Van de Kamp Draws Fire for Comments on Judge : Insurance: Wife of man presiding at rate hearing says attorney general made 'sexist, racist' attack in calling for her husband's dismissal on grounds of a marital conflict of interest.


The wife of a state Department of Insurance administrative hearing judge whose dismissal was demanded last week by Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, mainly on grounds of a marital conflict of interest, has responded by accusing Van de Kamp of making a "sexist, racist" attack on her husband.

Judith Fielding, wife of Hearing Judge William J. Fernandez, contended there is no conflict between her position as a private defense attorney for insurance firms and her husband's position as the judge chosen by Insurance Commissioner Roxani Gillespie to recommend standards for insurance company profits and rate rollbacks.

The reason, Fielding said in an interview, is that under a prenuptial agreement, there is no commingling of income between her husband and herself, and no community property in the marriage.

Van de Kamp, asked for comment, did not respond to Fielding's charge, but reiterated that he thinks a conflict exists and Fernandez ought to be dismissed.

The attorney general said last week: "The insurance rates the judge is setting will be going in part to pay his wife's law firm and thus, indirectly, the judge himself." He asked Gillespie to dismiss him, but Gillespie has refused to do so.

Fielding said she seldom discusses with Fernandez the issues raised in the four months of hearings he has conducted for Gillespie, and she said that before he retired as a Superior Court judge in Santa Clara County, there had been an occasion when he sat as judge over a lawsuit against the Farmers group of companies at the same time that she was occasionally defending Farmers in other cases.

A $5-million verdict was reached against Farmers in her husband's courtroom, and he upheld it, she said, demonstrating his impartiality and that no conflict existed.

"I also feel this is an attack on a brown-skinned person who's a minority," she added. "He's accused by Mr. Van de Kamp of a callous disregard for minorities and the high prices of their insurance when he (the judge) is a minority himself."

Fielding said, both she and the judge have children from previous marriages who are living in Los Angeles on "low incomes" and complain to them regularly about the high cost of insurance. She noted that the judge had visited black and Latino neighborhoods of Oakland on his own during the hearings to discuss insurance problems with residents there.

"If I had been his (Fernandez's) son or brother, this attack would not have been made," Fielding said. "It is such an absurdly insulting sexist argument to say we don't know when to shut our mouths (about insurance issues) when we're together."

Fernandez told The Times his wife was responding for both of them and that it would be "awkward" for him to respond while writing his legal opinion on standards for insurer profits and rollbacks, due to be issued by April 30.

The judge and his wife were attending a funeral in Hawaii when Van de Kamp raised the conflict issue and were not immediately available to respond.

Van de Kamp, in his response to Fielding's remarks, declared:

"Judge Fernandez's impartiality has clearly been placed in doubt. . . . The standard for disqualification has clearly been met. As an experienced judicial officer, Judge Fernandez should step back and take an objective look at the predicament in which he and the commissioner (Gillespie) have placed himself and the public."

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