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Judge’s Conduct Under Examination : Courts: Review follows report that jurist intervened in Probation Department’s handling of his son’s case.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state agency that investigates judicial misconduct is examining the actions of the presiding judge of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court in a case involving his teen-age son.

The inquiry by the state Commission on Judicial Performance into the actions of Judge Jaime Corral apparently began Tuesday, when Peter Gubbins, an investigator for the agency, interviewed county Probation Department employees and others who work within the judicial system. Two of those interviewed said Gubbins asked about issues raised in an article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.

The Times reported that Corral had twice intervened in the Probation Department’s handling of his son’s case, first to have the youth sent to Juvenile Hall, and then to seek his release. The story cited interviews and Probation Department documents, including a court report in which a probation deputy said it might appear that the judge was trying to “use his influence to pull strings.”

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The article also revealed that, while trying to get his son out of Juvenile Hall, Corral suggested to a probation official that a Los Angeles County judge would rule on the request. State judicial officials had previously ordered an Orange County judge to handle it to avoid a conflict of interest. Ultimately, the Orange County judge ruled on the request.

At the time of his contact with probation officials, Corral had not yet been named presiding judge. However, it was widely known that he would assume the post in January of this year. Corral’s son, Daniel, now 18, had been convicted in August, 1989, of driving while intoxicated.

Corral has declined comment on the issue. On Thursday, he said he knows nothing about the commission’s review and accused The Times of doing a “tremendous disservice” to the court by making public information about a confidential juvenile case.

Gubbins could not be reached, and a spokeswoman for the Commission on Judicial Performance refused to confirm or deny the agency’s probe. Because the commission’s investigations are confidential, the agency rarely discusses its work in public.

But two Probation Department employees confirmed that they were interviewed by Gubbins. One was Paul Muntz, the director of the agency’s Whittier office; the other declined to be named. In addition, a spokesman for the union that represents supervising probation officers said it is well known within the department that the inquiry is under way.

“By now it’s an open secret that an investigation is ongoing and the union, of course, will cooperate,” said Charles Hamson, the union grievance supervisor who conducted an internal investigation in the wake of controversy over Corral’s actions. He would not elaborate, or say if he had been interviewed.

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Although Muntz refused to discuss the specifics of his conversation with Gubbins, he did say the 20-minute discussion centered on the issues raised in the newspaper article. The other employee who was interviewed concurred.

“He had his stuff,” said the employee. “I did not get the sense that I was adding anything new to the investigation whatsoever.”

According to this employee, Gubbins indicated that the commission had received a complaint about Corral before publication of the Times article.

The Corral case is especially sensitive because the judge, as the highest-ranking official of the county’s Juvenile Court system, has frequent contact with officials of the Probation Department. Although he does not oversee the department, he has legal authority to order inspections of the juvenile halls and camps it administers.

According to experts on judicial conduct, judges must be careful to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The Canons of Judicial Ethics, adopted by the California Judges Assn., bar judges from using “the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of others.”

The nine-member Commission on Judicial Performance, created in 1960, is charged with making certain that judges adhere to the canons. If the commission finds wrongdoing, it has the power to impose a wide variety of sanctions--from private admonishment to recommending removal from office.

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