I criticize Fine's analysis, while supporting his State Bar defense effort. Fine relied on plaintiff Sturgeon's claim that the benefits were a gift, but the Court of Appeal expressly rejected that characterization. No gift, no bribe, and probably no conflict of interest. Sturgeon v. County wasn't a victory for Fine. Sturgeon really wasn't even a victory for Judicial Watch, as the funding organization claims, since the Court of Appeal refused to find County funding inherently unconstitutional. Sturgeon holds only that the Legislature must rigorously prescribe the benefits County pays. Sturgeon doesn't espouse Judicial Watch's overblown theory that the benefits were a bribe. The Sturgeon court held only that without rigorous Legislative prescription, the benefits program could threaten judicial independence. By locating the wrongdoing in the County's failure to respect the judiciary’s institutional requirements, rather than in any judicial misconduct, Sturgeon exonerated County judicial officers of disqualifying charges.
Opponents of County judicial-income supplementation claim its consequences include a disproportionately low rate of plaintiff litigation success against County. Fine offers statistics:
The statistics showed that 670 new cases were filed in fiscal year 2007 and 261 dismissals occurred based upon favorable rulings for the County. This is approximately 39%. The October 3, 2007, letter did not state the ratio of filed cases to dismissals for non LA County cases. LA County took 24 cases to trial and prevailed in 15. Five were defense [jury] verdicts. This shows that 10 defense decisions were done by the LA Superior Court judges. This is over 41%.These are more cases decided by judges against the plaintiffs, than the 9 cases the plaintiffs won at trial before a jury. It appears the plaintiffs did not win any cases before a judge. (Fine's statement, supra.)Although Fine's initial hedge and his conclusion's ex cathedra character diminish its force, the most important claim is the last sentence: "It appears the plaintiffs did not win any cases before a judge." What appears is that winning a bench trial against Los Angeles County is impossible. Then, the County payments would cause injustice on a threat theory, instead of a bribe theory. But if Fine's statistics are accurate, one must wonder why Sturgeon the plaintiff failed to argue them.