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State Panel Urges Kennick's Ouster From L.A. Bench

January 15, 1988|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The state Commission on Judicial Performance on Thursday sought the removal of Los Angeles Municipal Judge David M. Kennick for a wide range of alleged misconduct--including a suggestion to a police officer that he could "lose the paper work" on the judge's arrest for drunk driving.

The commission, in a recommendation for Kennick's removal by the state Supreme Court, also accused the judge of demeaning women and Asians; ridiculing alcoholics by addressing them in slurred speech, and giving attorney-friends a disproportionate number of appointments to represent indigents in court.

The recommendation for removal--citing prejudicial conduct, willful misconduct and persistent failure to perform judicial duties--was approved by an 8-1 vote of the commission.

Kennick, 50, has been a judge for 15 years and had served for one year as supervising judge in the San Pedro branch of Municipal Court. He has been on medical leave from his post since early 1987.

Salary Continues

Under the state Constitution, judges facing removal continue to receive salaries but cannot act in official capacities while the court considers the commission's recommendation.

Kennick's attorney, Gilbert L. Flanders of Downey, declined comment on the charges and said he does not know whether the judge will contest the recommendation before the court. Flanders did say, however, that the judge "was satisfied he had answered every allegation completely and openly."

The commission, in a 15-page report, charged that Kennick, among other things, had:

- Met with a California Highway Patrol sergeant in 1985, the day after the officer arrested him for drunk driving, and had "made a request" that the officer "maybe could lose the paper work" in the case.

The night before, as the officer drove Kennick home after his arrest, the judge told the officer "to remember that the Highway Patrol had to come before him when he was on the bench."

Kennick "abused his authority as a judge in an attempt to obtain preferential treatment," the commission said.

The commission said also that Kennick had been "rude and abusive" toward officers and had refused to take field sobriety tests or to submit to a chemical test. Later, he pleaded no contest and was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol.

- Called a woman deputy district attorney into his chambers and without any apparent cause accused her of creating a security hazard in the courtroom; the prosecutor, astonished and distressed, left in tears.

The commission said also the judge had addressed female attorneys, defendants and court personnel as "sweetie," "honey," and "baby" in a manner it said was "unprofessional, demeaning (and) sexist."

- Been discourteous, impatient and demeaning to litigants, frequently refusing to allow traffic and misdemeanor defendants to explain their conduct and angrily ordering some out of the courtroom without justification.

- On many occasions, used a demeaning tone of voice to Asians accused of fish and game violations; in one instance, he said: "You were catching fishy-fishy in harbor here and you weren't supposed to? Were you a bad boy?"

- Shown favoritism to attorneys who were friends and political supporters by repeatedly appointing them to represent indigent criminal defendants in court.

In 1985, three attorneys--Theodore Veganes of San Pedro, David Pantoja of Commerce and Susan Anderson of San Pedro--received 30% of the money paid for such services in the San Pedro courthouse; in 1984, before the judge was assigned to San Pedro, Veganes received 5% of the funds paid and the other two received nothing.

Between January, 1986, and March, 1987, Kennick named the three attorneys to handle 465 of the 801 cases in which he made appointments, the commission said.

- Failed to disclose his joint ownership of property with Veganes to attorneys who opposed Veganes in proceedings before the judge.

- Implied, during a barroom conservation with waitress Mary Davis of Lomita, that she "should not worry" about a recent arrest for drunk driving. Davis later was convicted.

- Been "frequently absent" from the courthouse, beginning work at 10 a.m. and quitting at 4 p.m. or earlier, with lunch breaks of two to three hours.

The judge, a 1960 graduate of Southwestern University Law School and a former Los Angeles deputy district attorney, was appointed to the Municipal Court in 1972 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.

Kennick has gone on medical leave for what he called "emotional stress," and in a separate proceeding, has applied to the commission for a disability pension.

The commission's action followed hearings in 1987 before three special masters appointed to hear the charges against Kennick. As is customary, the individual votes of the nine commissioners--who include five judges, two lawyers and two public representatives--were not disclosed.

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