Hearing on Judge’s Conduct Begins : Courts: Disciplinary proceeding is first to be held in public since 1988 initiative aimed at opening them to public scrutiny. Commission has been criticized for secrecy.
A Kings County judge was accused of serious misconduct Tuesday on the opening day of the first public judicial disciplinary proceeding against a state judge since California voters passed a 1988 initiative designed to strip the veil of secrecy from such proceedings.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Raymond L. Brosterhous II, representing the state Commission on Judicial Performance, asserted that Corcoran Municipal Judge Glenda K. Doan, 50, committed several acts of misconduct, consistently failed to perform her duties properly and conducted herself in a way to “bring the judiciary into disrepute.”
Doan’s lawyer denied any wrongdoing on her part.
One of the incidents Brosterhous cited involved a Corcoran woman, Darlene Jones, who loaned Doan $4,500 in August, 1992. Eleven months later, while Doan still owed her money, Jones was prosecuted for the misdemeanor of obstructing a police officer.
“In front of several witnesses, and while the matter was pending,” Brosterhous said, Doan discussed the charge with Jones and advised her that there was no need to retain counsel because Doan had spoken to the judge. She also told Jones “the matter would be taken care of.”
Brosterhous said the women were such close friends that the judge accompanied Jones when she visited her husband at a federal prison in Arizona, where he is serving time on narcotics charges. The two women are now estranged and Jones is scheduled to be a witness against the judge. Doan’s attorney said Jones “has an ax to grind” because of the unpaid loan.
Brosterhous also said evidence would demonstrate that Doan had “improperly exploited her judicial position by engaging in financial dealings with court staff” and had engaged “in continuing business relationships” with individuals who appear before her. He also alleged that she had deliberately made false statements when she filed for bankruptcy.
Doan’s attorney, William A. Romaine of Visalia, retorted that the judge had done nothing wrong. He said the judge had no obligation to recuse herself from any of the cases in question, had not made deliberate misstatements on the bankruptcy filing and was not obligated to report all the loans on her disclosure statement.
Tuesday, Romaine asserted that the entire proceeding, which he tried in vain to keep secret, threatened the independence of California judges.
Although Doan is a municipal court judge from a small San Joaquin Valley community, the case has generated unusual interest in part because of the widespread criticism of the way the Commission on Judicial Performance operates. The commission has been under fire for conducting much of its business in secret and for meting out lax discipline.
Two bills are currently pending in the state Legislature that would dramatically change the commission’s operations. Both bills would add more citizen members to the commission and make it a requirement that all commission hearings be held in public once preliminary investigations are completed and formal charges have been filed.
The California Judges Assn. has attempted to scuttle the legislation, which has broad bipartisan support. Proponents of the reform have scoffed at the suggestion that judicial independence is at issue. Rather, they maintain that the measures are a key step toward more open proceedings that would increase public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.
In Doan’s case, state appeals court Justice William A. Stone and two Superior Court judges--Stephen Henry of Fresno and Rebecca A. Wiseman of Bakersfield--are hearing the testimony. Stone conducted the first day like a formal trial, putting witnesses under oath and utilizing normal rules of evidence.
The hearing is expected to last two to three weeks. After it concludes, the three judges will issue a report to the eight-member commission, and the commission will make a decision on whether sanctions are warranted.
If the commission decides to remove Doan from office, censure her or issue a private reproval, she can appeal to the California Supreme Court. The other possible outcome is a public reproval, which, in effect, is like a plea bargain.
Doan, 50, was investigated by commission staff members for nearly 18 months before formal charges against her were made public in July. The charges were lodged in March but, as a result of decisions made by other judges in closed hearings, they were not divulged to the public until after she had won a hotly contested reelection campaign.
In June, the day after the election, Atty. Gen. Daniel Lungren sent a letter to legislators attacking the state’s judges for thwarting the will of voters, who in 1988 enacted Proposition 92, which called for open judicial hearings if the charges involved “moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption.” He did not name any judges, but The Times learned subsequently that Doan’s case was one of four that prompted Lungren’s letter.
Doan was originally elected to a judgeship in 1982 and has been reelected twice. She has been publicly reprimanded twice by the commission. The first reproval came in 1989 for failing to report $75,000 in gifts, loans and income from a client. The second reprimand was imposed in 1990 for helping a friend’s relative in a criminal case.
The judge sat next to her attorney at the hearing and occasionally smiled at witnesses from the Corcoran Police Department whom she has known for years. On Tuesday, her attorney suggested that some of Doan’s actions, including accepting loans from people whose businesses were in litigation before her, were not unusual for a small town.