SAN FRANCISCO — The Commission on Judicial Performance has called for the removal of a Northern California judge who failed to decide cases fast enough, including one case that lingered for more than three years.
The commission made the recommendation Thursday on a 6-1 vote, noting that Judge Bernard P. McCullough of the San Benito County Justice Court failed to heed three warnings dating back to 1981 for similar delays.
McCullough was accused of violating a state law that requires judges to decide cases within 90 days after all arguments are completed, or forfeit their pay.
McCullough, 58, a former San Benito district attorney, was appointed judge in 1977 by the San Benito County Board of Supervisors. He also has served on the municipal courts in neighboring Monterey and Santa Clara counties.
McCullough could not be reached for comment. But in his written response to the commission, he said he simply lost track of the four cases that he failed to decide, and he apologized.
"There is," he added, "no legitimate excuse for not doing what one is required to do."
The commission's recommendation goes to the state Supreme Court, which must decide the penalty. McCullough will be barred from hearing cases, but will collect his pay while the Supreme Court decides his case.
The commission last year recommended the lesser penalty of censure against two Fresno judges who failed to decide cases within the 90-day deadline. The Supreme Court upheld the commission's finding in one case last year, the first one in which a judge was publicly reprimanded for failure to meet the 90-day rule. The second case is pending.
The commission said in its recommendation to the Supreme Court that it was calling for McCullough's removal--the harshest penalty available to the commission--because he had failed to heed the warnings about three earlier violations of the 90-day rule.
McCullough's conduct first drew the commission's attention when a lawyer complained about a lengthy delay in a 1980 case. The latest action stemmed from a letter sent to the commission by a woman whose lawsuit was pending for three years and nine months.
Bonnie S. Oakley-Schreiber had sued the person who sold her a home outside of Hollister, claiming that he knew but failed to disclose that the septic system was failing. She demanded the $1,100 in repair costs. The case was fully argued in February, 1982, but was not decided until last November--after the commission notified McCullough of the latest complaint.
"I strongly feel that if one is to believe in a judicial system and justice and take the time to work within it, it should be carried out," Oakley-Schreiber said in a letter to the San Francisco-based commission, which investigates misconduct by judges.
Until this year, the commission had not called for a judge's removal since 1983. But last month, it recommended the ouster of Catalina Justice Court Judge Robert Furey, who allegedly misused his power to jail people for contempt of court. That case awaits a decision by the Supreme Court.