The previously polite decorum of hearings into alleged wrongdoing by the California Supreme Court was shattered today with a bitter exchange of charges and countercharges between Supreme Court Justice William Clark and attorneys for Chief Justice Rose Bird.
Clark, who is considered a philosophical adversary of Bird, touched off the acrimonious debate when he demanded that Bird's attorneys provide him with any information they had on the disappearance of a sensitive memorandum from his private file.
The memo was written by a Los Angeles Times reporter and stated that Clark had been a source of an election-day story charging the court with delaying release of politically explosive decisions until after the November confirmation election of four justices, including Bird.
Clark told the Commission on Judicial Performance, which is investigating the court's actions during the election, that the statement was inaccurate and that the memo had mysteriously disappeared from his files.
Clark's comment drew a heated response from Harry Delizonna, an attorney for Bird, who said Clark was "implying some wrongdoing" by Bird's attorneys - that they had somehow been involved in the disappearance of the memo.
"We know as much about that," Delizonna charged, "as about the 18-minute gap on the Nixon tape."
The dispute between Delizonna and Clark came as Bird's attorneys were seeking permission from the commission to cross-examine Clark on his previous testimony. Clark stated last week he felt at least one of the court's sensitive decisions had been inexplicable delayed until after November's election on confirming the four justices.
The release of that decision, which struck down the state's "use-a-gun, go to prison" law, could have hurt the confirmation campaign of Bird, who was under fire at the time for allegedly "liberal" rulings on the court. She survived with 51.7 percent of the vote.
The commission is trying to ascertain whether the decisions were delayed for political reasons, as well as attempting to uncover the sources of news leaks from the court about the alleged delays.
In their request today to cross-examine Clark, Bird's attorneys hinted strongly that Clark may have been one of those cources and said they wanted to ask Clark questions about whether he disclosed confidential information. Attorney Delizonna also suggested that Clark had been "reprimanded" in the past for the way he handled press inquiries
Delizonna similarly charged that Clark "either by design or otherwise, painted the chief justice (bird) in a false light" in his testimony before the commission, and that Bird "had her reputation slandered." Delizonna added he would "seek to directly impeach" Clark's testimony.
Clark who has denied leaking information to the press, charged that the actions of Bird's attorney were "an attempt to convert this hearing into an adversary proceeding." He claimed Delizonna had already engaged in a duplicitious "attach" on another member of the court of the court, Justice Stanley Mosk."
Mosk is seeking a court order to avoid having to testify publicly before the commission, claiming that the state constitution requires a confidential proceeding Arguments on his petition for the court order were heard today in Long Beach, Calif.
Mosk's lawyer charged there that the reputation of Supreme Court Justices had been severely damaged by the "circus atmosphere" of the commission's investigation. He said the inquiry had accused justices on Friday of impropriety without any formal charges being filed against them. A decision on Mosk's motion is expected Thursday