Tag Archives: American Bar Association

A Judicial Career From Beginning to End

News that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy is retiring was a bit jarring. His is one of the few judicial careers I saw from start to finish.

Little did I anticipate when he was a “baby” judge back in 1993 how he would soar to the pinnacle of the Court’s leadership.

And little did I know the assist he would give my publishing success, albeit indirectly.

As this Metropolitan News-Enterprise story says, McCoy was appointed to the bench by then-California Gov. Pete Wilson after a 17-year career with a law firm, then serving on Matthew Fong’s staff during Fong’s tenure with the State Board of Equalization.

Although I remember McCoy at his enrobing ceremony — an event at which new judges are officially presented with their black robe and presented to the court — which is amazing, given that I attended all of those twice-yearly ceremonies during my nearly 12 years with the court and each ceremony included half-a-dozen or more new judges, he really popped onto my radar when he started a program soon after he became a new judge.

The program, which McCoy called “One-to-One”, was a one-man show. He sought out and invited at-risk youth, one at a time, to his courtroom, preferably accompanied by a parent, to show them in dramatic fashion what it was like to be a defendant in the criminal court system. The visit included a tour of lockup, with McCoy describing rather graphically where the kid would sit in the tiny space that contain only one short bench a toilet, and a chat in McCoy’s chambers. McCoy always gave the teen his business card and an invitation to call him any time. He also encouraged them to write to him and promised he would reply.

When I sat in on one of the sessions and talked with McCoy later when the program had been in place for several months, he pulled open a desk drawer and showed me files full of letters his young guests had sent him. He had, he said, replied to each and even had an ongoing correspondence with a few.

What I found amazing about McCoy embarking on such an undertaking was that (1) as a brand new judge, he had a pretty full plate trying to learn the ropes — and there were many, and (2) his background was in administrative and civil law and there he was presiding over a criminal courtroom. So his learning curve was doubly steep.

One thing that set him apart from the norm, to my thinking, was instead of focusing inwardly, i.e. I’ve got such a tough row to hoe here, he looked outward for some adjunct way in which what he was doing could benefit others.

That characteristic was captured in a book, Judicial Outreach on a Shoestring, written by another Los Angeles Superior Court judge, Richard Fruin, and published in 1999 by the American Bar Association.

“There must be a way, Judge McCoy thought, as he watched the daily parade of criminal defendants coming through his court, to make these sad cases useful in some way,” Fruin wrote about McCoy and his “One-to-One” program.

After paying his dues by serving in a criminal court — new judges are often initially assigned to either criminal or juvenile courts as most judges consider them the least desirable,so don’t often volunteer for them, and it gets judges like McCoy who have no criminal or juvenile experience up to speed quickly in those areas of the law and court procedures — McCoy moved on to the civil courts.

I had a number of encounters with McCoy during his civil-court years, including his assignment as one of the first judges assigned to serve in a newly created complex litigation court. While there he sought my assistance in interfacing with the news media on a tobacco-litigation case with a $3 billion jury verdict for punitive damages.

Then came the 2002 publication of his book, Why Didn’t I Think of That. He gave me a signed copy with a generous inscription.

I left the court shortly after McCoy’s book came out, moved to Wisconsin and began to consult in court-media relations, which included serving as faculty with the National Center for Courts and Media at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada.

People kept urging me to write a book about my experiences as an information officer with the largest trial court in the country that had seen such high-profile trials as the Rodney King beating, the Menendez brothers, Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and, of course, O.J. Simpson, among others.

I finally called McCoy for guidance about how to go about getting a book published. He put me in touch with his literary agent. From the agent, I learned how to prepare a proposal. He, however, was unable to find a buyer. The primary problem, he said, was I was just offering old news and a string of anecdotes. Publishers, he said, wanted books to “say something,” offer insight or conclusions, and/or present something new.

After a few years and being deep in consulting, which included working with courts, lawyers and journalists in other countries, I saw the negative effects media coverage of the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial and the miss-perceptions of that trial and participants were having on court-media relations all over the world.

Shedding light on that and proposing a better way for courts and the media to interact was the book I decided to do. That book, Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned, sold. Here’s the link to my Anatomy of a Trial websitehttp://www.anatomyofatrial.com/

My thanks to McCoy for opening the door to his agent and for that agent helping me understand important ingredients a book must have to sell.

McCoy went on to be elected by his fellow bench officers — some 500 of them — to serve as the court’s assistant presiding judge for 2007 and 2008, then president judge for 2009 and 2010.

That was during a time when he needed all the creative thinking he could muster to keep the court afloat in the midst of the most draconian budget cuts in its history, thanks to the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

He not only navigated the court with distinction, he received a Person of the Year award for 2008, a recognition Los Angeles legal newspaper, The Metropolitan News-Enterprise, bestows annually.

The MetNews story announcing McCoy’s retirement said he thought it would be more appropriate to discuss his future plans after he’s officially retired, which will be the end of this month.

Suffice it to say that whatever he chooses to do, it will be with an eye on how it might benefit others.

Best wishes Tim McCoy.

Judges on FB all a-Twitter

The question isn’t should judges use Facebook and other social media. The question is how judges should use popular social networking sites.

At least that’s the question the American Bar Association has addressed in a recently issued ethics opinion.  (Formal Opinion 462) http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/formal_opinion_462.authcheckdam.pdf

My question is, why the heck would they want to use those social media?

The ABA opinion, titled “Judge’s Use of Electronic Social Networking Media,” says:  A judge may participate in electronic social networking, but as with all social relationships and contacts, a judge must comply with relevant provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and avoid any conduct that would undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality, or create an appearance of impropriety.

The ABA Journal, in reporting on the opinion, put an emphasis on whether or not judges should disclose who their Facebook Friends are. The issue being the possibility/potential of conflicts of interest regarding cases and parties before them or other aspects of their judicial duties.


A benefit the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, which formulated the opinion, cited is public outreach.

While judicial outreach is important and can be useful, doing so in the brier patch of Status Updates and Tweets, can be risky business, IMHO.

One reason is the “electronic social media” (ESM) user’s loss of control of his/her message once it’s retweeted, shared and commented upon. Another is an inability to foresee how such a message might be interpreted–and once out in cyberspace, it can’t be redacted. Corrected, clarified, explained, apologized for, yes. But not redacted.

Many judges I worked with during my years as  Los Angeles court information officer and media liaison avoided or took great care when speaking to members of the media. Occasionally, some who did rued the day and sought damage-control help.

My role, as I saw it, wasn’t to tell them whether they should or shouldn’t — although I did do that on rare occasions. Rather, I would discuss with them the pros and cons, what they hoped to accomplish if they did or didn’t, and how to accomplish their goal if they did.

One who took the greatest pains to stay out of the public eye, except when on the bench, presided over some of the highest-profile trials — including two that were televised — but whose name is almost unknown.

Stanley Weisberg presided over the 1990 second trial of the infamous McMartin Preschool child molestation case, the 1992 Rodney King-beating trial and the 1993 trial and 1996 retrial of Lyle and Erik Menendez, who were charged with (and eventually convicted of) killing their parents.

Weisberg not only never spoke to the press, except when on the record in official proceedings, he spoke to me only reluctantly and sparingly. He also, unlike most other judges I knew,  kept his chambers door closed most, if not all, of the time.

Many judges believe that when they accept the mantle (or robe) of judge, they must relinquish some degree of their First Amendment rights.

My advice to judges, were I still in a position to advise them, would be if they want to be on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, they should choose their Friends and who they follow very carefully. They should disclose to parties whose cases they hear the ESM they participate in and be prepared to provide names if asked. And they must be sure to never, ever post, tweet or make any comment that they would not want to read in a newspaper or online, or to hear on air.