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Judge Rebuked for Courtroom Incident

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state agency that monitors judges’ conduct publicly rebuked a Van Nuys Superior Court judge Monday for giving an order that caused two Los Angeles police officers to forcibly drag a public defender into his courtroom last fall.

The Commission on Judicial Performance found that Judge Raymond D. Mireles appeared to authorize the use of force when he told the two officers to “bring me a piece” or “body part” of Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco on Nov. 6, 1989.

The officers hauled the protesting Waco out of another judge’s court and hurled him into Mireles’ courtroom.

The commission found that Mireles did not intend his order to be taken literally, but also said in a statement that “Judge Mireles had been careless in the manner in which he had directed the officers, by making remarks which he considered jocular but were capable of being, and apparently were, misunderstood.”

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The commission noted that Mireles “has expressed regret for having made the remarks and for the ensuing mistreatment of Deputy Public Defender Waco.”

The commission’s action, known as a “public reproval,” was the middle of three actions it could have taken against Mireles.

The commission--consisting of five judges, two lawyers and two laymen--can privately admonish a judge for misconduct or publicly reprove him, said Jack Frankel, director and chief counsel of the commission.

In more serious cases, the commission can refer the case to the state Supreme Court, with a recommendation that the judge be publicly censured or removed.

The commission found that Mireles had “exhibited exasperation” at Waco’s failure to appear in his court. The wording of Mireles’ statement to the officers “apparently created in the officers the impression and belief that Judge Mireles had authorized their use of physical force” to gain custody of the public defender, said the commission in a letter to Mireles.

The commission also noted that Mireles did not comment on the manner in which the officers delivered Waco to him, and “appeared to ignore Mr. Waco’s attempts to discuss officers’ actions,” adding to the impression that he authorized their conduct.

Mireles has “acknowledged responsibility for having made remarks which apparently were misunderstood,” the statement said.

Mireles could not be reached for comment.

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The commission also noted that Mireles “earlier had taken certain actions toward public defenders” that the public defenders “perceived . . . as hostile.”

In the uproar that followed the Waco incident, climaxing the ill will between the judge and the public defenders, the public defender’s office threatened an unprecedented boycott of Mireles’ courtroom. The presiding judge of the Superior Court declared in response that no cases involving public defenders would be assigned to Mireles’ court.

Waco, who was transferred in January to the public defender’s office in San Fernando, said he was pleased with the commission’s action. “I’m thankful” that the incident occurred “in a semi-public arena, otherwise I would have been in the hospital,” Waco said.

Waco has filed a $440,000 lawsuit in federal court against the two officers and the city of Los Angeles. The civil rights suit initially included Mireles, but the judge was removed on the grounds that judges cannot be sued for their official actions.

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The lawsuit is pending.

The two Los Angeles Police Department officers later apologized to the other judge, who decided not to pursue a contempt of court action. In a policy change provoked by the incident, the Police Department instructed its officers to leave such missions to the bailiffs assigned to the courts.

The reproval, issued June 19, was made public on Monday. It carries no additional sanctions against the judge, Frankel said.

Frankel said the commission issued four public reprovals in 1989. Mireles’ was the first this year.

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