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L.A. County judge disciplined over treatment of defense attorney

L.A. County judge disciplined over treatment of defense attorney
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Patrick E. Connolly was publicly admonished Wednesday by theCommission on Judicial Performance. (Nico Smedley / Los Angeles Times)

A California agency overseeing judges' discipline censured a Los Angeles County judge Wednesday, saying he had abused his authority and mistreated a defense attorney.

The Commission on Judicial Performance issued a six-page public admonishment of Judge Patrick E. Connolly of the Compton Courthouse.

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"Judge Connolly," the commission wrote, "violated his duty to respect and comply with the law."

The discipline stemmed from a 2010 mayhem and assault trial, which Connolly presided over, according to a case summary included in the admonishment.

During the proceeding, defense attorney Freddie Fletcher told the judge that someone in the audience told him they'd seen the prosecutor shaking her head slowly, perhaps trying to coach the testimony of the witness on the stand, according to the commission summary.

Connolly, a former gang prosecutor who has served on the bench for seven years, told Fletcher he'd take up the issue at a later time. The judge warned Fletcher that if the allegations weren't true, he may, in fact, have grounds to hold the defense attorney in contempt.

The commission -- composed of three judges, two attorneys and six members of the public -- found that Connolly later contacted a judge in Long Beach to get information about another possible contempt case involving Fletcher.

That move, the commission wrote, was improper and made it seem that the judge was "conducting an independent investigation into Mr. Fletcher's conduct, and was embroiled in the matter and biased against Mr. Fletcher."

The commission wrote that Connolly admitted that his contact was "improper embroilment."

The judge eventually scheduled and postponed multiple hearings on the issue, requiring Fletcher to come to court although Connolly hadn't actually filed contempt charges against Fletcher -- "a serious misuse of the judicial office," the commission wrote.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Connolly said, "I'm on vacation in Ireland." He declined to comment further.

Fletcher said he never sought out a complaint against the judge, but said the commission's decision gave him some relief.

"I was, in fact, the victim," he said. "It was a really bad thing when it happened. It consumed all my time."

The admonishment "vindicates my decision to not file a complaint against Judge Connolly and to rely on my faith that his abuse of authority would be exposed and meet the consequences it deserves," said Fletcher, who is currently defending himself against pending disciplinary charges from the State Bar of California in an unrelated case.

The state commission privately reprimanded Connolly in 2010 for using profanity in his chambers during discussions with attorneys.

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For more news from the Los Angeles County criminal courts, follow @marisagerber

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