Pleasanton judge admonished for remarks

PLEASANTON — An Alameda County Superior Court judge has been admonished by a state commission for making inappropriate remarks during proceedings in her Pleasanton courtroom.

The decision Tuesday by the Commission of Judicial Practice — which investigates complaints about state judges — cited several statements made by Judge Christine Moruza that were harsh, personal or showed bias toward a defendant.

The commission cited a February 2007 domestic violence case that Moruza referred to as a waste of the court's time after the victim did not want to proceed with her trial. When the deputy district attorney tried to counter, Moruza told him: "With all due respect, I have lived about 30 years longer than you have.

I know a lot more about relationships and life and the court system. To tell you the truth, this is a crazy waste of time."

In its report, commissioners wrote that Moruza's statements appeared "impatient and discourteous "... inappropriately personal, undignified and demeaning."

During a 1999 sentencing of a man convicted of hitting his neighbor in the head with a baseball bat for having sex with his 16-year-old daughter and his wife, Moruza disagreed with a statement in the defendant's probation report that stated there was no excuse for his behavior.

"The court feels there was almost every excuse for the defendant's behavior in this offense," she said. "There was a day in this country not that long

ago when if a man's young daughter was raped and his wife was seduced by a neighbor, who he considered a good friend, that man would have been privileged to go ahead and take care of that matter and in a way similar to what (the defendant) did and it wouldn't have gone any further "...

"And frankly, this court understands perfectly well why he did what he did. Unfortunately we have the system of criminal justice that you're not allowed to do that anymore. Some people would say our system of criminal justice is immoral because of that. However, it is what it is and I must apply it," she said.

Commissioners wrote: "Her statements appeared to reflect disdain for the legal system, as well as bias and prejudgment."

During proceedings on Feb. 1, 2007, Moruza asked a defendant who complained that the public defender had not done something as promised, if the defendant was paying the attorney. The defendant said no. "You get what you pay for," Moruza said. "If you really want good service, then you pay an attorney $10,000 to do this."

According to the commission's decision, Moruza admitted to making those statements, in some cases regretted making them, but said she had no bias in any of the cases.

Moruza referred all questions to her own lawyer on Tuesday.

Kathleen Ewins, the attorney representing Moruza, said the judge was grateful the commission brought the issues to her attention.

"She's taken guidance from the commission's decision," Ewins said. "As a result of the commission investigation, she has modified her actions."

The commission voted for an admonishment instead of heavier discipline, public censure or a removal, because in one of the cases, Moruza reported the incident to the commission herself, enrolled herself in anger management counseling, and has had no other disciplinary actions against her in 11 years on the bench.

The admonishment is still a form of discipline and a matter of public record, said Victoria Henley, the commission's director and chief counsel. The admonishment could be a factor in determining future disciplinary action, if it occurs. If Moruza is considered for another appointment, the commission is required to turn over the disciplinary documents.

Moruza is the second judge at the Pleasanton courthouse to face disciplinary action. In 2003, Judge Ronald Hyde was removed from the bench for misconduct that included appearance of bias, ex parte communications and sexual harassment. He had been previously censured by the commission in 1996.

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