Judge Ross... You're Fired
Source: Citations Magazine - Ventura County Bar Association
On November 16, 2005, Judge Kevin Ross was removed from the bench in large part for his participation in a reality television show, “Mobile Court.” The premise was for an actual judge to resolve real cases at the scene of a disputer (Think “People’s Court” on wheels.) The pilot featured Judge Ross “presiding” over two cases.
The first one involved teenagers vandalizing a vehicle. The show took place on the residential street. O.K., not so bad. The second dispute, however, was entitled “Beauty and the Beast” and the show was held at a strip club. “Erotic Model” Angel Cassidy sued the Dream Girls adult club in San Diego, claiming that the club cheated her out of prize money. Ms. Cassidy alleged that the security guard, “Wolverine,” improperly disqualified her from the final round of the “Miss Wet on the Net” contest. Judge Ross rendered verdicts on both matters and signed a document for each case entitled “ARBITRATOR’S AWARD.” He received $5,000.00 for his work on the Mobile Court pilot. Sadly, the Judicial Commission Report is silent as to Judge Ross’ ruling on the matters, so we will never know if Wolverine got his comeuppance.
Judge Ross was alleged to have violated Judicial Canons 1 and 2A by creating an appearance of impropriety and undermining the integrity and independence of the judiciary; Canon 2B(2) by using the prestige of office to advance his and others’ pecuniary interests; Canon 4A(2) by engaging in off-bench activities that demeaned the judicial office; Canon 4D(1)(a) by engaging in financial and business dealings that may reasonably be perceived as exploiting the judicial position; Canon 4(D)(2) by participating in a business venture or commercial advertising, or permitting others to use the judge’s title, or otherwise lending the prestige of office to promote a commercial venture; and Canon 4F by acting as a private arbitrator.
Three special masters were appointed to hold evidentiary hearings and report to the Commission on Judicial Performance. Not surprisingly, the special masters and the Commission concluded that Judge Ross violated all of the foregoing Canons in considering that the Canons appear to have been drafted to prevent this exact situation. No plausible arguments can be made for Judge Ross’ defense, as is obvious when examining his defenses.
First, Judge Ross claimed that he did not know that he was acting as an arbitrator. After some significant brow-beating by the Commission on this claim, Judge Ross stated that “he now understands that private arbitration is prohibited, and that he fully understands that he acted as an arbitrator.” Not persuaded by the after-the-fact acknowledgment, the Commission noted that Judge Ross’ “belated concessions. . . miss the point that Judge Ross has repeatedly refused to concede in the face of compelling evidence that he had to have known at the time of the filming that he was engaging in arbitration.” Judge Ross then claimed that he asked and expected the producer not to use his title in promoting the show. The Commission summarily dismissed this defense as well, concluding that since Judge Ross failed to have this limitation reduced to writing, his efforts were inadequate to ensure that a violation of the Canons would not ensue.
The Commission went on to say that Judge Ross’ claim was “inherently unbelievable” due to the underlying premise of marketing him as a real judge as a way of selling the program.
Judge Ross’ final defense was that it was acceptable for him to participate in the pilot because he “never made a final decision to do the show.” The Commission dismissed this argument in three short sentences, basically stating that Judge Ross entered into a binding contract and contractual formalities were irrelevant to the ethical violations.
The Commission disagreed with the special masters only as to the degree of misconduct committed by Judge Ross. The special masters concluded that Judge Ross committed only prejudicial misconduct in connection with arbitrating the Mobile Court cases. The Commission, on the other hand, determined that Judge Ross’ misconduct was willful. The Commission noted that Judge Ross’ “pervasive lack of candor and accountability” throughout the proceedings was “especially pronounced” with respect to the Mobile Court charges.
The four counts of misconduct (count four being the Mobile Court arbitrations) levied against Judge Ross resulted in his removal from judicial office and disqualification from acting as a judge.
Considering the allegations against Judge Ross, the outcome of the Commission’s decision is relatively unsurprising. Judge Ross testified that he knew he would need to resign from the bench if he was chosen to host the Mobile Court series. He also testified that a television career was very appealing to him because it would “only require [him] to work six months out of the year.”
These comments illustrate that Judge Ross apparently made the conscious decision to gamble his seat on the bench on the remote possibility that he would become famous as a result of a reality show. The spellbinding allure of Hollywood is ever fascinating. Whether it’s the teacher from Minnesota eating bugs on an island or an esteemed judge risking his career, the things people will do for the mere chance at celebrity never cease to amaze.
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