A state agency publicly
reprimanded five judges for misconduct in 2014 and sent private letters to 38 others.
Many motorists have wondered what a traffic judge's role is supposed
to be in a traffic case and if there is oversight.
California's Commission on Judicial Performance reviewed hundreds of
complaints, and dismissed most of them as meritless. Although volume has
risen steadily since 2005, the percentage of judges who are disciplined
has remained somewhat flat. Last year, two judges were reprimanded for
having sex in court chambers. Other violations included a traffic court
judge who delegated judicial responsibilities to a clerk and a family
court judge who called two parents in the courtroom "rotten."
Six judges have been removed for misconduct since 2005, mostly for accepting
lavish and expensive gifts from attorneys who appeared in their courts.
There are about 2,200 judges in California state courts, so fewer than
2 percent of judges engaged in any questionable activity last year. Superior
Court judges must have been licensed attorneys in the state for at least
10 years, and they are elected to six year terms. Many times, judges are
wrongly described as "referees" or "umpires" who enforce and interpret
the rules but do very little else.
In California, there are typically no jury trials in traffic ticket cases.
So, in addition to making legal rulings, judges in Tulare County must
also serve as the factfinder. Anyone who has ever tried to work for two
bosses at once knows that it is no easy task to wear two hats simultaneously.
The judge must also manage the court. In larger jurisdictions,
courts have a number of clerks that do most of this work. In smaller jurisdictions,
such as Mono County and Bishop, there may be only a few very overworked
court room employees. In either situation, it is important for a lawyer
to have a good relationship with everyone at the courthouse, from the
support staff and clerks who interact with the public, to the judges themselves.