The commission found Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch’s prior discipline an aggravating factor in deciding to admonish him.
An Alameda County judge was publicly admonished Thursday for becoming embroiled in two cases that were both overturned on appeals.
The Commission on Judicial Performance found Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch “displayed a lack of the dispassionate neutrality and the courtesy to others that is expected of judges” while overseeing both a 2015 jury trial and a 2017 property title matter.
“Although Judge Roesch believed, based on faulty assumptions, that his intervention in each case was justified, it is the misguided manner in which he attempted to address his misassumptions, and the discourteous way he comported himself toward those appearing in court before him, that is the basis for this discipline,” the commission wrote.
Roesch’s attorney, Long & Levit partner David McMonigle, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
During the 2015 jury trial, Roesch repeatedly quizzed an insurance adjuster testifying in the case and then suggested she had perjured herself, according to a transcript provided by the commission. After the witness retained an attorney and asserted a Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, Roesch ordered her to announce that in front of the jury. The judge did not allow cross-examination of the adjuster.
Roesch should not have required the witness to assert her Fifth Amendment rights in front of the jury, nor should he have required a “blanket” declaration, the commission wrote. In 2018, the First District Court of Appeal, citing “several errors” by Roesch overturned the jury verdict.
Roesch said he allowed the witness to invoke a blanket privilege because he thought he had “buy-in from counsel in the case,” according to the commission’s report.
“Having attorneys agree to something the law does not permit does not obviate the judge’s duty to respect and comply with the law,” the commission wrote. “The judge’s action in this regard constituted an intentional disregard of the law.”
In 2017, Roesch engaged in an extensive debate with an attorney representing a client seeking a quiet title judgment. After repeatedly questioning whether anyone would pay supplemental taxes on the property, despite assurances from the new owner that he would, Roesch dismissed the case with prejudice. The First District reversed the ruling.
The commission found that Roesch displayed poor demeanor and became embroiled in the matter.
“Judge Roesch argued that he was merely exercising his ‘gatekeeping’ function because he believed there should have been a probate proceeding to transfer the property,” the commission wrote. “Even if the judge had been correct about his concerns, he could have conveyed those concerns to the parties and counsel without resorting to unduly harsh language.”
The commission found Roesch’s prior discipline an aggravating factor in deciding to admonish him. Roesch, appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, received a private advisory letter in 2011 for making discourteous remarks to a self-represented litigant.
Nine of the 11 commissioners voted to publicly admonish Roesch. One member, Kay Cooperman Jue, would have imposed a private admonishment. Commissioner Sarah Kruer Jager did not participate in the matter.