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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Former Judge Sues County

Courts: Robert Bradley asks $72,000 in legal costs incurred during his fight with the state panel that removed him from the bench.

March 22, 2000|CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Former Superior Court Judge Robert Bradley is suing Ventura County for $72,000 in legal costs incurred during his fight with the state Commission on Judicial Performance, which removed him from the bench after a series of alcohol-related arrests.

Kirk Watson, the county's attorney, said the legal fees are not the county's responsibility because "the action which brought him before the commission in the first place did not occur in the scope of his employment as a judge."

Bradley was removed from the bench in 1999 after a string of alcohol-related incidents, including two drunk-driving arrests and showing up for work under the influence. His most recent arrest came last week for allegedly prowling on his Ventura neighbor's property while intoxicated.

He filed his lawsuit against the county last August, and the trial was moved to Santa Barbara County to avoid a conflict of interest.

A Superior Court judge heard testimony in the case during a hearing Tuesday to determine whether Bradley should be awarded the amount without going to trial. A decision on the matter will be issued soon, Watson said.

Paul Mahoney, Bradley's attorney who billed his client $275 per hour, did not return phone calls Tuesday.

Supervisor John Flynn said he disagreed with Bradley's attempt to recoup his legal costs. "It sounds unfair to make the county taxpayers pay for it," Flynn said.

"That is not a good request on his part because his personal problems are not related to his work and therefore neither are the legal costs."

Flynn said he felt sorry for Bradley, who has been battling alcoholism for at least the past three years. "I believe in helping people restore themselves, and he's had a tough battle, but that is separate and apart from asking taxpayers to pay for legal expenses that are non-work-related."

Supervisor Frank Schillo said the county and the judicial system have given Bradley many second chances.

"It's unfortunate that he's gotten to a point where he has to do this," Schillo said. "He was so well treated by the county, even to the extent that we were solicitous of making sure he got help."

Part of Bradley's complaint cites a 1989 county ordinance requiring the county to provide counsel for judges appearing in front of the state commission.

Watson used an anecdote to describe use of the ordinance.

"There was a situation where a judge yelled at a litigant and chased him down the hallway. When the judge appeared in front of the commission, they paid for his attorney because he was acting as a judge when the event happened."

Watson said the situation with Bradley is different because the former judge was not performing judiciary duties at the time.

"The commission decision was meant to punish him for nine separate charges and eight of these occurred outside the courtroom," Watson said. "The ninth was that he showed up drunk at the courthouse, not that he was improperly dispensing justice while being drunk."

Armand Arabian, a retired justice from the California Supreme Court, agreed with Watson. "If he gets picked up on drunken events, those are private acts and there is no obligation for a public expenditure of funds," Arabian said.

Jere Robings, a local taxpayer advocate, said he was disappointed that Bradley thought Ventura taxpayers should foot his legal bills.

"I'm very sympathetic to his problems, but I don't see that the taxpayers should be responsible for the legal problems he has incurred," he said. "I wouldn't be nearly as concerned about paying for workers comp that might see him through the medical problems."

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