Juvenile Court Judge Punished for Acting . . . Juvenile?
During the impeachment trial this year of former president Donald J. Trump, there was an argument that a former president, having left office, was not subject to punishment by the Senate. But with respect to the California judiciary, there are no such similar arguments.
Case in point: the Hon. Barbara Roberts (Ret.) of Butte County. She retired last year (October 11, 2020 to be precise), but that did not stop the California Commission on Judicial Performance last week from issuing the punishment of “public admonishment” for her behavior while she presided over a juvenile court assignment from 2019 to 2020. During this period, Judge Roberts (who became a judge in 1998) misbehaved in a number of cases, such as calling parents “pathetic” and “ridiculous” and even referring to one parent as a “raging alcoholic”. The Commission even took issue with the judge’s treatment of a mother with a marijuana prescription, noting that the judge declared that she did not care if the mom had a marijuana prescription because the judge could order the mother to do what she wanted. This behavior in itself was deemed to be a violation of judicial ethics.
Judge Roberts also was called out for inappropriately raising her voice to three court employees and even speaking derisively to the assistant presiding judge (which is sort of like her boss) while in chambers. One finding of the Commission was that –during one of the instances involving court personnel– “Judge Roberts was very upset and appeared to have been crying”. The problem with all of this is that California judges are required to be “‘patient, dignified, and courteous to . . . others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity”.
The 27-page decision was issued Thursday and was based on the deliberations of eight individuals, representing a combination of lay persons, attorneys, judges, and one state appellate justice.
The Commision, subject to review by the California Supreme Court, has the power to punish California state judges, with the most severe punishment being removal from the bench. This is because California state judges, unlike federal judges, do not have life tenure. Judge Roberts, in spite of 22 years on the bench, had no prior record of discipline.
In that California juvenile courts deal with unfit parents (and juvenile delinquency matters), these courts are different than California family law courts, which also deal with children. However, in family court –at least in the majority of cases– both parents are fit and the judge is tasked with deciding how much time each parent should have with the children.