Commission Issues Rare Public Scolding to Judge for Telling Attorney to “Work All Night”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The state Commission on Judicial Performance rarely publicly admonishes judges for their behavior, but it made an exception for Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson.

Jacobson was disciplined for “abuse of the contempt power and abuse of authority" after a 2010 courtroom exchange with attorney Anne Beles, who he told to “work all today, work all night, get up early tomorrow morning” after she requested a routine delay of a preliminary hearing in an attempted murder case.

When Beles pointed out that she had to review 1,100 pages of prosecutorial evidence, he responded that he read 2,000 pages a week and was not “really sympathetic.” After being told to “spend every waking moment working on” her case, Beles told the judge she didn’t need “advice on how to be competent.”

He responded, “That is contemptuous. That is contemptuous. That was disrespectful. Take a seat.” He threatened her with contempt of court and ordered her to sit for more than an hour in his courtroom while he conducted other business. At one point, Jacobson told Beles to sit down when she went to get a case file for her client.

He dropped the contempt citation after she apologized.

The commission voted 7-3 to discipline the judge, noting that it was the second time a complaint like this had been made about him. The panel said the Schwarzenegger appointee’s behavior was “demeaning and discourteous” because he questioned Beles' work ethic and his comments were made in her client's presence, “potentially damaging their relationship.”

Jacobson, in addition to sitting on the bench, has been an adjunct professor at Hastings College of Law since 1994, teaching classes in evidence and criminal trial advocacy. Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye appointed him to be an advisory member of the powerful state Judicial Council in June.   

The commission received 1,158 complaints involving 862 active and retired judges in 2011. Many of the complaints alleged legal error or dissatisfaction with a judicial decision, not misconduct. Of those cases, the commission ordered 95 staff inquiries and 77 preliminary investigations.

Very few of the 1,138 cases completed last year ended with disciplinary action. The commission threw out 995 for insufficient showing of misconduct and closed another 99 without discipline.

The commission issued 10 private admonishments, and sent out 26 advisory letters to judges.

But it publicly censured just one judge and gave public admonishments to five more.

–Ken Broder    


 To Learn More:

Alameda County Judge Admonished for Abuse of Power (by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)

Active & Former Judges – Statistics (Commission on Judicial Performance)

Morris Jacobson (University of California Hastings College of Law)

Alameda County Judge Disciplined for Abusing Authority (by Paul T. Rosynsky, Oakland Tribune)

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