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California judicial watchdog commission admonishes L.A. judge for third time

Judge Patrick E. Connolly
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Patrick E. Connolly.
(Nico Smedley/Los Angeles Times)

A state judicial watchdog commission publicly admonished Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patrick E. Connolly on Friday — his third time being disciplined — for inappropriate demeanor and remarks.

The California Commission on Judicial Performance cited Connolly for improper demeanor with two criminal defense lawyers during an arraignment and for telling a criminal defendant he knew the man was guilty after a jury had just acquitted him.

The arraignment occurred on March 20, 2020, after Gov. Gavin Newsom had imposed a stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. Two defense attorneys , one experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, sought to conduct the arraignment that day by telephone.

Connolly allowed the remote hearing but appeared irritated that the lawyers had not come to court, according to the admonishment. He cited their lack of presence in his courtroom when he dismissed the lawyers’ attempts to get their clients released from jail for health reasons.

The judge, a former Los Angeles prosecutor, addressed the lawyers sharply and sarcastically, according to a transcription of his remarks, and turned down their requests to release the defendants.

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“OK,” Connolly told one of the lawyers. “I’m going to stop you there. Because we’re done. All right. I am not releasing either of these people, with these charges. There are multiple charges. If you wished to present this evidence, you should have been here or had someone represent you.”

The commission said the attorneys appeared polite and respectful, and there was “no apparent justification for the judge’s display of impatience and irritation.”

Connolly told the commission that the shutdown order was still new, and no processes had yet been put in place to conduct proceedings remotely.

The commission acknowledged the health crisis had sparked unusual challenges but noted they “affected the defense attorneys as well as the court.”

“The commission concluded that the initial lack of clarity about how to handle court proceedings during the public health crisis did not excuse or explain the judge’s mistreatment of the attorneys,” the admonition said.

The other incident cited by the commission occurred on Aug. 20, 2018.

After a jury had acquitted a criminal defendant and left the courtroom, Connolly told the defendant, “Let me tell you, you’ve been given a gift from God because there’s no question in my mind that you’re guilty of this crime.”

The written admonishment order said the comment disparaged the jury’s decision and undermined faith in the criminal justice system.

“The judge’s role in a jury trial is to be neutral,” the admonishment said. “Judge Connolly’s remark was likely to undermine public confidence in the independence of the jury and its important role in the justice system.”

“Further,” the admonishment added, “contrary to Judge Connolly’s assertion, a judge does not have a duty to advise a criminal defendant that the defendant has been given the gift of an acquittal. While a judge may encourage a defendant to make better choices and take advantage of opportunities in the future, the judge must not do so at the expense of the jury and its verdict. “

The commission also publicly admonished Connolly in 2016 for abusing his authority and mistreating a defense lawyer and privately admonished him in 2010 for using profanity in his chambers and during discussions with lawyers.

The watchdog commission consists of one Court of Appeal justice and two Superior Courts judges appointed by the California Supreme Court, two attorneys appointed by the governor and six lay citizens — two appointed by the governor, two appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules and two appointed by the speaker of the Assembly.

The commission can impose one of five levels of discipline. They range from an advisory letter, the most lenient, to private admonishment, public admonishment, public censure and, the most severe, removal from office. Judges who reach the bench by election tend to have higher rates of discipline than jurists appointed by governors after vetting.

Connolly became a judge by election, not by appointment by a governor. A Los Angeles County Bar Assn. in 2008 found that Connolly and the other candidates for the open seat on the Superior Court were not qualified. The bar faulted Connolly at the time for his temperament.

Connolly was reelected by default in 2020 when no one ran against him. His term ends in 2027.

Neither the judge nor his attorney could be reached for comment.


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