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California judicial panel admonishes L.A. County commissioner

The state panel finds Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Alan H. Friedenthal had made 'discourteous, undignified, gratuitous and denigrating remarks' while presiding over family law cases.

April 04, 2012|By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles County Superior Court commissioner who made "discourteous, undignified, gratuitous and denigrating remarks" during family law cases was publicly admonished Tuesday by a state agency overseeing judges' discipline.

The Commission on Judicial Performance determined that Commissioner Alan H. Friedenthal should be "severely publicly admonished" for misconduct, including "humor at the expense of litigants," during five cases over which he presided from June 2007 to January 2009, according to an 18-page order made public Tuesday.

Neither Friedenthal nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

In a 2008 case involving the mother and father of a minor child, Friedenthal referred to an anti-Semitic comment the mother made in a voice mail message to the father, which was played in court.

At one point, Friedenthal told the mother, "You're going to raise a little Nazi," according to the commission's decision.

The mother was a nursing student at the time and had left other voice mail messages for the father. During an earlier hearing in that case, Friedenthal asked the mother whether the manner with which she dealt with the father was something she "had taken away from" a court-ordered parenting class.

When the mother said no, Friedenthal responded, "Good. So you flunked. I hope you do better in nursing school," according to the decision.

The commission concluded that Friedenthal's comments were denigrating, appeared "to be sarcastic," and, "in addition to improper demeanor, reflected embroilment."

Friedenthal also was reprimanded by the commission for commenting on Internet posts made by litigants about his handling of cases.

Friedenthal presided over a 2008 case involving two teenage parents and their child. The teenage woman's mother made comments about Friedenthal on an online forum concerning court matters and on a MySpace page, according to the decision.

While presiding over the case, Friedenthal improperly reviewed the posts, the commission determined.

Under the California Code of Judicial Ethics, "judges are supposed to decide cases based on the facts before them," said Victoria B. Henley, director and counsel for the commission. "Independent investigative information outside the records is a form of ex-parte communication and is improper." In a written objection to his admonishment, Friedenthal stated he believed he could monitor online postings by litigants to determine if he or his family was threatened, according to the decision.

Friedenthal "describes his misconduct as 'momentary lapses' in response to difficult litigants," but the commission viewed his actions as "not momentary or isolated," according to the decision.

The 11-member commission voted 9 to 1 to publicly admonish Friedenthal, with one member not participating in the vote.

Friedenthal has been a commissioner of the Los Angeles County Superior Court since 2005.

In February 2009, he was reassigned to a department in which he no longer presided over family law matters. Friedenthal currently presides over small claims, civil and unlawful detainer cases at the county courthouse in Chatsworth.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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