California Courts,  Discovery,  Judges

Judicial Performance Commission Records Not Discoverable

In Commission on Judicial Performance v. Superior Court, case no. B201251 (2d Dist. Oct. 29, 2007), the court of appeal holds that records of the Commission on Judicial Performance are not discoverable.  Its holding appears absolute, regardless of circumstances.

Felony defendant Davidson had his suppression motion denied by Judge Schwartz. Davidson filed a complaint against Judge Schwartz with the Commission, then was convicted after his case was transferred to another judge. In connection with his motion for a new trial, he filed a Pitchess motion (Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531) for records from the Commission concerning Judge Schwartz. The trial court ordered the records produced for in camera review.

The court of appeal grants the writ petition, issuing a writ compelling the trial court to vacate its order and to enter a new order denying Davidson’s Pitchess motion and granting the Commission’s motion to quash the subpoena. The Commission clearly qualifies for the official records privilege (Evid. Code § 1040); the court is unaware of any previous decision under Pitchess allowing such discovery; allowing discovery would “encourage mischief without a concomitant benefit to a criminal defendant”; the discovery would allow Davidson to indirectly question Judge Schwartz regarding the denial of his suppression motion, something he cannot do directly, and; other states with similar commissions have denied similar discovery.

All well and good, but the court also held that the trial court’s order for in camera review is invalid because the non-discoverability of the records would make such review a “wasted effort” and, “more to the point,” the judge has “no more right to see the Commission’s records than does any other member of the public.” It’s hard to square either rationale with Evidence Code section 915, subdivision (b):

When a court is ruling on a claim of privilege under Article 9 (commencing with Section 1040) of Chapter 4 (official information and identity of informer) . . . and is unable to do so without requiring disclosure of the information claimed to be privileged, the court may require the person from whom disclosure is sought or the person authorized to claim the privilege, or both, to disclose the information in chambers out of the presence and hearing of all persons except the person authorized to claim the privilege and any other persons as the person authorized to claim the privilege is willing to have present. If the judge determines that the information is privileged, neither the judge nor any other person may ever disclose, without the consent of a person authorized to permit disclosure, what was disclosed in the course of the proceedings in chambers.

The only way to read the decision in light of Evidence Code section 915 is that it forecloses any discovery of Commission records ever.