J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles - September
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Suit Seeks Reform of
Court critics at the center of an
effort to recall three Marin judges and the county's top prosecutor have filed a
lawsuit that alleges California's judicial appointment process is "enveloped in
secrecy" and opens the door to cronyism that they say drives the Marin
Among the plaintiffs in
the suit filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court is Patricia Barry,
the lawyer who defended one of the recall movement's leaders and was fined
$2,700 for calling Marin Superior Court Judge Verna Adams a "whore" during an
acrimonious three-week trial.
Barry was joined by six members of the
local recall movement in filing the lawsuit, which seeks to overturn laws
governing the selection of judges in California.
The suit also seeks to have seven guilty
verdicts against Barry's client, Carol Mardeusz of Novato, reversed on the basis
that Adams, who was appointed to the bench last October, has not been elected by
the case claim Adams should have run in the March primary election, an argument
that has been rejected by the County Counsel's office, which reviewed the
assertion earlier this summer on the eve of Mardeusz' trial.
Defenders of Adams and others targeted in
the recall say the lawsuit marks a bizarre new attempt to besmirch the
reputation of the Marin courts and to seek payback for rulings that those behind
the recall drive don't like.
"There's no foundation to it," John
Montgomery, administrator of the Marin courts, said of the lawsuit. The
plaintiffs claim that in researching Adams' background before the trial they ran
up against codes of confidentiality that barred them from learning anything
about the appointment process that resulted in the selection of Adams for the
judgeship last fall.
According to the lawsuit, the selection
process is "elitist and
anti-democratic" and "permits the judicial
application, evaluation, and
selection process to be almost exclusively
controlled by lawyers and judges with little or no input from members of the
In addition to
Adams, the lawsuit names as defendants Gov. Gray Davis, two top state officials
involved in judicial appointments and the Judicial Nominees Evaluation
Commission (JNE), a panel that evaluates judicial candidates and makes
recommendations to the governor regarding the appointments of judges.
Named as plaintiffs are Barry, Mardeusz,
Deborah Planet-Irish of Larkspur, Joe Neufeld of Novato, Peter Romanowsky of
Sausalito, Sharon Shea of San Rafael and Lynette Shaw of Fairfax.
State law empowers the governor to fill
vacant judgeships, though all appointees must run for election when they
complete the 6-year term of the jurist they replace.
The JNE Commission, a 32-person panel that
reports its findings about judicial candidates to the governor, is bound by law
to keep most of its proceedings confidential.
These confidentiality provisions are
designed to allow JNE commissioners to conduct thorough investigations and to
encourage lawyers, judges and others to provide information about a judicial
candidate "without fear of reprisal," said Marie Moffat, general counsel of the
State Bar of California.
According to the lawsuit, the cloak of
secrecy surrounding judicial
appointments allows the legal establishment to
control who becomes a judge, thus encouraging the "cloning" of judges and
discouraging fresh perspectives on the bench.
The lawsuit asserts that Marin Judge
Michael Dufficy, also the target of the recall, is a "good friend" of Adams and
"probably" played a role in her appointment. This relationship played a role in
the Mardeusz trial, Barry says, because Adams "protected" Dufficy from critical
defense questioning when Dufficy took the stand to testify about his involvement
in granting, then rescinding, a court order that gave Mardeusz custody of her
was later convicted by a jury of attempted child abduction and other charges
involving the daughter, now 9. The hard line taken by Adams toward defense
questioning of Dufficy grew from the judges' close relationship, the lawsuit
states. If the judicial appointment process were more open, the lawsuit
likelihood of applicants who "owe" members of the judiciary,
such as occurred in this case, with Adams beholding (sic) to Dufficy, becomes
not be reached for comment yesterday. During the trial last month, Adams
characterized Barry's accusation that she was protecting Dufficy as an attempt
"to inflame these proceedings."
Barry did not return a telephone call to
her office in West Hollywood yesterday.
She made headlines last week when the
State Supreme Court denied her request to overturn a contempt-of-court citation
and $2,700 in fines levied against her by Adams for a string of courtroom
outbursts, including a July 24 diatribe in which she called the judge a "whore"
during the Mardeusz trial.
Don Solem, a Mill Valley political
consultant hired to defend the judges from the recall drive, said yesterday he
had not seen the lawsuit. "It sounds like a ridiculous attempt to tie the recall
drive to a recent trial outcome," he said. Montgomery, the Marin courts
administrator, dismissed the lawsuit as just more acting out by Barry and other
court critics. "It's unfortunate that she's extending her bizarre behavior
outside the courtroom and into the political arena," Montgomery said of
Contact Guy Ashley via e-mail at gashley@...
to you by The Marin Independent Journal
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