Intentional disregard of the law, abuse of authority, embroilment
The Commission on Judicial Performance has issued a public censure of Judge Joseph W. O’Flaherty of the Placer County Superior Court. The vote of the Commission was eleven ayes and zero noes.
Judge O’Flaherty was censured for engaging in willful misconduct, the most serious form of judicial misconduct, through his intentional disregard of the law, abuse of authority, embroilment, and failure to accord a litigant his right to be heard.
In December 2008, after ordering his bailiff to retrieve a small claims plaintiff whose case had been dismissed and who had left the courtroom, Judge O’Flaherty ordered the litigant to have no contact with three women and to stay away from a credit union without complying with any of the procedural requirements for the issuance of a restraining order and without affording the small claims plaintiff who was the subject of the order notice or an opportunity to be heard.
The Commission expressly rejected Judge O’Flaherty’s contention that his actions were justified and necessary to address an emergency situation. The Commission found that the evidence, including a videotap of a small claims proceeding, did not support the judge’s assertion that the plaintiff had in engaged in harassing or intimidating conduct toward the small claims hearing or at any other time. Judge O’Flaherty issued the no contact order based on the comments and reaction of the women after the plaintiff left the courtoom, none of which constituted a harassing course of conduct. Had there been a true emergency, the law provides and expedited process for the issuance of temporary restraining orders, a process Judge O’Flaherty failed to follow. Had there actually been an emergency situation, the judge’s unenforceable no contact order would have provided no protection to the women.
In determining to issue a public censure, the Commission cited Judge O’Flaherty’s previous public admonishment for abusing his authority and disregarding the law and that he continues to show no acceptance or understanding of the limits of his authority. The Commission also noted the negative impact of the judge’s conduct on the litigants and the judicial system. “Abuse of judicial authority and conscious disregard of the law are the antithesis of what the public expects of a judge. The integrity of the judiciary depends on public confidence that the judges will faithfully comply with the law and act within the bounds of their authority.”
Further information is available online at http://cjp.ca.gov/index.php?id=7