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.