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Panel Dismisses Judicial Misconduct Charges

From a Times Staff Writer

A state watchdog agency dismissed misconduct charges Thursday against Court of Appeal Justice J. Anthony Kline for failing to follow a precedent in a court dissent.

“We recognize that appellate jurists deal with legal principles and ideas,” said the order by the Commission on Judicial Performance, approved on an 8-1 vote with two abstentions. “It is fundamental to our system of jurisprudence that they feel free to break new ground, challenge existing assumptions, present novel legal reasoning and experiment with different approaches.”

The commission charged Kline, appointed by former Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr., with unethical conduct for writing in a 1997 dissent that he could not in good conscience follow a controversial ruling issued years earlier by the California Supreme Court. The other two justices on the three-member appeal’s panel applied the precedent.

The charges against Kline attracted widespread criticism. A multitude of groups, including the American Bar Assn. and the California Judges Assn., came to his defense. The commission’s membership also changed during the course of the investigation.

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Kline, reached Thursday, called the decision “not just a vindication of me but of the judicial independence of all judges in this state.”

“I don’t think ever in my career have I received the level of support, certainly from across the political spectrum, that I did in this case.”


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