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The Commission on Judicial Performance has publicly admonished a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge for essentially flouting an order from the Second District Court of Appeal to enter a new judgment for one that the appellate court called “arbitrary and capricious.” According to the decision released by the CJP on Thursday, Judge Brett Carroll Klein “abused his authority and displayed bias and embroilment through actions he took after a judgment he had entered was reversed by the Court of Appeal.” The public admonishment is the fourth issued by the commission this year and the second case in which commissioners cited a judge for becoming “embroiled” in courtroom proceedings. “The commission considered the case very carefully,” said Klein, who spent four years as a writs attorney for the Second District Court of Appeal. “I have no quarrel or disagreement with their judgment. I accept it entirely.” Commissioners took issue with the judge’s decision to schedule a new hearing on damages rather than implement the appeal court’s directed judgment. The case involved tenants who sued their landlord over injuries caused by a falling ceiling. “In direct violation of the appellate court’s order, Judge Klein did not award damages as directed,” commission head Vance Raye, a Third District Court of Appeal justice, wrote. In a letter, Klein told the commission he would “never knowingly disobey a ruling by a higher court.” During the trial, Klein had ordered only nominal damages on personal injury claims against landlord Dorothy Terry after Klein ordered Terry in default for missing discovery deadlines. Klein awarded punitive damages of $1 to each of the two plaintiffs and found fair compensation to be about half the amount estimated by an orthopedic surgeon. Plaintiffs Charlene Butler and Bennie Nero appealed Klein’s decision, and the Second District in July of 2002 reversed Klein’s judgment, ordering the judge to enter a new judgment based on the evidence. Plaintiff attorney Alexander Perez tried to have Klein removed, but the judge rejected Perez’s challenge as being untimely and without legal grounds. Two months later, the appeal court denied Perez’s petition for a writ of mandate, but the court suggested that the petition had merit and reminded Klein that it could reconsider Perez’s challenges. “He didn’t take the hint,” said Perez. Perez filed a second petition, and in December of 2002 the court granted it, voided Klein’s order and wrote that it was “contrary to our clear directions on remand.” “When an appellate court’s reversal is accompanied by directions requiring specific proceedings on remand, those directions are binding on the trial court and must be followed,” the appeal court wrote. “This was a truly outrageous situation,” said Perez, who nevertheless gave Klein high marks for his congenial courtroom demeanor. Klein says that the commission may be critiquing judges for their legal conclusions rather than for violations of judicial behavior and ethics. He mentioned Tulare County Superior Court Judge Howard Broadman, who was censured by the California Supreme Court in 1998 and Los Angeles County Judge Robert Letteau, who was publicly admonished earlier this year, as judges reviewed for controversial decisions, rather than behavior. If the commission “gets into reviewing the legality of rulings, that’s frightening — and it’s frightening to judges,” said Klein.

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