Just because it works on Law and Order or some other television show, doesn’t mean it works in California.

The Commission on Judicial Performance has publicly admonished a California judge for being sarcastic.  In one particularly, eggregious situation, the Hon. Ronald M. Sohigian overruled an attorney’s hearsay objection to a question.  The attorney responded, “Your Honor, why is that not hearsay?”  The judge responded, “I’ll explain it to you sometime when you pay tuition”.

In another situation, the judge accused the plaintiff’s counsel of handling the case in a cavalier manner.

In other other situation, the judge was listening to a motion to enforce a settlement.  In what the Commission called a “rude” address to the attorney opposing the motion, the judge asked why the attorney was insisting that the moving party give the code section upon which his motion was based.  The attorney said, “because he has to notify the other side of the basis of the relief he’s seeking”.  The judge responded, “[h]e made a motion to enforce the settlement or, in the alternative, to have an O.S.C. issued regarding contempt.  Does he have to go back and say, by the way, this is the statutory section?”  After the attorney said yes, the judge said, “[y]ou’re a lawyer of some experience.  does he have –does he have to tell you, by the way, here, give me your finger, let me show you, I’ll take you through – Here, right here, see- Does he have to do that?”

The Commission found the judge’s behavior to be, at a minimum, improper action.  The Commission further found that the behavior described above, and other behavior detailed in the record, “were inconsistent with the judge’s duty to be patient, dignified, and courteous to those with whom the judge deals in an official capacity”.

Even when dealing with difficult litigants and counsel, the Commission noted, a judge in California must act according to the Code of Judicial Ethics.  “The public looks to judges to set the tone of judicial proceedings.  When a judge mistreats staff, belittles counsel or gives vent to his or her anger or frustration, the audience is not only concerned about the result of the specific matter before the court, but worries that other parties, lawyers, jurors and employees will be subjected to similar mistreatment”.

The Commission, which has the power to kick a judge off the bench (or simply imposing lesser discicpline or no discipline), noted that Judge Sohigian had been publicly admonished in 2007 and had received an advisory letter in 1991.  He has been a judge in Los Angeles County since October, 1988.

The Commission is made up of trial judges, appeals justices, lawyers, and lay people.