Hats off to Judge Gordon Baranco, Alameda County for the 2009 Benjamin Aranda III Access to Justice Award. Presented in January 2010, Judge Branco was recognized for presiding over the Homeless and Caring Court, holding court in soup kitchens and drug treatment centers, in effort to deal with problems such as mental illness and substance abuse.

For Alameda County, this is a breath of fresh air after the 2007 “severe censure” of another of their judges, Robert Freedman, found to have signed multiple affidavits that were false. An affidavit is a written declaration made under oath. The affidavits falsely stated that he had performed judicial work that over 4 years he had not in fact done and, it was reported, these affidavits had the effect of covering up his 21 violations of state law governing the performance of judges. With these shortcomings in performance, the judge was not eligible to be paid his salary. However, by signing these affidavits that falsely stated work was current, he received money.

If these affidavits were affirmations under oath, it would raise the obvious question of whether the judge committed multiple acts of perjury. But don’t look in the criminal division to see if Judge Freedman was arrested and charged with crimes, the way that ordinary people might be. It did not happen. He was not disbarred or suspended, the way that an attorney might (and should) be for signing false affidavits. And don’t look over at the unemployment office to see if he is collecting his checks. He is getting government checks, but not for unemployment. No, Judge Freedman is still sitting on the bench, still a judge.

The Commission on Judicial Performance found he has shown an “utter disregard for the truth or falsity of salary affidavits he signed when he knew he had delayed matters pending.” Yet only 1 of the 7 panel members felt that dishonesty could not be tolerated in our judges. Only one felt that judges are so much a cornerstone of our courts and our society that a commitment to honesty and integrity within our judiciary is of paramount importance. With only one member voting to remove the judge from the bench, the prevailing vote was merely for severe public censure.

The Commission did not address the question of when people who are neither judges or Paris Hilton, but who also break the law, might also arrange to be sentenced to severe public censure.

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