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Disqualifying a Judge

August 31, 1986

The county counsel's instruction to his deputies to disqualify Judge Jack Newman in a bathhouse case (and, apparently in other Los Angeles County cases) is an outrage.

The county counsel has apparently succumbed to pressure from Supervisor Pete Schabarum who has said publicly that Judge Newman's past ties to the Democratic Party makes him suspect.

Democratic, or for that matter Republican, affiliation certainly has no relevance to a bathhouse case unless one contends that civil rights or civil liberty questions are better handled by members of one party rather than the other.

The same considerations apply to cases involving the homeless--in which Schabarum was critical of Judge Newman.

A little history is in order. The Writs and Receivers Department where Judge Newman serves is one of the most sensitive and taxing departments of the Superior Court. It hears all requests for injunctions, many election and ballot questions and cases involving important constitutional issues. Over the years judges who have been active in both major parties have served in that department with distinction. Justice Robert Thompson (retired) made many speeches for Republican candidates. Judges Robert I. Weil, George Dell (retired) and Ralph Nutter (retired) were active Democrats.

Never, until Supervisor Schabarum's intemperate attack on Judge Newman, has anyone in public office suggested that the past political activity of a Writs and Receivers judge has colored his judicial acts. Judges are forbidden by the Canons of Judicial ethics from engaging in partisan politics. Judges, including the undersigned, have left their politics behind when they entered the courtroom.

Judge Julius Leetham, who presently presides in the powerful and prestigious Probate Department of the Superior Court, was Los Angeles County chairman of the Republican Party before he became a judge. Would Supervisor Schabarum or the county counsel seek to disqualify Judge Leetham from hearing cases involving the public administrator because of his Republican political background?

Supervisors have a right to criticize the decisions of judges--and they do it often.

It is quite another matter to pressure the county's lawyer to disqualify a judge for no reason other than his past political activity. And it is cowardly for the county's lawyer to cave in to such pressure.

JERRY PACHT

Los Angeles

Pacht is a retired Superior Court judge.

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