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March 2002

Prison Sentences In Elder Swindles

By Jim Scanlon

According to the Metropolitan News Enterprise, a Los Angeles newspaper, a retired Superior Court Judge, William Sullivan was charged with misconduct last November by the Commission on Judicial Performance for questionable financial dealings with two trusts while on the bench.

The charges grew out of a scandal involving thefts by Bonnie Cambalik, a professional conservator who used her position to steal more than a million dollars from sick and elderly people under her care. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Her attorney Michael Molloy received a 16 year sentence.

Riverside County Supervisors questioned the relationship between the Cambalik and three Assistant Public Defenders who represented more than 1,000 sick and elderly people. When the head of the Public Defenders Office defended her assistants and refused to place them on administrative leave, she herself was fired. Her suit for unlawful termination was subsequently dismissed.

The charges against the judge, included profiting from trusts , not disclosing information, purchasing the home of a conservatee while presiding over the case, rigging the bidding on the sale, and confirming the sale to himself. He was also accused of failing to disclose fees he received as a trustee, and loans from trusts and numerous real properties in Riverside County.

Sullivan practiced law in Riverside until appointed to the bench in 1987 by Republican Governor George Deukmejian. He retired in December 1999 several months after Cambalik admitted to 22 counts of embezzlement by a caretaker, grand theft, perjury and receiving stolen property.

A hearing is set for March 25, 2002 to consider misconduct against Judge Sullivan which could result in censure or a prohibition from practicing law. Criminal charges were not filed although the Judge declined to testify before a Grand Jury in March 2000 by invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination seemingly a very unusual situation.

In early 2001, Sullivan was named Chief Justice of the High Court of the Republic of the Marshall Islands but resigned three weeks into his term. It could not be determined if his appointment as Chief Justice was made by the Bush Administration or if the appointment was screened by the Bush transition team headed by Kenneth Lay.

The purpose of the Commission on Judicial Performance is to investigate complaints against judges, former judges, commissioners and referees. The commission's authority is limited to investigation and discipline of misconduct, usually in conflict with the Code of Judicial Ethics.

The CJP web site lists 16 judges removed by the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1998 and 20 censured by the Supreme Court between 1970 and 1998. Over the last six years, the CJP removed one judge, censured 10, publicly admonished 24, publicly reproved 17 and took other actions in regard to six.

Considering the nature of the judge's alleged misconduct, it would seem that justice might better be served by his being tried in criminal court and if found guilty, made to pay restitution and perhaps perform volunteer work in a hospice.

 

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