A Sacramento judge who walked out on a heated divorce trial should be publicly censured “at a minimum” and perhaps even removed from office, an examiner has recommended to the Commission on Judicial Performance.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Peter McBrien gave “false and misleading testimony while under oath,” won’t admit to “the impropriety of his conduct” and is “likely” to commit “further misconduct,” Examiner Andrew Blum wrote in a July 7 letter (.pdf) to commissioners.
Not surprisingly, McBrien’s attorney sees things differently.
Imagine that … after the jump.
The judge has a long and largely unblemished history on the bench and “this isolated incident should not rise to the level of a public censure,” attorney James Murphy wrote in his own brief (.pdf) to the commission.
It’s now up to the CJP to decide what happens to McBrien, who already sustained one public admonishment on his judicial record after he was convicted of a misdemeanor for cutting down trees nine years ago in a public park adjacent to his house.
A panel of special masters last month concluded that McBrien had acted improperly during the Carlsson v. Carlsson divorce trial. But while improper, the judge’s actions did not rise to the level of willful misconduct, the masters said. Willful misconduct constitutes the worst class of behavior and can lead the CJP to order a jurist’s removal from office.
McBrien abruptly left the bench to deal with an emergency protective order request while Ulf Carlsson’s attorney was examining a witness. He later sent word to the waiting litigants that the trial was over.
McBrien has expressed “considerable remorse” over his decision to end the trial without returning, but his actions rise only to the level of “improper conduct,” Murphy wrote.
The special masters also found that McBrien was impatient with Ulf Carlsson’s attorney and became improperly “embroiled” in the case when he unilaterally decided to fax a copy of the litigant’s economic statements to his employer — without telling anyone in the case first. Ulf Carlsson was later fired from his job with the state Department of General Services.
In May 2008, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed McBrien’s ruling in the Carlsson divorce case, saying that the judge had deprived Ulf Carlsson of his right to due process.
— Cheryl Miller
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