SAN FRANCISCO — A Northern California judge was censured by the state Supreme Court on Friday for repeated delays in deciding cases--including one in which a ruling was withheld for almost four years.
In a two-page order, the court upheld a recommendation by the state Judicial Performance Commission calling for the public censure of Justice Court Judge Bernard P. McCullough of San Benito County for "persistent failure" to perform his duties.
The case had drawn attention when the commission, after first calling for McCullough's removal, later reconsidered the issue after protests by local officials, and for the first time in its 26-year history changed a recommendation.
McCullough, 58, a former prosecutor, did not challenge the commission's findings or its recommendation of censure.
The commission took action after privately admonishing the judge several times previously for failing to meet statutory deadlines that require judges to decide cases within 90 days after receiving final arguments or face forfeiture of pay.
McCullough was cited by the commission for missing the deadlines in four cases, including one in which a ruling was delayed three years and nine months. He was also charged with improperly signing official forms which stated that he had no cases under submission for more than 90 days.
McCullough, a judge since 1977, attributed the delays to a heavy court workload and an inadequate staff and facilities. In commission proceedings, he testified: "I plain goofed. . . . I'm not offering any excuses for it."
After the commission first voted last July for the judge's removal, there was widespread protest from local lawyers, judges and officeholders. His supporters praised his judicial ability and urged leniency.
'Disrepute' for Office
The high court, in adopting the commission's recommendation for censure, declared:
"Judge McCullough's failure to promptly decide cases, despite private admonishments and inquiries from the commission and parties (in the cases), and his disregard of California law in executing salary affidavits and in receiving his salary, was conduct prejudicial (to the administration of justice) that brings the judicial office into disrepute."
The court said that the commission's findings against McCullough were "justified" and that its recommendation of censure "should be adopted."
During its existence as a judicial watchdog agency, the commission has recommended removal of only six judges from office--and none of those solely for failing to file timely judicial decisions.