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Judge Back on the Job After 2nd DUI Arrest in a Month

Courts: In e-mail apology to Ventura County colleagues, Robert Bradley vows to work through his problems.

January 06, 1998|DARYL KELLEY and TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Asking for forgiveness, a contrite Judge Robert Bradley resumed his duties on the Ventura County Superior Court on Monday, just 36 hours after his second arrest on suspicion of drunk driving and days after treatment in a drug rehabilitation program.

Bradley, 56, admitted a drinking problem in an 8 a.m. e-mail message to other judges, and said he is continuing to receive treatment for it. Then he went back to work, directing settlement conferences in civil cases.

"I want you to know how sorry I am," Bradley messaged his colleagues. "And I apologize for the embarrassment I have caused you and this court. . . . There is no excuse for this conduct and I intend to take full responsibility for it.

"Thank you for your unflagging support and encouragement," he added. "I intend to work doubly hard to continue to deserve that support and to restore the public's confidence in me."

But despite his apology, return to work and strong support from many attorneys, Bradley's conduct over the last month--drunk-driving arrests on Dec. 6 and Jan. 3--prompted some local lawyers to criticize the judge Monday for what they see as a violation of public trust.

One attorney who requested anonymity said the judge has sometimes appeared short-tempered and illogical in his rulings, and that local lawyers and judges are covering for him.

"I personally have seen the volatile side of his personality that is sometimes a symptom of alcoholism," said a lawyer involved in a 1997 case before Bradley.

"This is a clear problem that goes well beyond being drunk one night," the lawyer said. "It affects his judgment. He may be a wonderful human being, but that doesn't give him a right to be a judge. That's a position of trust, and he has violated it."

Meanwhile, the director of the state Commission on Judicial Performance said she could not comment on the Bradley case even to confirm an investigation into it.

But the state Constitution makes it clear that the judge could face stiff professional penalties beyond the 30-day minimum jail sentence, fine and driver's license suspension that usually accompany a second drunk-driving conviction.

The judicial commission can suspend a judge for official misconduct or disability even before the jurist's case is heard if it determines that "continued service of the judge is causing immediate, irreparable and continuing public harm," the Constitution says.

After that, the commission may "remove a judge for conduct that constitutes . . . habitual intemperance in the use of intoxicants or drugs," it says.

The Constitution also requires removal if a judge is convicted of a felony or offenses of moral turpitude, said Victoria Henley, director and chief counsel of the commission.

"DUIs do not usually involve moral turpitude and would not trigger removal from office," she said.

Nor would Bradley's alleged drunk driving qualify him for felony prosecution unless convicted of the charge four times, lawyers said.

So far, no charges have been filed against Bradley for either arrest. A breath test taken after the first arrest near his Ojai home showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.21--compared to the legal limit of 0.08. Santa Paula police officials said the judge did not take a breath test after Saturday night's arrest and it will be 10 days before the results of a blood test come back.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, which would prosecute the matter because of a conflict of interest by the local district attorney, said her office's investigation is continuing. The Santa Paula department has not yet forwarded the second case to state prosecutors, police said.

"Our office does a full, exhaustive investigation into these types of situations," said attorney general spokeswoman Sara Brown. "We do not like to constrain investigations by placing them on a timeline."

Aside from his electronic memo to colleagues and court administrators, Bradley was unavailable for comment Monday. The judge allowed himself to be photographed in his courtroom but would not consent to an interview.

But his internal memo made it clear that he intends to try to work through his problems. And he said that his drunk-driving arrests are the result of personal traumas that have made this the most difficult period of his life.

Bradley did not say so in his memo, but friends say those traumas include the death of the judge's mother about two months ago and marital difficulties.

"It has been a hard reminder that regardless of one's position, we are all human, have the same frailties and experience the same pain and sorrows as anyone else," Bradley wrote.

"Regrettably, as a result of what I have been going through, I have been involved in two recent incidents of drinking and driving."

He pledged to carry a full workload and not to be a drain on the Superior and Municipal courts. Bradley, who earns a base salary of $106,000, said he has never let his problems interfere with his conduct as a judge.

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