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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Bradley Pleads for 2nd Chance

Courts: The ex-judge tells a state panel he is sober and should not be barred from the bench.

May 13, 1999|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — While admitting there are no guarantees he can stay sober, former Ventura County judge Robert C. Bradley asked a state panel Wednesday to allow him to return to the bench on a part-time basis.

The 58-year-old jurist was suspended last year after two drunk driving convictions. He violated the terms of his probation four times, mostly by drinking.

But standing before the Commission on Judicial Performance during an hourlong hearing, Bradley urged the panel to give him another chance.

"Life isn't a bowl of cherries. I still have good days and bad days. But now they are sober days," he said. He said his career was important to him.

"I enjoyed it, I'm proud of my accomplishments," he said. "I'd like to do that again."

But attorneys for the prosecuting arm of the commission, which disqualified Bradley in April 1998, argued that he should never be allowed to handle cases again.

"No other judge has come before the commission with this record," said Examiner William Smith, arguing that there is no evidence Bradley's drinking problem is under control.

Letting him hear cases in the future, Smith argued, would be a gamble that would undermine public confidence in the judiciary.

The hearing, held at the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, marked the final step in Bradley's yearlong judicial misconduct case.

Because the judge has admitted the charges and recommended his own public censure, the only remaining issue is whether he should ever get a chance to work again.

Retired California judges are routinely assigned to cases when the need arises. It is a potentially lucrative job that pays more than $400 a day.

Bradley not only needs permission from the commission but also the approval of the state's chief justice and the county's presiding judge.

A ruling by the commission, which comprises three judges, two lawyers and six members of the public, is expected in the next week or month.

Bradley's troubles started after back-to-back drunk driving arrests in December 1997 and January 1998.

The county's presiding judge at the time, he voluntarily entered an alcohol treatment program after showing up to work intoxicated just 10 days after the second arrest.

Bradley pleaded guilty to the drunk driving charges and served 30 days in jail. He was also placed on probation and ordered not to consume alcohol.

But in subsequent months, as his 18-year marriage collapsed, he repeatedly violated the terms of his probation.

First, he got drunk April 25, 1998, and took a taxi to his wife's Ojai home. There, he pried open a window with a sod cutter and told her he wanted to sleep in his own bed.

She called the police.

Bradley was arrested that night for violating his probation by drinking. He was also ordered to stay away from his wife--an order he violated the same day by calling her from jail.

A month later, he was arrested again for violating probation after crashing his bicycle while drunk.

And Bradley was arrested one more time during the summer by drinking after returning from an out-of-state alcohol-treatment center.

After the last arrest, a Santa Barbara County judge called Bradley "very ill" and ordered him to serve six months in jail.

Early on, the Commission on Judicial Performance suspended Bradley and filed misconduct charges that included showing up to work intoxicated and habitually using alcohol while a judge.

The commission also charged Bradley with abusing his judicial position by having county sheriff's deputies drive him home after he was pulled over for driving erratically in mid-1997.

And it accused the judge of threatening violence against his wife and her boyfriend, a county prosecutor.

After a December hearing on those charges, a three-judge panel concluded in February that Bradley's conduct violated the ethics of his profession and brought disrepute to the judiciary. At that hearing, local lawyers, judges and the county's chief prosecutor described Bradley as a capable and once highly respected jurist.

At Wednesday's hearing, attorney Thomas C. Brayton cited that testimony in his defense of his client.

Brayton told the commission that Bradley has turned his life around and is capable of presiding over cases in the future.

And he argued that Bradley's misconduct--while embarrassing to the bench--occurred almost exclusively away from the courthouse.

Bradley stepped up to the podium at the end of his attorney's closing remarks. He told the commission that he had been kidding himself for years about the extent of his drinking problem.

He said he sought treatment in the past, but mostly to assuage his wife's concerns or to save his job--never addressing the problem head-on.

But after the arrests, he said, his life deteriorated. Bradley said there were moments when his despair was so acute that he didn't want to go on living.

"The more I drank, the worse it got," he said. "It absolutely was a downward spiral."

Bradley said he only began to rebound last December after being diagnosed with a post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in Vietnam.

He said he accepts responsibility for everything he did, but also believes he was a good judge who could serve the courts well again.

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