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An Alameda County Superior Court judge has been publicly admonished by a state judicial commission for telling a defense lawyer to “spend every waking moment” and “work all night” on a case before seeking a postponement of a hearing. The reprimand to Judge Morris Jacobson was announced Wednesday by the San Francisco-based Commission on Judicial Performance. The commission is in charge of investigating complaints of judicial misconduct by state judges and deciding on punishments, which can range from a private advisory letter to removal from office.
The commission said Jacobson’s remarks to defense attorney Anne Beles in front of her client at a hearing in 2010 were “demeaning and discourteous.” In a second part of its decision, the commission said the judge’s treatment of Beles when he threatened to hold her in contempt of court was also an abuse of his authority. Jacobson’s actions reflected “a lack of appreciation for the bounds of his authority and his duty to treat those who appear before him with courtesy, dignity and respect,” the commission said.
Jacobson, a graduate of Hastings College of the Law, served as an Alameda County prosecutor for 16 years before being appointed to the court by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005. The commission previously issued a private advisory letter in 2010 reprimanding Jacobson for “poor demeanor” in improperly chastising another lawyer in his courtroom. In the more recent incident considered by the commission, Beles was representing a man accused of attempted murder of a policeman and had asked for a postponement of a preliminary hearing.
After Jacobson told her to spend “every waking moment” on the case, Beles said she had been working hard and said, “Your honor, I don’t need your advice on how to be competent.” Jacobson then threatened to find her in contempt of court and ordered her to wait in the courtroom for more than an hour and a half until he could hold a contempt hearing. Later that day, he held a hearing and did not find her in contempt.
The commission said that whether or not her remark was contemptuous, it was improper for the judge to force her to wait in court for more than an hour and a half without adjudicating the matter. The judge’s actions were equivalent to punishing the attorney for contempt without holding a hearing, the commission said. Jacobson’s lawyer in the commission proceedings, James Murphy, was out of town and not available for comment today. In the proceedings, Jacobson argued that he was merely trying to give Beles a “heads up” on what she would need to show in order to obtain a postponement.
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