Attacks Notwithstanding, Judge Wieben Stock Is One of the Best
The time has come to respond to the numerous attacks made by the Brown family and other unassuming members of the public in the press about Judge Nancy Wieben Stock of the Orange County Superior Court. Personal attacks have also been leveled against various lawyers in the matter, which while equally egregious, are at least defensible by the person attacked.
People may be unaware that the Canons of Judicial Ethics prevent judges from defending themselves when faced with personal attacks. They are further prevented from commenting on the cases heard by them, but rather are compelled to “sit there and take it,” while the attacking party continues to charge forward with more and more abuse. Wieben Stock does not deserve the attacks against her.
Moreover, it is extremely important to have an independent judiciary, one which is not guided by the “law of public opinion.” If our judiciary was to make rulings based upon the popularity of the decision, we would never have justice. So, our judges must be able to withstand personal, public and unprofessional attacks for their independence.
Additionally, Wieben Stock is one of our finest judges on the bench, and the public should be proud to be so well served. Irrespective of the controversy over the recent decisions, Wieben Stock has a well deserved, excellent reputation as an extremely intelligent, thoughtful, fair-minded judge, one who will not be swayed by outside influences from any source, one who is able to follow the law and make difficult if not unpopular decisions and keep her head high while doing so.
Before going onto the bench, the judge was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office. There she handled highly complex and high-profile cases. Her national reputation in handling arson cases led to her appointment to head the arson task force. Since her appointment to the bench, her reputation has continued to be stellar.
Beyond Wieben Stock’s qualities, and her inability to defend herself against these public attacks, there are certain other principles that come into play:
First, in every case, there will be a “winner” and a “loser.”. That means that naturally, one side or the other will be unhappy with the outcome.
Second, judges are required to uphold the laws established under our Constitution or enacted by our Legislature. If someone disagrees with the law, there are lawful and professional methods of challenging it, e.g., appeals, as the Browns are pursuing. If the Brown family truly believes they have been legally wronged, they should save their unprofessional and denigrating remarks for the Court of Appeal, the body that will determine if Wieben Stock ruled correctly or not.
Third, it is easy to come to an impassioned, emotional decision based upon the scant information one reads in the newspaper or hears at a press conference by an interested party to the litigation. However, as commonly occurs, due to court-imposed gag orders or privacy protection, the public is seldom privy to all of the relevant facts with which to pass judgment on the action taken by the judge.
For example, in the recent Los Angeles Times article about the tragic Kyle deaths, the father was quoted admitting that at the time of Wieben Stock’s ruling several years ago, he was homeless and unable to care for the children. It is easy now, several years later, for the public to be swept up by the emotional play made upon them by a current litigant in another matter, to blame the judge who made the custody ruling. It would have required a crystal ball and an act exceeding a judge’s lawfully imposed authority to make a different ruling.
Since the father was incapable of having custody of his children, and public policy and the law support placing children with a natural parent wherever possible, was there sufficient evidence, at that time, that the mother was incapable of caring for her children? Those are facts and issues that should be considered before hues and cries are made lambasting Wieben Stock.
In the Brown/Simpson custody battle, all four independent psychological experts came to the conclusion that the father was the best parent, that he did not demonstrate evidence of being a danger to his children and that custody should not be awarded to the Browns.
Whether or not the judge made the proper ruling based on the evidence, and not emotion, is for the appellate court to decide, as the Brown family has indicated they are appealing the decision. Going to the press for a forum to air malicious, personal and unwarranted attacks on an esteemed member of our judiciary is not appropriate, nor is it the answer for the Browns.
I urge others to support the independence of the judiciary and judges not afraid to make the difficult decisions.