Judge Delayed Murder Verdict to Watch Game

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Times Staff Writer

The state Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul E. Zellerbach on Tuesday for refusing to return from an Angels playoff game to handle a verdict in a murder trial and turning down the attorneys’ request to allow another judge to receive the jury’s verdict.

When Zellerbach attended the Oct. 4, 2004, playoff game between the Angels and Red Sox in Anaheim, a Riverside County jury had been deliberating for just one day on whether to convict Joseph Francis Close, whose girlfriend and unborn child were killed in a drunk driving accident, according to the commission report.

Zellerbach arranged for another judge to handle the jury’s questions, but he did not immediately return calls to his clerk, who informed him the jury had a verdict. When court officials arranged for another judge to take the verdict, Zellerbach instead scheduled the verdict for the next morning, the report stated.


The judge could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Zellerbach told the judicial performance panel that he had not expected the jury to return so quickly with a verdict and did not want another judge to handle the verdict because the legal issues in the case were so complicated.

The commission said the Judge’s actions were “a serious dereliction of judicial duty” and that he “jeopardized the verdict in a double homicide case and imposed hardship and additional stress” on jurors, attorneys and victims’ families.

Zellerbach told the commission that he should have allowed another judge to handle the verdict.

Six members of the commission voted for public admonishment, and four voted for a private admonishment.