SAN FRANCISCO – 01-04-2019 ( — Despite its common and profound effects, judicial misconduct is effectively swept under the rug in California, even with the existence of the Commission on Judicial Performance – an oversight body responsible for investigating and disciplining wayward California judicial officials. According to a 2014 Harvard study, California has the highest level of “perceived illegal corruption” of all 50 states, specifically in reference to its judicial branch. 

In fact, the number of complaints citing judicial misconduct has increased since 2005 – yet the percentage of judges who face subsequent disciplinary action has remained virtually stagnant. Worse, the Commission’s idea of discipline isn’t exactly threatening; most judges merely receive a letter of warning, usually after neglecting to reveal a conflict of interest or displaying favoritism, neither of which is trivial enough to only warrant a private letter. The Commission on Judicial Performance should serve as reassurance, as a trustworthy protector of the people. However, while occasionally sending a letter or two, the Commission is also hiding from the citizens it should be safeguarding. They have refused to provide the public with records that other states’ commissions and agencies freely disclose. They have also dismissed a whopping 88.5% of complaints as being “obviously unfounded or frivolous,” per Commission Rule 109, a frightening eschewing of public concern. Does this sound like the behavior of a government with nothing to hide? A 2015 article in the LA Times reviewed the Commission’s rulings, resulting in some interesting – and alarming – findings, like this big one: “The vast majority of complaints against judges result in no discipline.” And let’s remember that when there is “discipline,” it’s, more often than not, just a letter. This lack of judicial oversight has enabled the vices of human nature to rule the bench instead of the thoughtful deliberation of justice. It is evidenced time and time again without reproach or repercussion, and it continues without end. In the case of City of San Francisco v. Kihagi, for example, Judge Angela Bradstreet stripped black business owner Anne Kihagi of her rights in favor of tenants who appealed to her known allegiances. She ruled that Ms. Kihagi’s quiet presence in her own building on a Sunday afternoon was offensive and frightening enough to send two towering, 6’10” male tenants screaming into their unit. She ruled that politely asking a tenant not to sit on the stairs during an open house was worth thousands of dollars in fines, even though the tenant happily complied without complaint. She ruled that tenants’ texts threatening physical harm to Ms. Kihagi meant nothing, even after they harassed the landlord and her family and brutally vandalized her property as an angry mob. Judge Bradstreet even disregarded testimony that a tenant left the property due to breaking up with her partner and roommate, instead penalizing Ms. Kihagi $140,000, without any request for punishment from the prosecution.Minority landlord Kihagi is now facing $2.5 million in penalties because of the dramatized claims and faulty evidence allowed by Judge Bradstreet. The Court of Appeal will not repeal any of the rulings, as they operate under the assumption that judges act fairly, and the Commission on Judicial Performance is clearly not interested in doing anything more than sending a piece of mail. Dishonest judges are therefore making biased and life-altering decisions every day without any censure from California government. Other states’ commissions and agencies have managed to keep judicial corruption in check much more effectively, to the point where California statistics are 200-300% off from those of other states. Accountability, integrity, and justice are the cornerstones of the American legal system and the hallmarks of truly fair judicial officers. But when those qualities become buried in bias, personal interests, and political gains, who will keep those judges off the bench? The Commission is not implementing the regulation or discipline its public expects and, frankly, needs. Per the urging of a Court Reform report, “oversight of the largest judiciary in the Western world cannot be trusted to a small agency that is an outlier in judicial discipline and,” apparently, “subject to minimal public disclosure laws.” The unsettling question remains: Who will keep our judges honest? For more information on Anna Kihagi & West 18th Properties, @annekihagi1

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