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A Kern County Superior Court judge’s impatience with defendants and defense attorneys has earned him a public rebuke from the Commission on Judicial Performance. In the admonishment issued Wednesday against Judge Stephen Gildner, the commission recounted a series of incidents from 2000 to 2003 in which the judge’s behavior “suggests a pattern of failing to ensure the rights of criminal defendants.” Gildner has been on the bench since his appointment in 1990 by Gov. George Deukmejian. Prior to that, he worked in private practice and as a deputy district attorney. According to the CJP, Gildner violated the canons of judicial ethics that require a judge to promote “public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary” and to give defendants a full right to be heard in court. The commission report cited two court hearings in March 2001 in which Gildner heard requests from the Kern County public defender’s office to stop representing clients because of conflicts. Gildner held hearings on the conflicts before the defendants were scheduled to appear in court, and then — over the protests of deputy public defenders — issued warrants when the defendants didn’t show up. The CJP dinged Gildner for issuing warrants without legal authority and for not allowing defendants to explain themselves. Commissioners ruled that Gildner had enough experience to know better. In a 2003 incident, a defendant was late to a 9 a.m. hearing because he went to the wrong courtroom. Instead of listening to an explanation, Gildner forfeited the man’s bail and issued a bench warrant at 9:13 a.m. Instead of allowing the public defender to recall the case, Gildner had the defendant arrested on the warrant. In his defense, Gildner told the commission that he had no legal obligation to recall the warrant once the defendant showed up, a position the commission characterized as unreasonable. A statement issued by Gildner’s attorney, Edith Matthai of Robie & Matthai in Los Angeles, said Gildner did not intend to prejudice the rights of any defendant. The commission also criticized Gildner for trying in 2000 to bully defendants into accepting plea deals at hearings conducted before preliminary examinations. The judge erroneously told defendants they would “never” see such deals offered again, which “carried the potential of coercion,” according to the CJP. Gildner blamed Kern County Presiding Judge Arthur Wallace for instructing him on how to implement court policy on plea agreements prior to preliminary hearings, according to Matthai’s statement. The commission voted 10-0 to punish Gildner.

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