The judge of Santa Catalina Island's only Justice Court has asked the state Supreme Court for public censure instead of the removal recommended by a state commission, saying his mistakes were due to inexperience.
In papers filed with the court this week, Judge Robert Furey said his actions were those of "an inexperienced judge trying to grapple with the demands of new and heavy responsibilities" and were "not the product of bad faith or malicious, personal motivations."
The Commission on Judicial Performance called for Furey's removal in June for "willful misconduct," including the abuse of his power to sentence defendants to jail for contempt.
The action, by a 7-1 vote, had the effect of suspending Furey from his $27,000-a-year job with pay while the case was pending. The Supreme Court, which has the final word on discipline of judges, will rule at a later date.
Furey, 57, was elected in 1982 as the only judge in the town of Avalon, where he has spent one day a week in the Justice Court. He has spent the rest of his time on temporary assignments to other Justice and Municipal courts, mostly in Los Angeles County. A former civil engineer, he graduated from law school at the age of 49 and worked as a prosecutor and public defender before his election.
The commission said Furey had committed repeated acts of misconduct toward one indigent person, Nancy Cuskaden, that were not justified by her "bizarre activities."
After Cuskaden wrote a letter to the state commission complaining about Furey, he ordered her to appear in Long Beach on a contempt charge and later sentenced her to five days in jail, the commission said.
He also sentenced her to another five days when she refused to answer questions about whether her son was violating a rental law, later jailed her again for violating a courtroom dress code that did not apply to her and wrote a letter to another judge who was hearing a case against Cuskaden, warning that she had a tendency to distort or lie, the commission said.
All the contempt orders were overturned because Furey failed to follow proper procedures.
In response, Furey's lawyer told the court that the judge was only trying to "uphold the integrity and decorum of his court."
The lawyer, Dennis Fischer, said Cuskaden disrupted the court, swore at Furey and made false claims to the commission about his bailiff, as well as the judge. Richards said Furey's letter to the other judge was a well-meaning attempt to provide information rather than an attempt to punish Cuskaden.
Action Was Overturned
The commission also found willful misconduct in Furey's statement during a 1984 Municipal Court hearing that he always believed a police officer's word against that of a defendant in a traffic case. He then cut off the defendant in the middle of the case, found him guilty and fined him, an action that was overturned.
Fischer said Furey has since learned to treat police like any other witnesses but at the time was only expressing a bias that many judges and juries share without admitting it. The judge was acting out of naivete rather than bad faith or corrupt motives, Fischer said.
The lawyer asked the court to give Furey "an opportunity to demonstrate that he has learned from his past mistakes" by imposing a punishment less severe than removal. If the court decides that public censure is too mild, Fischer said, it should order removal as a form of suspended sentence, to be carried out only if Furey has not shown he has learned his lesson.