Steve's contempt charge was vacated and the judge who cited him was suspended for making a racial slur toward a witness in the case. Read the whole story as reported in the legal journal "Los Angeles Daily Journal" after the jump.
Gilchrist paid his debts.
We know we can win in the CA-48. Apparently the Repthugs are afraid that we're right.
By Tori Richards
Daily Journal Staff Writer
SANTA ANA - An Orange County trial judge - who admits to calling two Palestinian witnesses "camel jockeys" - erroneously sanctioned and jailed an attorney for telling his client that he thought the judge was biased, an appellate court ruled.
The unanimous decision handed down Friday by the 40th District Court of Appeal ordered Orange County Superior Court to refund $1,000 plus interest along with court costs to attorney Steven R. Young on grounds that Judge John H. Smith exceeded his jurisdiction and jailed Young without due process. Young v. Superior Court of Orange County G021153.
In his opinion, Justice David Sills is at time sarcastic and makes it clear that he frowned upon the behavior of Smith, who is retired but was sitting on assignment last year when Young and his Palestinian client had their trial.
"After the jury had retired to deliberate but before it had reached a verdice, Judge Smith invited councel into chanbers, according to Young, while discussing the trial, Judge Smith referred to two of his defense witnesses, both of Palestinian decent, as "towel heads" but admits to referring to them as "camel jockeys". To his credit, Judge Smith acknowledges such references were a "mistake," Sills wrote.
When Young told his client that Smith was biased, a clerk overheard the conversation and told the judge, thus prompting the sanction, according to the opinion.
Sills said Young made several arguments, but the justices didn't need to go any further than Code of Civil Procedure Secion 1209(b) which says: "No speech or publication reflecting upon or concerning any court or any officer thereof shall be treated or punished as a contempt of such court unless made in the immediate presence of such court while in session and in such a manner as to actually interfere with the proceedings."
Young, who is an active member of the Orange County Bar Association and a partner at Young & Amundsen in Newport Beach, expressed delight when he learned of the ruling Monday.
"I understand Judge Smith is not sitting any longer and in light of his [derogatory] comments, it's probably best for all," Young said.
Breach of Contract Suit
The scenario began Oct, 29, 1996 when Young asked to go on record in a breach of contract lawsuit in which he was defending Farid O. Shalabi, a businessman. Taylor v. Salabi 736020.
Young told Smith that he treated the plaintiff and defendant differently during the trial regarding procedural and evidentiary rulings. Young asked if he had done something that he needed to apologize for, but the judge said: "I don't think there's anything to resolve. I'm not aware of any inequities in the record."
According to Smith's declaration filed with the appellate court, the conversation was one of several in which Young "attempted to bully the Court. I had admonished him several times at the bench and in chambers that he must not continue to argue my ruling."
Then on Nov. 4, the judge brought the attorneys into his chambers and asked them which juror they would have selected as an alternate if given the choice. The attorneys gave their opinions and the judge then began talking about two of Young's Palestinian witnesses, referring to them as "towel heads," Young wrote in his petition for a writ of mandate.
In his declaration, Smith said he called the witnesses "camel jockeys" and used the term facetiously.
"I did not intend to offend anyone since the remark was not meant to go beyond chambers. Additionally, I have a nephew by marriage who is of Lebanese decent. His surname is Edeah. He jokingly refers to himself as a camel jockey and will phone and say 'This is camel John, Uncle Jack.' In our family circle this has become a laughing matter. However, I know this can't be justified in all circles," Smith wrote.
The next day the jury reached a verdict favoring the plaintiff. Smith dismissed the jury and told opposing counsel to wait in the hallway. Then, on the record, the judge told Young that he didn't believe any basis existed for the attorney to accuse him of being unfair.
According to a court transcript, the judge said: "When this trial progressed, I became aware of remarks that you were making behind my back to my staff members letting them know that you were unhappy with my rulings, and you felt I was very unfair and very partial and even most disturbing is the fact that you made these comments in the presence of your client. Now, that is probably one of the most unethical things an attorney can do, criticize the court in front of his client."
Stating that he was appalled at Young's behavior, Smith imposed a $1,000 sanction - the minimum required to report an attorney to the State Bar for investigation.
"If they wish to have an investigation of some sort, I certainly hope I will be alive to participate in it, if called upon, but I just think that your whole approach is reprehensible," Smith said.
Young was not served with an order to show cause so that he could prepare for the contempt hearing. Rather, the hearing was held immediately, and Young was jailed when he couldn't pay $1,000. He was held for five hours until a partner could bail him out, Young said.
"I didn't know if I would be in jail all night, with all the horror stories you hear there," Young said Monday.
Before Young went to the appellate court, he filed post-trial motions that sought, among other things, to disqualify Smith from the case on grounds of bias. To avoid a conflict of interest by the Orange County bench, the matter was moved to Los Angeles Superior Court. Judge Victor E. Chavez heard the motion and denied it Feb. 18. "The very unfortunate and inappropriate remarks by the Court characterizing individuals as 'camel jockeys' would appear to be flippant and in poor taste," Chavez wrote in his ruling. "However, since that remark was made in chambers, where experienced lawyers are accustomed to candid comments by not only the Court but all councel, this does not rise to the level of conduct which is suitable for disqualification."
Young said that he will next ask the appellate court to grant a new trial.
While Sills' opinion will close the looming State bar investigation, clear Young's name and offer a reimbursement, Young says it can't repair the harm Smith did by jailing Young right before he was going to question jurors about why they lost the trial.
"I felt like [Smith] was cheating my client," Young said. "In effect, he prevented me from representing my client in discussing the case. I think he did it because he didn't want me to find out things that affected their verdict."