Court: CA Judge Complaints Confidential

If a police officer acts improperly during an arrest, a defendant in a California criminal case has a right to obtain in camera judicial review of that officer’s personnel file to see if it contains relevant material about the issue that should be produced in discovery and potentially introduced as evidence.

But that same right doesn’t necessarily apply to alleged judicial misconduct on the bench during the trial of a criminal case, a state appeals court has decided.

Overruling a trial court ruling that a California Supreme Court opinion allowing in-chambers review of complaints about police officers should also be applied to judges, the California Court of Appeal held yesterday in Commission on Judicial Performance v. Superior Court (Davidson), 2007 S.O.S. 6395, that records of the Commission on Judicial Performance are absolutely confidential except as the commission’s own rules provide, reports the Metropolitan News-Enterprise. The California Supreme Court decision is Pitchess v. Superior Court, 11 Cal.3d 531 (1974).

Scenarios that could allow disclosure of complaints about judges under the commission’s rules include “consent, a threat to public safety, criminal conduct, or substantial unfairness to a judge in the public record,” according to the newspaper.

Defendant Eric Davidson had sought in camera review of complaints made concerning his initial trial judge, claiming that the judge and the arresting officer conspired to convict him in a sham trial. Davidson was subsequently convicted of four felony counts of possessing a forged driver’s license and unlawfully using personal identification in a trial conducted by a substitute judge.

(Hat tip: Blogonaut.)

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