A recently retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who once ordered an attorney to leave the courtroom and go across the street to a law library to research an issue has been publicly admonished by a state panel for the second time in his career.
Ronald M. Sohigian, who was reprimanded seven years ago for addressing attorneys in a belittling and sarcastic manner, was found to have repeated the ethical violation while presiding over two civil cases, the Commission on Judicial Performance announced Tuesday.
Relying on court transcripts, the commission found that Sohigian harshly criticized attorneys for being unprepared during an April 2011 proceeding. “No lawyer with any — with any skill at all shows up here and says golly, I was just — I just walked out of my office,” he said.
When an attorney asked why his objection was overruled, the judge replied, “I’ll explain it to you sometime when you pay tuition.”
During another case in February 2013, Sohigian accused plaintiff’s counsel of an indifferent attitude and of only pretending to be concerned about a client.
“Judge Sohigian’s remarks during both of these proceedings were inconsistent with the judge’s duty to be patient, dignified and courteous to those with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,” the commission said in its written decision.
Sohigian, 76, told the commission that some of his remarks were intended to curb an attorney’s disrespectful and “provocative” behavior without citing him for contempt. The judge retired last month.
The disciplinary action does not come with any penalties and falls in the middle of the available sanctions, the most severe being removal from the bench. Once a complaint is filed, the judge is given a chance to respond to the commission — made up of three judges, two attorneys and six citizens appointed to four-year terms. It is unusual for a judge to be disciplined more than once.
Sohigian’s previous public admonishment came in 2007 when the commission found that he had scornfully instructed an attorney to leave the courtroom and look up a bankruptcy statute at the adjacent law library and return in 20 minutes.
Peter Ezzell ended up filing a complaint with the panel but says he and Sohigian have since “kissed and made up.”
“He’s been very straight with me since that point in time,” Ezzell said. “I never would have dropped the dime on him had my client not been there and been absolutely outraged by what he saw.”
The judge released a statement in 2007 saying that he was on medication for spine problems at the time of the incident. Sohigian was also found to be abusing his judicial authority by erroneously issuing orders against people who did not appear in court.
In 1991 the judge received an advisory letter from the commission for sanctioning attorneys for exceeding the page limit on briefs and commanding them to show his order to other judges.
A Yale graduate who went on to study law at Harvard, Sohigian was an attorney for more than two decades before then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed him a judge in 1988. Three years later, Sohigian made headlines when he paved the way for then-LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates to return to work in the wake of the Rodney King beating, a move that divided the city.
In a Times profile published soon after, attorneys praised Sohigian for having high standards and demanding respect in the courtroom.
“That’s rather refreshing because you don’t see a whole lot of that nowadays,” said one deputy district attorney at the time.