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Sentences Cited : Panel Urges Firing of Catalina Judge

Times Staff Writer

Charging that a Santa Catalina Island judge repeatedly found jaywalkers and other minor violators in contempt of court and jailed them for days, the Commission on Judicial Performance called for his ouster Wednesday.

The eight-member state agency voted unanimously that Catalina Justice Court Judge Robert H. Furey should be kicked off the bench. The recommendation, the first of its kind in three years, was sent to the state Supreme Court.

The commission found that Furey violated a variety of rules of conduct by issuing sentences of from five days to a woman who violated his dress code to six months for a man he found violated parole. All of the sentences apparently were later overturned by Superior Court judges, though most of the defendants ended up spending some time in jail.

The man who was sentenced to six months was accused of violating parole for failing to perform all of his community service work, which was part of a sentence for an earlier conviction of vehicular manslaughter. The defendant claimed that he could not do the work because of physical problems.

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Furey, however, ordered him jailed after proclaiming that he was dissatisfied with a letter from a doctor explaining the physical problems, the commission said.

The panel specifically charged Furey with willful misconduct, displaying “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice” and failing to perform his duties properly.

Earlier this month, Furey ran unsuccessfully for election to the San Pedro Municipal Court bench. A former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney and public defender, Furey was elected to the Avalon-based judgeship in 1982.

Furey generally spends one day a week presiding over cases on the island. The rest of his time is spent as a Municipal Court judge in in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Francisco counties.

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In its report to the Supreme Court, the commission said it was particularly concerned over a 1983 incident. Furey had become angry when he discovered that an Avalon woman, Nancy L. Cuskaden, complained about him to the San Francisco-based commission, which is responsible for investigating misconduct by judges and disciplining them.

After learning of the complaint, Furey summoned her to court, found her in contempt and sentenced her to five days in jail, plus a $500 fine. A Superior Court judge freed her, finding the contempt order was flawed.

Furey also ordered Cuskaden to never reappear in his courtroom. However, she showed up in the Avalon courtroom in June, 1984, as a spectator. Furey found her in contempt for violating the judge’s dress code, which specifies no swim wear or shorts. Cuskaden was wearing long jeans, shoes and a sweat shirt, torn in the fashion made popular by the movie, “Flashdance.”

She again was sentenced to five days in jail and fined $500. A Superior Court judge released her after two days, again finding the contempt order was meritless.

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The commission said Furey sentenced the jaywalker to five days in jail after the man said he could not pay the $10 fine. The panel also noted that the judge believed the defendant was mentally unstable and wanted him evaluated by psychologists. The commission found, however, the judge had no authority to issue the order.

Furey could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The judge defended himself before the commission by arguing that he worked long hours. Any transgressions on his part, he maintained, were due to his inexperience as a judge. He also argued that many of the defendants who received contempt citations were disruptive.

However, in urging the commission to call for Furey’s removal, state Deputy Atty. Gen. Susan D. Martynec said the judge’s “prime defense tactic . . . has been to attempt to divert this commission’s focus from his own misconduct by making the character and behavior of other persons the target.”

“In so doing, (Furey) has proven only that he fails to grasp either the substance or seriousness of the charges against him,” Martynec said in a written argument, adding that Furey created the impression that he believed himself to be “above the law” in his effort to “punish” people who were “different” or displayed a “bad attitude.”

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