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Sonoma County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Patricia Gray went for the jugular in her re-election bid this year, sending out mailers accusing her opponent of condoning the acts of cop killers, child molesters and armed robbers. Gray lost that March election and could now pay for the mud-slinging by being permanently banished from any California bench. Last Tuesday, the California Commission on Judicial Performance announced a formal inquiry into Gray’s campaign, accusing her of willful misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, improper action, and dereliction of duty. Victoria Henley, the commission’s director and chief counsel, said the disciplinary proceedings might be the state’s first involving inappropriate judicial campaign materials. “It’s fairly unusual,” she said. “The canons [of judicial ethics] regarding political activity were amended by the supreme court in about 1996 to add various provisions on not misrepresenting one’s own qualifications and those of an opponent.” Gray, 51, won election to the Sonoma County Municipal Court in 1994 and became a superior court judge when the courts merged in 1998. She was challenged — and ultimately beaten — this year by Sonoma County Deputy Public Defender Elliot Daum. A few days before the March 7 election, though, Gray shipped mailers that accused Daum of pampering criminals. One bearing the huge words “Cop Killer” related how Daum had sought to get charges dropped and the death penalty blocked for a man accused of murdering a deputy sheriff. “Now,” the mailer said in block letters, “Elliot Daum wants you to elect him judge.” A second mailer described Daum’s attempts to get a lighter sentence for an accused child molester, while a third attacked him for seeking leniency for an armed robber who shot a jewelry store owner. “Elliot Daum cares about the rights of violent criminals,” the latter mailer proclaimed. “Patricia Gray cares about the rights of crime victims.” According to the Commission on Judicial Performance’s inquiry notice, Gray may have violated judicial canons requiring judges to uphold the integrity of the judiciary, to avoid impropriety in all activities, to abstain from making comments that could interfere with a fair proceeding, and to refrain from inappropriate political activity. Gray, whose term ends this month, has 20 days to respond to the allegations, after which a hearing will be held before special masters appointed by the California Supreme Court. If the charges are proven by clear and convincing evidence, the commission could recommend removal, censure or a public or private admonishment. It also could prohibit Gray from ever serving on any California state court. Gray, who sits in Santa Rosa, Calif., could not be reached for comment last Tuesday. Neither could Bolinas, Calif., lawyer Peter Gubbins, who was identified by the Commission on Judicial Performance as her attorney. Daum could not be reached either. But it was he who filed a complaint about Gray with the commission in March, just a couple of weeks after winning the election by capturing 51 percent of the vote. “What she did was outrageous and deserving of some serious sanction,” Daum told The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, Calif., at the time. “That was the fairly universal reaction in the legal community.” Daum also released court statistics showing that lawyers had asked for Gray’s disqualification 335 times in five years, more than three times as much as any other judge. The commission’s inquiry notice indicated particular concern that Gray had gone out of her way to call herself a “tough judge who makes criminals’ lawyers unhappy,” while referring to Daum as a “criminal defender,” rather than a deputy PD. “Mr. Daum’s statements, which were in fulfillment of his obligation as a court-appointed attorney to advocate for his clients,” the notice said, “were misleadingly presented in the mailer as representing his personal views and biases, thus implying he was not qualified to be a judge.” The commission inquiry notice also said the mailers implied that Gray might not be concerned with criminal defendants’ rights, “and might not be impartial toward [them] and their attorneys.” The commission pointed out that, although they weren’t mentioned by name, the “cop killer” case — People v. Scully, which was pending before the California Supreme Court — and the “child molester” case — People v. McMasters, which was pending before the First District Court of Appeal — were readily identifiable from the campaign material. That could violate judicial ethics aimed at ensuring fair trials. “Although the statements in the mailer regarding the Scully and McMasters cases were purportedly from official records and transcripts,” the commission said, “by your choice of what information to include, and how to present it, you expressed your opinion regarding the merits of the cases then pending or impending appeal.” In addition, the commission said, the mailer regarding the McMasters case — in which Gray was the judge and had sentenced the defendant to 10 years in prison — “gave the appearance that you were a public advocate for your own rulings.” Gray, a 1984 graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law, did not apologize for the mailers and defended them the day before the election by saying she only wanted to point out the differences between herself and Daum. Even so, several judges and lawyers who had supported Gray’s re-election renounced their endorsements because of the mailers. And six of the court’s 14 judges recommended unsuccessfully that she be reassigned out of the criminal division.

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