Share this on Twitter Share this on Facebook Share this on Linked In Share this by Email
MCLE Self-Assessment Test

LA superior court judge rebuked for mocking attorneys

By Amy Yarbrough
Staff Writer

The state’s judicial watchdog agency has disciplined a former Los Angeles County Superior Court judge for treating attorneys who appeared before him in a “sarcastic, belittling and harsh manner.”

In its May 13 public admonishment of retired Judge Ronald M. Sohigian, the Commission on Judicial Performance wrote that Sohigian mistreated attorneys in two civil cases in violation of his “duty to be patient, dignified and courteous to those with whom the judge deals with in an official capacity.” With the superior court since October 1988, Sohigian retired on April 16 after receiving a notice of intended public admonishment from the commission.

In the first of the two civil cases he was disciplined for, Sohigian chastised attorneys in April 2011 after they informed him they were not prepared for trial because their case had been on standby for about a month and another judicial officer had told them they would get several days’ notice before trial.

In criticizing them for not being prepared with their materials, Sohigian said, “Don’t expect me to swallow that kind of thing. That is just … that is preposterous. I mean, no – no lawyer with any – with any skill at all shows up here and says golly, I was just – I just walked out of my office.”

The following day, attorney Michael E. Leight objected to a question being asked of a witness and the judge overruled him. Leight then asked why it was not hearsay and Sohigian replied, “I’ll explain it to you sometime when you pay tuition.”

On another occasion, the commission said, Sohigian directed his criticism at Leight’s co-counsel, seemingly mocking his role. In asking how long his opening statement would take, Sohigian said, “or are you just going to say he’s [Mr. Leight] going to make it, you’re not going to do anything?”

Sohigian wrote in a response to the commission that he thought the remarks he made to Leight would “curb his disrespectful and provocative behavior.”

In another matter, in February 2013, Sohigian took aim at the plaintiff’s counsel, accusing her of handling the case in a cavalier manner. In response to an unopposed request for a continuance, Sohigian said: “I feel there’s a certain amount of gamesmanship involved in showing up here a month before – pardon me – a trial date.”

The public admonishment marked the third time Sohigian was disciplined by the commission. In 2007, he received a public admonishment  in part for his rude treatment of an attorney. In 1991, the commission sent him an advisory letter for abusing his authority in sanctioning judges.

The commission, chaired by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Erica R. Yew, is comprised of three judges, two lawyers and six public members.