Suit Seeks Reform of Judiciary
- J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles - September 11, 2000
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By Guy Ashley
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 courts.
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 Marin voters.
Plaintiffs in 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 electorate."
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 young daughter.
Mardeusz 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 states, "the
likelihood of applicants who "owe" members of the judiciary, such as occurred in this case, with Adams beholding (sic) to Dufficy, becomes less likely."
Adams could 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 Barry.
Contact Guy Ashley via e-mail at gashley@...
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