A San Diego lawyer has requested that a state panel investigate whether Municipal Court Judge Lisa Guy-Schall violated judicial ethics guidelines when she appeared on behalf of Gov. George Deukmejian at a candidates’ forum last week.
In a complaint filed with the California Commission on Judicial Performance, Michael Aguirre charged that Guy-Schall’s appearance at the forum violated a judicial conduct rule stating that judges should not take active roles in political campaigns. The commission is likely to decide whether to investigate the incident at its meeting Oct. 23 and 24, a spokesman said Tuesday.
However, Guy-Schall said Tuesday that she was unaware before the forum, sponsored last Friday at a downtown hotel by the Southland Club for Business and Professional Women, that the event would be political in nature. A top local Deukmejian campaign official concurred with the judge’s explanation, adding that, moreover, he had been unaware that judges are not supposed to speak on behalf of political candidates.
“It’s an unfortunate misunderstanding all the way around, but if there’s a finger to be pointed in the direction of a mistake occurring, it should be pointed at me, not the judge,” said financier Tom Stickel, San Diego County chairman for the Deukmejian campaign.
Stickel explained that the Deukmejian campaign had asked him and his assistant, Bill Crocker, to arrange for a woman to speak on the governor’s record “relative to women’s issues” at the forum. In Guy-Schall, whom Deukmejian appointed to the bench in August, 1985, “we felt we had found an exceptional speaker to do just that,” Stickel said.
However, Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that judges “should refrain from political activity inappropriate to judicial office.” In addition to saying that judges should not raise funds for candidates or hold office in political organizations, the code also specifies that judges should not “make speeches for a political organization or candidate for non-judicial office or publicly endorse a candidate for non-judicial office.”
“Obviously, if I had known this was a political event, I never would have been there,” Guy-Schall said. “There’s also a common-sense element to all of this. If I was going to try to ingratiate myself with the present governor, for whatever reason, I certainly wouldn’t do it through a judicial conduct violation at a public meeting. That doesn’t make sense.”
Although flyers for the event clearly identified it as a candidates’ forum, Stickel said that he did not see the flyers and believed that the event was “just a meeting on women’s issues.” Even if he had known that the event was a political forum, Stickel added, he would not have realized that there was a potential problem with Guy-Schall’s appearance because he was unaware of Canon 7.
“I’d never heard of Canon 7 before, but you can bet I’ve heard about it a lot in the past few days,” Stickel said.
Aguirre, who represented Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley at the forum, discounted Stickel’s explanation, citing the flyer--a copy of which he included in his complaint to the Judicial Performance Commission--and the fact that Stickel himself acknowledged that the Deukmejian campaign had requested someone to speak on the governor’s behalf.
“If it wasn’t political, it would have gone through the governor’s state office,” Aguirre said. “When the request comes from the campaign team, what are you supposed to think? This was political on its face. They had to know that. Now they’re covering up.”
Guy-Schall, though, said that her speech was not “a typical campaign talk” but rather focused on “the progress of women in business and industry.” “I spoke of the last four years, and, naturally, Governor Deukmejian came into it,” she said. Noting that she arrived at the event late and was the first speaker, the judge added that she did not begin to suspect that “something wasn’t right” until Aguirre strongly criticized her in a speech that followed hers. Two dozen candidates or their representatives spoke at the forum.
Despite the fact that Aguirre gave the news media copies of his letter to the Judicial Performance Commission, a spokesman said Tuesday that it is barred from confirming whether a complaint has been filed. Its investigations are conducted privately, said Peter Gubbins, a panel investigating attorney.