Misconduct Complaint Leveled Against Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe

By STEVE BERRY, TIMES STAFF WRITER
August 24, 2001

The Los Angeles County public defender is lodging a complaint with state officials charging Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe with misconduct for delaying a lawyer’s departure from his courtroom to tend to a family medical crisis and for other alleged acts of misbehavior, according to an internal memo obtained by The Times.

“An investigation into the incidents has convinced me that the complaint is warranted and necessary to deter such abuses,” Public Defender Michael P. Judge said in a memo distributed Thursday to his 640 lawyers.

The complaint was mailed Thursday to the California Commission on Judicial Performance in San Francisco, the state’s watchdog on judicial misconduct, sources said.

Judge said in an interview that he decided to act because less serious efforts by his lawyers, such as trying to disqualify Rappe in specific cases, have failed to change his conduct.

Rappe declined to discuss Judge’s action Thursday. Rappe, 57, is a 1987 appointee of Gov. George Deukmejian.

Judge’s one-page memo to his staff refers to several courtroom incidents.

The latest happened during a July murder trial when Rappe refused to let Deputy Public Defender Jeffrey Gilliam leave the courtroom to rush to his wife’s side during a medical emergency involving her 8-month pregnancy until he confirmed a tentative plea bargain with his client.

Sources say Judge’s complaint also cites cases in which he charges that Rappe abused his power when he held a deputy public defender in contempt of court and when he refused to let another lawyer “make an appropriate record” to protect the interests of a defendant.

“The abuses are so profound that I felt that it is incumbent upon me to take the extraordinary step to file a formal complaint,” Judge said Thursday.

Commission officials do not comment on complaints or even acknowledge receiving them.

Gilliam’s encounter with Rappe took place July 5 while defending Adrian Valle on charges that Valle murdered a child. Before court convened that morning, Gilliam and Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephanie Mire had reached a tentative plea bargain calling for Valle to spend 30 years and 8 months in prison. Without the deal, he was facing life plus a second sentence of 25 years to life.

To go over the final details with Valle, Gilliam, 44, a deputy public defender for 14 years, asked Rappe for a brief delay. Rappe refused, telling him to discuss the matter with his client at the noon break.

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