Critiques of the Judiciary
By law, the judicial salaries of California's Superior Court judges are set and financed by the state. Many of the counties, however, have utilized schemes for supplementing the salaries of appellate court judges. These supplements assist the judges in their reelection campaigns and help insure favorable outcomes in cases where those counties are defendants. Attorney Richard I. Fine was instrumental in uncovering these extra-legal payments, which began in 1988 and affect more than 1,600 judges. The payments, which currently amount to about $46,000, have been routinely omitted from the financial disclosure forms required of all judges. Fine's campaign to expose this judicial misconduct led to his disbarment, and he was subsequently tried and imprisoned for contempt by one of the judges, Judge David P. Yaffe, who was caught up in the financial scandal.
In 2008, the landmark decision in Sturgeon vs. County of Los Angeles made it clear that the supplementary payments to the judges were unlawful. This prompted the California Judicial Council to have a bill drafted that was quietly inserted into the state's budget legislation, SBX2 11, and passed without public debate or awareness. This provision granted retroactive immunity from criminal prosecution to all the California judges and County officials who either received or authorized illegal payments of public money. These events demonstrate how the judiciary, with the power to silence its critics through imprisonment, can evolve into a corrupt enterprise, and it underscores the imperative to create an inspector general's office that functions independently of the judiciary and has the authority to convene citizen grand juries to investigate complaints about judges.
On September 17, 2010, Judge Yaffe ordered Richard Fine released from prison after having kept him in coercive solitary confinement for 18 months. Yaffe also announced his own retirement, effective November 1, 2010.
Attorney who fought payments disbarred, jailedMALCOLM MACLACHLANMarch 19, 2009
An attorney who spent years fighting against the practice of counties making additional payments to judges has suffered disbarment and been thrown in jail over the last several weeks. Richard Fine, 69, claims that his legal problems stem from his crusade against the practice. But the Los Angeles Superior Court and the plaintiff's attorney at the center of the Sturgeon case say they aren't related.
Fine is a real estate attorney who has raised objections to "local judicial payments" in several cases. Last May, he sued the California Bar Association, according to attorney Gary Zerman, who has staged several small protests demanding Fine's release. Fine has repeatedly argued that these payments violate the State and U.S. Constitutions, including citizens' "implied right to honest services" from elected officials.
"He was one of the first to discover this," Zerman said.
Fine claimed not only that judges might have to repay the money they had received, but that any judges who took the payments could be forced to leave the bench, and any rulings they had handed down could be invalidated.
"They either have to resign or be impeached," Fine said.
Fine has argued that the Los Angeles judges have never ruled against the County of Los Angeles in court since the payments began. Many of his legal problems appear to stem from a real estate case, Marina Tenants Association vs. Los Angeles County, and the judge in that case, David P. Yaffe, who, he claims, has retaliated against him for trying to draw attention the payments issue.
He was disbarred on Feb. 11 and arrested on March 4. Zerman said the court has a vendetta against him. seeking to draw attention away from the fact that they're maintaining the judicial payments at a time when "L.A. County is shutting down court rooms, laying off court staff and increasing court fees."
Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman Alan Parachini said the Marina case was "unrelated." The disbarment proceedings had been going on for months. Fine, he said, was then held in contempt of court for practicing law without a license for attempting to continue the case after his disbarment and for refusing to answer a judge's questions as part of a debtor's examination on money he owes.
The plaintiff's attorney in the Sturgeon case, Sterling Norris, praised Fine's work in publicizing the payments issue. But Norris noted that Fine was not involved in the Sturgeon case. He declined to say whether Fine's activism had anything to do with his current legal issues.
"He's got substantial other problems," Norris said. "I feel badly for him."Copyright 2009, ID_Media
From: Malcolm Maclachlan, "Attorney who fought payments disbarred, jailed," Capitol Weekly, Sacramento, California, March 19, 2009, http://capitolweekly.net/article.php?_c=xuh0xailh8tcti&xid=xuf094n7w8p5ue, accessed 05/10/09. Video excerpted from "Judicial Benefits & Court Corruption," Full Disclosure Network, April 27, 2009, http://www.fulldisclosure.net/Programs/538.php, accessed 05/10/09. Reproduced in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
"Demonstration" video exerpted from: William J. Wagener, Free Fine, March 23, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MSpSLD89sY, accessed 05/26/09, and TheJusticeChannel, Disclosure Watch Town Hall Meeting, March 2, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8TGCCIg8JI, accessed 05/26/09. Reproduced in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
The remedy to unbridled judicial power and its inevitable abuses is to hold judges accountable for improper and unlawful conduct through citizen-controlledmeans that are independent of the judiciary, as described elsewhere on Tulanelink. The Constitution empowers Congress to regulate the courts, but Congress has proven to be an unwilling taskmaster and has permitted the judiciary to usurp power sufficient to keep the scales of justice from attaining an honest balance.
Calls from the public for greater accountability have been treated with disdain by the judiciary, which resists any change that would curtail the nearly unlimited power that judges enjoy over litigating parties. Perhaps continued citizen distress over arbitrary abuses of judicial discretion will lead to an inevitable "pitchfork rebellion" intent on restoring the balance of power to the people, where it rightfully belongs.
Reform movements modeled on the J.A.I.L. initiative have gained and then lost momentum in California, Idaho, South Dakota, Florida and Minnesota, where they have been opposed by bar associations and big business, misrepresented in the press, and suppressed by government entities with instances of law enforcement participation. Clearly, the "Powers That Be"fear meaningful judicial reform and stand ready to mobilize considerable resources to defend their position.
ELENA SASSOWER MARK ADAMS DOUGLAS SCHAFER DORIS SASSOWER LINDA KENNEDY ROGER WEIDNER ISRAEL WEINSTOCK RICHARD COOK
Web site created November, 1998 This section last modified June, 2009
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