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Retired Judge Accused of Improper Conduct

March 04, 1997

A state panel opened an inquiry Monday into allegations that a retired Orange County judge exhibited improper demeanor in the courtroom, sold a book he wrote through the court, slept on the job and told an inappropriate joke during proceedings.

According to a formal notice sent by the Commission on Judicial Performance in San Francisco, James Randal Ross, 70, the great-grandson of the outlaw Jesse James, faces four allegations, including selling through the court 12 copies of a book he wrote about James.

The notice also states that Ross slept on the bench during three trials and told a sexual joke during a case centering on allegations of sexual abuse by an adult male neighbor against a female minor.

Calling the allegations "absolutely false," Ross said Monday, "There is no question in my mind that I will be vindicated."

Ross, who lives in Fullerton and retired in July 1995 from Orange County Superior Court, said he "never instigated or announced [the book] from the bench."

He said people had approached him to ask where to buy his book and request his autograph. To avoid any disruptions during court, he told a bailiff that he would have copies available in his office, Ross said.

As for the other allegations, Ross said he has a habit of closing his eyes when he is concentrating. Regarding the joke, Ross said he had told it "a hundred times in court when psychologists and psychiatrists testified. This is out of the presence of the jury, of course. It's a joke everyone laughed at. It was nothing malicious."

The start of commission proceedings is not a determination of misconduct, commission officials said.

A hearing is conducted by special masters, or judges appointed by the Supreme Court, who hear evidence, cross-examine witnesses and make a report on their findings. The judge is temporarily relieved of duties during the proceedings.

If the commission finds that the charges are valid, it is empowered to censure and bar a judge from receiving assignments, which Ross has continued to do since his retirement.

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