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Law Office of Michael J. Kennedy

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Would I Run for Judge Again?

I have been asked several times whether I would consider running for judge again, and I am flattered by the question and by the caliber of people asking, but I think not.

You'll recall that I ran because I was concerned about the character and actions of the judge I was running against, not because I wanted to be a judge.  I had first come in contact with him when I saw how he was treating the pro per defendants on the traffic court calendar in Banning. He was telling them that if they pled not guilty and wanted their constitutional right to a court trial, they would have to post “bail,” which translated to pre-payment of the anticipated fine, before they would receive a trial date.  That sort of judicial extortion is, of course, unconstitutional.  True “bail” can only be demanded of people who are proven to be a flight risk, for whatever level of crime is alleged.  And compelling one to pay money to enjoy his/her a right to trial, RIGHT to trial, is not only unconstitutional, it is repugnant to all that we supposedly hold dear in this Republic.

When my traffic infraction was called and the judge tried that on me, I lectured him on the 8th Amendment standard for bail and suggested that he was utterly out of line in treating people that way; the judge got so upset at me for insisting that he follow the Constitution that he… dismissed my case.

I complained to the then-chief justice, in his role as chairman of the Judicial Council and hence responsible for the rules of court, and I got some insipid and incompetent letter back from some law clerk who cobbled together some excerpts from inconsistent statutes who wrote that such was ok.  That idiotic letter convinced me of the source of some of the bizarre rulings coming from the state supreme court, where those same law clerks do much of the research and writing for which the justices receive undeserved credit.

So, I complained to the local presiding judge, whose law clerk wrote back a similarly doctrinally challenged letter saying [get this!] (a) that is not happening [although I saw it myself!!!], but (b) if it is, it's ok.  Hello!  Houston, we have a problem.

I then started counseling people, on the radio and in writing, about what to do if they are caught up in the traffic court bail scam.  Some understood; most either did not or could not afford the time off for the repeated appearances that might be necessary to screech the matter to a halt in their respective cases.  The judges know that most people cannot afford an attorney to represent them on their infraction matters, where the attorney's fees would greatly exceed the fine amount.

A friend of mine who previously had his eyes opened by me about some other abuses in the criminal justice system that “decent” folk don't want to believe are occurring, until they get victimized by it, talked to me about his new traffic ticket.  I told him what he had to do to protect his constitutional rights about the matter, and the time it would take, because otherwise the judges would extort money from him, so he followed my lead and his case was eventually dismissed, although I had to do a pro bono appeal to get where the Constitution required us to have been if it had been enforced up front.

I told the client to contact the ACLU, which I had written a couple of times about this scam to no avail, and tell them what was going on.  He did.  So, the ACLU finally got on board, but I am jumping ahead.

When I heard that the judge whom I first saw ripping people off that way was up for re-election, I decided to run against him.  His shoddy treatments of pro pers on the traffic calendar was a central feature of my campaign platform, because those defendants are the least able to protect themselves, and the most easily abused, so they should be the most protected by an honorable court, but they were instead exploited by the judge I was running against.  Why would a judge do that?  Well, the traffic fines penalty assessments are the golden goose that is funding many local projects that used to be funded by taxes until Prop. 13 shaved back the power of government to tax people.  But if a “tax” is labeled “penalty assessment,” then local and state governments can collect them on mere majority votes.  Judges love penalty assessments.  For instance, a $100 fine will translate to $500 or more once the “assessment” detour around Prop. 13 is applied.  From the penalty assessments come fancy, new courthouses!

When I brought up in the campaign what I saw, and was myself victimized by, and had fought against for others, the judge denied that it had and was happening!  But what was worse, his three proxy judge pals who were supporting him denied [implicitly or otherwise] it was happening and ever did.  But what was even worse, two of those three sitting judges went around to groups not only speaking in favor of the judge I was running against, but they also [expressly reported to me] prevailed on some of those groups to not let me speak to their members!  My First Amendment rights, and free voting rights of citizens, were violated by pressure from judges favoring my opponent!  Fortunately, the groups that are Republican groups and hence loyal to me, told me of that illicit pressure and let me speak later.  No telling what those judges quietly said to non-Republican groups who did not have loyalty to me, because it's one of those things that probably can never come to light, except in the nether regions of those judges' souls.

After the ACLU got involved, the chief justice got involved [a different one from the one I had written] and she proclaimed loudly and correctly what I had argued years before, the courts may not condition the receipt of a traffic trial on the pre-payment of fines, labeled “bail” or anything else.  Following her pronouncement [which sounded much like the pleadings I had been filing on the point for years!], a new rule of court was promulgated making that constitutional rule clear.

I wonder if the judge I ran against or his proxy supporters ever wrote to the chief justice to tell her she was daft in her position!/?  I probably know the answer.

But because of that ugliness; because one judge could deny his evil position and two or three others would support him in the lie and oppose the one exposing it, I would not want to be among their number.

It is important for the citizenry to understand from that, and from so many others examples, that the fact one is a judge does not mean he is knowledgeable, honest, right-minded, civic-minded, or correct.  It merely means he was able to snooker the governor into appointing him, and then his fellow robed pals thereafter blindly [or otherwise] supported him.

Funny system we have.  The best in the world?  Based on what?

Have I done anything about the judges who galloped around wrongly bad-mouthing me?  Not yet, largely because I have gotten good rulings from each one who thus opposed me.  No telling what I'll do, though, when their respective retention elections come around.

A house cleaning is in order and overdue.

Michael Kennedy

Admitted to Bar, State of California, 1981 Education: Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania (B.A., 1970) Southwestern University School of Law, Los Angeles, California (J.D., Scale, 1981) Harvard Law School, Program of Instruction for Lawyers, Cambridge, 1987

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