Judge Clarke Denies He Demeaned Possible Jurors

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Metropolitan News-Enterprise

 

Tuesday, March
8, 2016

 

Page 1

 

Judge Clarke Denies He Demeaned Possible Jurors

 

By KENNETH
OFGANG, Staff Writer

 

A Los Angeles
Superior Court judge yesterday forcefully denied allegations by the Commission
on Judicial Performance that he demeaned potential jurors who were seeking to
be excused from sitting in a four-defendant, gang-related murder case.

Judge
Edmund W. Clarke Jr. told the three special masters acting as factfinders in
the case that while he “walked into” needless complications by making
extraneous comments that he thought were humorous, he did not use a mocking
tone or raise his voice, or otherwise act in a manner that would have made a
reasonable person uncomfortable.

An
attorney for Clarke, Kathleen M. Ewins of Long & Levit in San Francisco,
had earlier told the masters that Clarke acted reasonably in regard to the
matters alleged by the commission, including with respect to what appears to be
the most serious charge, that he detained and intimidated a potential juror
because she had criticized his courtroom clerk.

Requiring
the venire member, Sarah Newton, to remain near the courtroom until he had time
to address her complaint “wasn’t detention,” Ewins said, because even if he had
excused her, she would still have to report back to the jury assembly room for
possible assignment. Clarke, the attorney said, had no choice under the
circumstances but to have Newton wait in the vicinity until he could
investigate her complaint.

Newton,
an actress and blogger, claimed that the clerk had made comments that offended
her and others on the panel, including making fun of her for asking to be
excused because she suffered from anxiety.

Ewins
explained that Clarke had chosen to ask for a formal evidentiary hearing,
rather than accept the public admonishment proposed by the commission, because
the wording of the CJP’s proposed order was “inaccurate” and “unduly harsh.”
The commission’s proposed disposition of the matter could not be accepted by a
judge “who believes in the American system of justice as much as Judge Clarke
does,” she said.

Commission
attorneys waived their right to make an opening statement.

Clarke
admitted in his testimony that Newton’s comments made him upset.

“She
was under my skin,” he told the panel. “I walked into a problem.”

But
he was unapologetic about what he said was the need to address Newton’s
complaints.

“There
are many things I could have done,” he said, but he “had to assess whether
there could be any validity to what she was saying.”

Asked
by commission trial counsel Mark Lizarraga why he didn’t advise her to take her
complaints to the court’s executive office, he said he saw “no point” in doing
so because he determined she had “no credible complaint.

Clarke
said he “had the impression [Newton] was doing improv with me,” and that the
claim of anxiety was invented because Newton wanted to get out of jury duty “as
fast as she could.”

Questioned
by Lizarraga as to what qualified him to make those kinds of judgments, Clarke
said “judges read body language, and this body language wasn’t consistent with
anxiety.” Newton was looking straight him and commenting directly, in a clear
voice, and wasn’t stuttering or shifting in her movements, he said.

He
added that he was familiar with anxiety disorder as a result of having tried
medical malpractice cases involving mental health professionals before he was
appointed to the bench. Newton, he said, did not claim to be suffering from any
such disorder, only from a generalized anxiety.

Newton
insisted in her testimony that she did, in fact, suffer from anxiety,
particularly when she learned that the trial would likely last six weeks. She
also faulted Clarke’s clerk, saying she heightened her discomfort by speaking
loudly when addressing the panel in the hallway where it assembled.

But
under cross-examination by an attorney for Clarke, Edith Matthai of Robie &
Matthai, Newton acknowledged that there was a good deal of noise in the
hallway. But she insisted that the clerk yelled at her while she was “in the
middle of an anxiety attack” and used a “snarky” tone, causing a number of
others to comment on the clerk’s rudeness.

The
judge, she added, turned her anxiety into “a public joke.”

 

Copyright
2016, Metropolitan News Company



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