Twenty-eight of Ventura County's 29 jurists have received ratings of "very good" or "outstanding" for their work in the past two years, concluded a survey of local lawyers released Wednesday.
In the Ventura County Bar Assn.'s biennial judiciary poll, the lawyers ranked six county judges as outstanding, 22 as very good and one as satisfactory.
"The conclusion of the survey is that the legal knowledge and the behavior of the Ventura County bench is very good, and it can easily compete with benches throughout the state in terms of reputation," said Steven Henderson, the association's executive director.
The poll, based on the responses from 451 of the county's 1,300 lawyers, offered other insights into the county's judiciary:
* Superior Court Judge Lawrence Storch, disqualified in April from hearing criminal cases by Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury, received strong praise from prosecutors in Bradbury's office.
* Municipal Judge John E. Dobroth, the only jurist elected to the county's lower court without first being appointed by the governor, was the lone judge not to receive a rating above satisfactory.
* No judge appointed or elected to the Municipal Court received an outstanding rating. But the association gave the highest rating to Dave W. Long, a court commissioner who sits on the Municipal Court, primarily handling small-claims matters and traffic and misdemeanor cases.
Despite some imperfections, the poll is considered by most judges and lawyers interviewed Wednesday as a useful tool for gauging how attorneys view the county's judiciary.
"If you want to know how attorneys perceive judges, it's a good indicator," said Presiding Municipal Judge John R. Smiley, who was rated as very good. "It certainly is not how small-claims litigants view judges, or how traffic (defendants) view judges."
Other jurists saw the survey as having less value.
"I think the helpfulness is very, very minimal," said Superior Court Presiding Judge Melinda A. Johnson, despite her rating as an outstanding judge.
"It's very nice to hear," Johnson said of her top ranking. "It gives you a good feeling if you get good marks." But she said she doubts that it has any other good use.
Unlike previous Ventura County Bar Assn. polls, this year's survey did not rate the judges on a scale of one to 10. Instead, the group tried to depict more accurately how local lawyers view the judges by rating them in five categories, ranging from unsatisfactory to outstanding. No judge in the county received an overall rating of unsatisfactory or below average, the two lowest benchmarks.
The poll tends to confirm the notion that deputy prosecuting attorneys in the county disagree with Bradbury's decision to implement a rare legal challenge in April that blocked Judge Storch from presiding over criminal cases. Bradbury has called Storch, the county's longest-serving Superior Court judge, biased against his office.
"We are not surprised that the district attorneys, when honestly responding to their opinions of Judge Storch, believe his performance is outstanding," Assistant Public Defender Jean L. Farley said.
Actually, the deputy prosecutors rated Storch's performance as very good. Shortly after Bradbury issued his edict for his deputies to sign affidavits removing Storch from criminal cases, several of the prosecutors balked.
Judge Johnson said the prosecutors were correct in not signing the affidavits. "And I think that they are still correct," she added. Storch, now supervising the civil court, refused to comment Wednesday.
Public defenders and prosecutors singled out Dobroth as the only judge without overall high marks.
Public defenders rated Dobroth as being satisfactory in all seven criteria--demeanor, settlement skills, efficiency, knowledge, impartiality, reputation and integrity and courage.
Prosecutors also rated him as satisfactory for demeanor, settlement skills, impartiality and reputation. And private attorneys called him satisfactory in the area of impartiality.
Dobroth, who did not return a phone call, was defended by several colleagues. "I think he's a first-rate judge," said Long, a commissioner only 11 months.
As for himself, Long said he was pleased the local group rated him outstanding. But he attributed his good score to his short tenure. "I haven't been there long enough to make the tough, unpopular decisions," he said by phone from Oklahoma, where he is vacationing.
Long, 53, is one of two court commissioners who work under contract for the county. "I try not to preconceive ideas. I try to listen. I try to make decisions based on the evidence," the ex-Marine said. "I try to explain things so that if somebody wants to take me up on appeal, there will be a good record."
Others rated as outstanding all came from the Superior Court. They are: Richard D. Aldrich, since promoted to the state appeals court; Edwin M. Osborne, since retired; Judge Ken W. Riley, and Judge Steve Z. Perren.
On the performances of several judges, the lawyers disagreed widely. Take the case of Superior Court Judge William Peck's rating.
To public defenders he performs below average. To prosecutors, his performance is satisfactory. To private litigators, it is very good.
On average, Peck is considered to be very good by the group's rating system.
Judicial Ratings The Ventura County Bar Assn. has rated the 29 county judges and court commissioners, ranking their performance from outstanding to satisfactory in several categories. Here are the overall ratings:
Richard D. Aldrich: outstanding
Robert C. Bradley: very good
Charles W. Campbell Jr.: very good
Joe D. Hadden: very good
John J. Hunter: very good
Melinda A. Johnson: outstanding
Frederick A. Jones: very good
Barbara A. Lane: very good
Charles R. McGrath: very good
James M. McNally: very good
Edwin Osborne: outstanding
William Peck: very good
Steven Z. Perren: outstanding
Ken W. Riley: outstanding
Allan L. Steele: very good
Lawrence Storch: very good
Edward F. Brodie: very good
Bruce A. Clark: very good
Herbert Curtis III: very good
John E. Dobroth: satisfactory
Arturo Gutierrez: very good
Steven Hintz: very good
Thomas J. Hutchins: very good
Barry B. Klopfer: very good
David W. Long: outstanding
Vincent J. O'Neill Jr.: very good
John H. Pattie: very good
Roland N. Purnell: very good
John R. Smiley: very good