Risk Update

Judicial Conflicts Allegations in the News

Certainly seem to be seeing more stories about judges. Starting with: “NY judge resigns after conflict of interest in divorce case” —

  • “A respected long-time upstate judge agreed to resign after he was caught dishing out orders from the bench that helped him in a divorce case he was working privately as a lawyer.”
  • “New Paltz Justice Jonathan Katz was asked by authorities in late 2017 to sign an arrest warrant and order of protection — against the husband of a woman he was representing in their divorce. But rather than declare a conflict of interest, the part-time justice signed the documents — and continued representing the man’s wife in the contentious split, according to authorities.”
  • “The protection order had been made without proving good cause and forced the husband out of the couple’s New Paltz home, a key thing Katz had been fighting for in the divorce, documents show.”

In Stanford University fraud case, allegations of conflicts of interest and biases by San Francisco Judges” —

  • “In ongoing fraud case between technology startup MedWhat and its CEO Arturo Devesa against its investor Stanford-StartX Fund LLC, as well as Stanford University, Stanford General Counsel Debra Zumwalt, and Stanford endowment CEO Robert Wallace, Cross-Complainant Arturo Devesa filed in San Francisco Court an Ex Parte application to recuse and remove part-time Pro Tem Judge Jeff Wohl. Temporary Judge Wohl is assisting full-time Judge Ethan Schulman as a subcontractor in making Motion to Compel recommendations in case.”
  • “According to Ex parte application Judge Wohl has serious conflicts of interests in the case with his employer and with Stanford University, questioning his impartiality as a Judge. Mr. Wohl’s is not a full-time judge at the court or appointed by ballot, only a temporary one defined as Pro Tem used by Hon Ethan Schulman. Mr. Wohl’s full-time employer is private equity law firm Paul Hastings which has deep relationships to Cross-Defendant Stanford University and its Trustees, relationship to Stanford University’s Counsel Bahram Seyedin-Noor, financial interests in the proceeding and conflicts of interest in private equity. Upon Wohl’s refusal to remove himself from case given the conflicts of interest, Ex Parte asked Judge Ethan Schulman to recuse his part-time Judge assistant Wohl.”

More context on this drama here.

How judicial conflicts of interest are denying poor Texans their right to an effective lawyer” —

  • “For decades, Texans who can’t afford a lawyer have gotten caught in a criminal justice system that’s crippled by inadequate funding and overloaded attorneys. A growing body of caseload data — and a recent lawsuit — point to an even more fundamental hazard: the unchecked power of Texas judges.”
  • “However, the problem goes beyond money. In Texas, the crisis is exacerbated by a key structural flaw: Indigent defense is largely overseen by judges. Contrary to the American Bar Association’s principles of public defense, which call for defense lawyers to be independent of the judiciary, judges in most Texas counties decide which lawyers get cases, how much they are paid and whether their motions — say, to reduce bail or test DNA — have merit. (Counties do have fee schedules for lawyers, but judges set the schedules and retain discretion over payment.)”
  • “Given that judges are elected based, in part, on the efficiency of their courts, this is an inherent conflict of interest. ‘Whatever the judge wants to do, it’s probably not acquit your client,’ said Charlie Gerstein, a lawyer for Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that has spent the past several years challenging criminal justice abuses around the country. ‘The judge wants to move the docket. The judge wants to get reelected.’ (Civil Rights Corps filed the class-action lawsuit against the bail system of Harris County in 2016.) Lawyers trying to work a case properly — by devoting more time or requesting an investigator — face a quandary: Why make the effort if a judge can retaliate by appointing them to fewer cases or cutting their pay?”
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