A day after his contempt of court conviction against Sheriff Brad Gates was overturned, Municipal Court Judge Richard W. Stanford Jr. said Friday that critics have launched a "personal attack" on him for his role in the jail overcrowding debate.
In a hastily called news conference, Stanford said he has always tried to do "what is best for the criminal justice system in Orange County," and that "persons unfamiliar with the facts of the case, who obviously aren't aware of all the complex issues, are making a personal matter out of it."
Stanford was referring to reaction to Thursday's decision by Superior Court Judge Eileen C. Moore, who said the Municipal Court judge erred when he found Gates in contempt for illegally releasing 17 prisoners to relieve jail overcrowding. Stanford would not specify whose comments had offended him.
On Aug. 2, Stanford had sentenced Gates to 30 days in jail and a $17,000 fine unless the county could produce a plan to end the early release of jail inmates by Nov. 1. That sentence drew widespread criticism from county officials, many of whom said Stanford was wrong to tackle the issue of jail overcrowding by sending Gates to jail.
Moore's ruling Thursday means that Gates will stay free, though Stanford said he and his lawyers are reviewing Moore's order and will decide next week what action they will take. He could appeal, but Stanford said he wanted time to review the court transcripts before deciding whether to do that.
His main message, however, was that he felt unfairly attacked.
"It's very unfortunate that some people have used the occasion of the Superior Court judge's ruling to launch a personal attack on me," he said. "It misses the point of what's important here.
"We have used the occasion of the ruling to re-evaulate, first of all, our legal position. We still feel our legal position is correct," he said. "We have used this opportunity also to re-evaluate our motives in bringing the action. We feel comfortable that our motives were and still are to do the right thing."
Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, who said Thursday that "the only thing that this case accomplished was an unnecessary expenditure of county funds," was perplexed at Stanford's reaction.
"I am puzzled--and certainly hope he doesn't include me in that reference--by the judge's reference to a 'personal attack,' " Stanton said. "It's unfortunate that he's confusing differences of opinion on the issue with personal feelings. I don't think that line was crossed by anybody."
Dick Herman, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who has long represented county inmates in their federal lawsuits, praised Stanford for his other decisions, but joined the criticism of his contempt ruling.
"But we never thought the sheriff should be jailed," he said. "That's just not very productive."
Herman said Stanford is probably stinging from criticism from the supervisors, especially since he has bluntly said from the bench that they are to blame for the delay in finding a solution to the jail crisis.
"The supervisors in this county always tend to be very, very critical of anyone who doesn't go along with their program," he said. "A great deal of what Judge Stanford has done has been constructive. The Board of Supervisors should have been gracious about it, but they didn't see the larger picture."