(Fifth in a series)
Copyright © 2002
By Tim Crews
The Sacramento Valley Mirror Publisher
San Jose - How much can judges be punished for telling the truth about
corruption in their branch of government? A lot. If they are not appointed for life, like Central District of California Bankruptcy Judge Kay March, they can be fired. Call it "not reappointed."
She was sacked for blowing the whistle on court corruption, and will speak publicly for the first time on the matter today, leading a panel at Open Government 2, The California First Amendment Coalition's annual conference. It's held this year at San Jose State.
Judge March, who was fired after being set up for vilification and
defamation by a few of her colleagues, reported serious contracting
violations by the Los Angeles Bankruptcy Court Clerk. She pushed the issue for three years, always inside the system and within the guidelines of judicial and court ethics.
The bankruptcy courts, and the various federal district courts, report to
the circuit courts and they to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge March and her 20 colleagues in Los Angeles hover under the wings of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the 10-state behemoth that has been the source of much controversy.
Judge March, who was shunned by many colleagues for insisting that the 1999 procurement scandal be investigated, did receive strong support in 2000 from the Central California District Court. While she was coming up for review for reappointment, she was the subject of a smear campaign.
Some 35 minority organizations were fed false information and responded, based on what they had been fed, asking she be removed. Negative attorney letters were solicited.
Judge March tried to deal with it and at last, on August 29, sent a 16-page letter to Chief Judge Mary Shroeder of the Ninth Circuit, perhaps the most powerful jurist in the nation save the U.S. Supreme Court. The letter, two copies of which were obtained by this newspaper, appears in
full on pages five through eight. It is a detailed, controlled record of
her struggle. To that complete statement, Judge Schroeder, avoiding nearly every issue and every violation of law, custom and courtesy, responded:
"September 6, 2002
"Dear Judge March:
"I have reviewed your letter dated August 29, 2002 regarding your
application for reappointment. Your application is scheduled to be
considered by the court at its next meeting. "The materials sent to you by Judge Kozinski on January 28, 2002 included copies of all the responses to our request for public comments that we had received up to that date. We received additional letters after that date, so I now enclose copies of those letters. You have now received copies of all the responses we received to the request for public comments.
"The First Amendment briefing you provided to the Committee was circulated to all active members of the court on August 26, 2002.
"s/ Mary M. Schroeder
The message: We're circling the wagons. The news of Judge March's non-reappointment came to light in mid-September. Judge March last week finally spoke, "From September 18, 2002 until today, I have repeatedly declined press inquiries regarding the circumstances underlying the Ninth Circuit's failure to reappoint me. However, on
September 25, 2002 a copyrighted article by reporter Tim Crews ran in a
northern California newspaper, The Valley Mirror.
"Mr. Crews reports in that article that the reason the Ninth Circuit did
not reappoint me was that I "'whistleblew' to the Administrative Office of
the US Courts (AO) on contracting and ethics violations that had occurred in the Office of the Clerk, Bankruptcy Court, CD CA, the Court where I presently serve as a Bankruptcy Judge.
"The Crews article quotes Chief Ninth Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder as
stating: "I'm not aware that her [Judge March's] non-reappointment had
anything to do with procurement issues."
"I am issuing this statement to respond to Judge Schroeder's quoted
statement. Contrary to Chief Judge Schroeder's above quoted statement, the Ninth Circuit's failure to reappoint me stemmed directly from the fact that I 'whistleblew' on government contracting and ethics violations by the Clerk's Office, Bankruptcy Court, CD CA, by reporting my concerns to the AO.
"Further, Chief Circuit Judge Schroeder is personally aware of my
contacting the AO, and of the improper and retaliatory acts taken against
me because I did so, including acts by the Office of the Circuit Executive of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.
"Chief Judge Schroeder is also aware that of the 21 bankruptcy judges in
the Central District of California, only I took the ethically mandated step
of reporting these contracting and ethics violations to the AO. "The Ninth Circuit recently reappointed other CD CA bankruptcy judges,
despite the Circuit's knowledge that the judges being reappointed had
failed to report that misconduct to the AO, and had failed to act to punish that misconduct."
Repeated written and telephone requests for public documents were ignored. But court employees, including one in St. Louis, forwarded these documents to The Mirror. They arrived, as used to be said, "Over the transom."
The illegal contract, a letter from California Central District Judge Terry
Hatter raising alarm about the procurement violations and a warning from
the AO months before the contract was signed, have been reported here.
Requests for comment have been ignored. And the courts have failed to
provide reasons why documents are being withheld.
It is a stone wall.
This series will continue.
You can contact Publisher Tim Crews at valleymirror@... or roguescrib@....