Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006, Perspective • Lazard did not get a clean bill of health

Publisher’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006, edition of the Lassen County Times.

 

Editor’s Note: On April 1, Lassen County Superior Court Judge Ridgely Lazard will begin once again presiding over criminal cases involving clients of the public defender’s office, according to Public Defender David Marcus. Marcus said the California Judicial Council recently gave Lazard “a clean bill of health.” Former Lassen County Public Defender Toni Healy filed challenges in September 2004 to keep Lazard from hearing any cases involving public defender clients. In October 2004, Galen Hathaway, a retired judge from Mendocino County, appointed by the judicial council to hear Healy’s challenge, found Lazard was “biased and prejudiced against Public Defender Healy and other attorneys in her office.”

On Feb. 7, the Times quoted David Marcus, the current public defender, saying Judge Ridgeley Lazard had received a “clean bill of health” from the California Judicial Council.

I believe that Mr. Marcus was only repeating what he had been told, and I do not suggest in any way that he was intentionally trying to mislead your newspaper or the public. It is apparent that he was simply not told the truth about the actions taken by the agency that investigates judicial misconduct. I am in a position to refute the statement, and for the benefit of the public record I will state that this information is absolutely false.

When a complaint is filed against a sitting judge for misconduct in office the complaint goes to the California Commission on Judicial Performance, not the Judicial Council mentioned in the Times article. Many people mistake the two agencies as I believe Mr. Marcus did.

According to the rules that govern the commission, it is empowered to take one of five actions on a complaint. Giving the judge “a clean bill of health” is not one of them. The rules are contained in the commission’s Web site cjp.ca.gov

After an investigation is conducted and the complaint’s validity determined, the commission is empowered to: 1) close the case without action if the allegations are either untrue or unprovable, 2) issue a private advisory letter to the judge disapproving of the judge’s conduct, 3) issue a private admonishment to the judge describing the improper conduct and the conclusions reached by the commission, 4) issue a public admonishment, 5) institute proceedings to remove the judge from the bench (Rule 102(e)).

The rules of confidentiality on private disciplinary action by the commission (numbers 2 and 3 above) prevent it from disclosing the private advisory letter or the private admonishment to the public. The rules also state that once the commission takes action to issue private discipline, the person or persons who lodged the complaint are advised that the commission has “taken appropriate corrective action.”

The rules state very clearly that nothing in the confidentiality rules can prevent anyone from making statements about the conduct, even the complaining party or the judge (Rule 102(a)). In fact, the rules specifically authorize the judge to allow the release of the records to the public (Rule 102(h).

The report in the Times stated that Judge Lazard was given a “clean bill of health.”  This implies that the Commission on Judicial Performance closed the case without taking action or found the allegations “either untrue or unprovable.”

This is simply not the case. I am in a position to know, and I am stating for the benefit of the public record, that Judge Lazard was not given “a clean bill of health” by the Commission on Judicial Performance.  Judge Lazard knows it as well.  He is the only person empowered to release the private findings to the public.

Because the Commission’s actions are private, the people of Lassen County will never know which of the corrective actions was taken and on which complaints unless Judge Lazard agrees to release this information.

The fact remains, and I repeat for important emphasis, that Judge Lazard was not given “a clean bill of health.”  I know, for a fact, that the Commission on Judicial Performance took “appropriate corrective action.”