Illegal Payments Sparks Law to Immunize Judges from Criminal Liability
Los Angeles, CA While counties, cities and the entire state are on the brink of financial collapse, California's Superior Court judges are fighting hard in court and in the State Legislature to keep the illegal payments made to them by county governments. The Judicial Watch organization successfully challenged those payments made to judges in L.A. County, where over the past decade it has been estimated that L.A. judges have received up to $300 million dollars. A Fourth District Appellate Court decision in October 2008 (Sturgeon vs. County of Los Angeles) held those payments to the judges were indeed unlawful. This action prompted the judges to fight back.RETROACTIVE IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION
Judges were apparently worried about being prosecuted for criminal acts and liability for taking the unearned payments. At the urging of the Los Angeles Superior Court, the California Judicial Council quietly authored a provision that was slipped into State Budget legislation
Full Disclosure Network interviewed Judicial Watch attorney Sterling Norris in April, 2009 as part of an
Ironically, Richard I. Fine, a prominent, former
Sterling Norris of Judicial Watch had these comments regarding unearned payments to judges and their failure to disclose:
"There is no question that the judges should have disclosed they were receiving $46,000 from the County of L.A.; there is no way the judiciary, ethically, could get around it..."
"$46,000 each year is not a small amount; many people don't make that much all year, and this, from the County, is on top their $200,000 State salary. In California they are the highest paid court judges in the nation."
"If (the judges) are on the up and up, you go get a declaratory judgment (in court) saying, in spite of court consolidation, we are entitled to the money."
"We have never seen people excused from liability retroactively."
"There is a criminal doctrine of law that, if you received money you are not entitled to and you keep it, that is considered theft."
IMPACT ON JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS
A complicating factor associated with the illegal payments to judges is that a number of Los Angeles Superior Court judges have been appointed to higher courts during the past two decades. They now sit on the Supreme Court and the Appellate Court. The question is, does the fact they accepted unearned money from other than their employer disqualify them from those higher appointments? In his complaint and request for investigation to the U.S. Department of Justice, Richard I. Fine points to both Appellate and Supreme Court justices who have received illegal payments from the County and who now have been granted criminal immunity.JUDICIAL ETHICS AND SUPREME COURT JUSTICE CARLOS R. MORENO
The California Constitution (Sec. 17, 19, 20) states that judges may not receive money from parties other than their employer. The State of California, through its Legislature, has the sole responsibility for setting compensation and retirement benefits. On page 4 of Fine's request for investigation, he names California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, who has been mentioned as a possible nominee to the U. S. Supreme Court by President Obama.
In a telephone interview on Friday, May 15, 2009 from his jail cell, Fine expressed concern about the possible U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Justice Moreno, who had not recused himself from two critical cases that involved
The Judical Watch organization faces formidable opposition from the County of Los Angeles and its private law firm, Jones-Day, and the Superior Court of Los Angeles, which retained Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which has "Intervenor" status in the case. The matter of "unearned benefits" going to the judges raises the issue of who will pay the big law firms? Will it be the taxpayers who pay, or the judges who personally benefitted from the illegal payments? No matter who wins and who pays, this legal battle is going to be costly.JUDGES ASSN. DECLINES INTERVIEW
Leslie Dutton, Host of Full Disclosure, contacted Judge Mary Wiss, President of the California Judges Association, for an interview for this series with Sterling Norris. Judge Wiss referred us to their lobbyist, Mr. Mike Beliote, who declined an interview saying, "the judges have decided not to be interviewed on this subject." The Full Disclosure series is to be released to 40 cable systems and on the Internet in June, 2009. This is part three and four of the
Copyright 2009, Full Disclosure Network
Adapted from: "Fiscal Crisis: Illegal Payments Create Law For Judicial Criminal & Liability Immunity: Nominees For U S Supreme Court To Be Impacted?" Full Disclosure Network, May 15, 2009, http://www.fulldisclosure.net/news/, accessed 05/22/09. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.