How many canons may be violated in this situation? The draft counts the ways.

Why say no? How about the following: the suggestion that the judicial officer may have a special relationship with the law firm (coziness perhaps?), the impression that the firm could influence the judicial officer’s neutrality, the impression that the attendance of the judicial officer lends to the firm’s prestige (trophy judge?), and last, but not least, the acceptance of complimentary food and drink as inappropriate gifts.

One exception is that “it may be appropriate for a judicial officer to attend the celebration of a law firm with which the judicial officer has a pre-existing relationship warranting disqualification, provided the judicial officer’s attendance is otherwise consistent with the canons.”

Another exception is footnoted: distinguishing attendance at a law firm celebration from attending a bar association or legal education event sponsored by a law firm. The draft opinion states that such activities do not generally undermine judicial neutrality. Why? “[E]ven when underwritten by law firms, judges are expected to maintain relationships with the bar and such events do not cast doubt on impartiality.” There’s nothing wrong with an exception for gifts incident to bar related functions and “activities devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system or the administrations of justice.” The test, the draft opinion says, is whether “the event appears to promote a particular law firm or is geared to the improvement of the law and legal system in general.” Events at law firms that host law student mixers and events to improve diversity in the profession should pass muster.

Speaking about judicial ethics, have you ever heard of a sitting judge (Judge A) moving to disqualify another sitting judge (Judge B) because Judge B has a pending motion where Judge A was the prosecutor in that case? Is this something that could only happen in Los Angeles County?

In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Connolly (Judge A) asserts that Daniel Lowenthal (Judge B) is “biased again law enforcement” and claims that Lowenthal’s rulings could hurt Connolly’s stature as a judge. Wait, what? If Connolly’s argument is taken to a logical or illogical extreme, would that mean that every single time an appellate court tells a trial court that they got it wrong and reverses the trial court ruling, that the appellate court is “biased” against the trial court and that the trial court has lost “stature?”

Do you think that Judge A has ever heard of the Streisand effect? Maybe he needs to read about it.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the crashing and burning of the two name partners who boogied out of the Los Angeles Lewis Brisbois office taking a bunch of lawyers with them, only to find themselves booted out of their new firm and with good reason. Staci Zaretsky explains it all.

Will I ever tire of asking, “What were they thinking?” Nope, especially not in the case where these two purportedly smart lawyers availed themselves of the firm’s email system for their disgusting, hateful comments that were racist, sexist, and antisemitic, to name just a few descriptors. I hope that State of California Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona files disciplinary charges against both of them. I could ask why the Lewis firm waited so long to share them. I also could ask why no one in the firm’s IT department surfaced these emails long ago.

No amount of mea culpas or explanations will suffice, nor should they. Are they truly sorry and remorseful or is it just that they got caught? Perfect examples of apologies that are TLTL.

old lady lawyer elderly woman grandmother grandma laptop computerJill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at oldladylawyer@gmail.com.


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