The senior member of California's Supreme Court said today that despite news reports that the court had delayed releasing a controversial decision last November for political reasons, none of his fellow justices suggested at the time that there had been anything wrong with the way the case was handled.
Justice Mathew Tobriner told the Commission on Judicial Performance, which is investigating allegations of misconduct, that even Justice William Clarke, a stern critic of the court's decision, had told him as late as last Nov. 28 that he saw "nothing irregular in the handling" of the case and felt that Tobriner "had not delayed the case for political purposes."
Barely a month later, however, Clark charged in a memorandum to Chief Justice Rose Bird that the case "was signed up and ready for filing well in advance of November" and that a "question" remained as to why the decision had not been made public earlier.
At the time the court was considering the controversial case, which involved the state's "use a gun, go to prison" law, three justices, including Bird, were up for confirmaion by the voters. A month and a half after the election, the court released its 4-to-3 decision striking down the law that required prison sentences for anyone convicted of using a gun during the commission of a robbery or other serious crime. Subsequently, the court reversed itself and upheld the law.
Following press reports at the time of the election alleging impropriety in the handling of the case, Tobriner testified, he had circulated a statememt among the other justices saying the decision had not been "delayed for a political or any other improper reason."
Tobriner said none of the justices he approached raised any question about his or the court's conduct in the case. Five justices signed the statement, and a sixth, Frank Richardson, issued a similar statement saying he had "no reason to believe" there were any irregularities.
The only justice refusing to go along with the statements was Clark, considered a philosphical opponent of Tobriner and Bird. But Tobriner insisted that in several conversations he had with Clark in November, Clark had said there was "no question" about Tobriner's conduct in the case, and that he only objected to the statements because they would "blow up" the matter further.
Tobriner also reiterated his earlier testimony that the one "suggestion" that the decision could be delayed until after the election came from Clark. On this, as on other matters, however, Tobriner was vague on both the meaning and the details of the events.
Clark and Bird are to testify when the hearings resume next week.