That's all I can say about this opinion by Justice Rylaarsdam. Which slams -- and I mean, slams -- Judge James M. Brooks (in Orange County).
It's rare that you see a judgment reversed for judicial misconduct. And even rarer that you see a reversal with such a damning indictment of what transpired below.
Here are just a few snippets from Justice Rylaarsdam's opinion. Which deserves a full read anyway, since that's the only way one can get a complete picture of the kind of antics that went on in the trial court:
"The delineated exchanges between the court and counsel are the antithesis of judicial decorum and courtesy. . . . [T]he judge instigated and encouraged many of the[ abusive comments towards plaintiff's counsel]. He also allowed, indeed helped create, a circus atmosphere, giving defendants’ lawyer free rein to deride and make snide remarks at will and at the expense of plaintiffs and their lawyer. . . . The 'overruled' signs also demonstrated the court’s lack of courtesy and decorum. . . . This conduct was a sideshow in the overall circus atmosphere mocking a serious proceeding important to the parties. . . . Defendants challenge plaintiffs’ argument that the court used these signs only when ruling on their objections. Again, this misses the mark. It is like saying a baseball team could not complain if the umpire decided to call balls and strikes with his eyes closed, as long as he kept them closed for both teams. . . . Here the judge and defendants’ lawyer had fun by making plaintiffs’ lawyer the butt of their jokes. They took turns providing straight lines and punch lines to each other in a way that could only convey to the jury that they were a team and plaintiffs’ counsel was an outsider."
Sadly, this does not appear to be an isolated incident for Judge Brooks. He was publicly admonished last year for absurd, similar misconduct in a number of different cases. And apparently received advisory letters in 1996 and 1999, as well as a private admonishment in 2003, for, inter alia, making improper comments that reflected improper demeanor and ethnic and other bias.
Please tell me that at least one of you readers up in O.C. is going to run against Judge Brooks the next time he's up for reelection (in 2010). He ran unopposed last time. Sadly. (Indeed, for the more creative amongst you, I think that a recall of this guy might even be in order; while I'm usually not that fond of such a move, this may be one of those exceptions that proves the rule. Apparently, by my calculation, you'd need 100,00o or so signatures. Tough, and a bit expensive, but perhaps a good private investment. And definitely a good public one.)