People often complain about incompetent, biased, and even vicious judges. That’s especially the case for litigants cursed with enduring the injustices of family law courts in the Western world. Often the judges are causing more destruction by following bad laws as judges can’t make law on their own, aside from the judicial activists who may try only to be often overturned by a higher court. Many times the judges may be more concerned with saving their political futures than with following the laws or dispensing fair rulings. Hence we get illegal and immoral “guilty until proven innocent” rulings that kick a person out of his or her home, ban contact with the kids, and label the person as a pseudo-criminal all without a shred of evidence based upon false allegations or distortions for which the false accuser will never be punished even if his or her lies are proven. For many suffering from the wrongs of the family law courts, this is business as usual. Sometimes, however, a judge really is notably bad in ways beyond the typical judicial incompetence, selfish disregard for the rights of others, and maliciousness when displeased. Based upon public records and accounts of people who have been in her courtroom, Judge Lisa Schall  of San Diego County, California, is one such judge.
After plea-bargaining down from drunk driving charges from her September 2007 arrest, Schall was “re-elected” with no opposition in June 2008. But Schall is not just a drunk driver, she’s a judge who abuses people’s civil rights, insults and attacks litigants in her courtroom, and helps reinforce the reputation of the San Diego family law courts as a corrupt, biased, and unjust “organized crime ring” (a phrase often used by San Diego citizens who have been abused by these courts) that violates the law and the rights of citizens. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Lisa Schall is a disgrace even to the disgraceful San Diego courts.
Schall has been employed as a judge in the county since 1985. She was formerly known as Lisa Guy-Schall and later changed her name due to legal separation and divorce. The separation was in 2006 from husband Steven Guy in SDSC Case DN144055 . The divorce was in 2007 in SDSC Case DN147397 . Whatever name she’s using today, her bad reputation has been earned by her and her alone. Unfortunately, her mistakes and misconduct are harming the public because of her employment as a judge.
Lisa Schall: Reckless Drunk Driver
Schall was stopped by the Escondido Police Department on September 12, 2007, for driving the wrong way on Centre City Parkway, a street classified as a four-lane divided highway. After failing a field sobriety test, she was arrested for drunk driving as a violation of the California Vehicle Code 23152(a) . Her blood alcohol test was 0.09 percent, above the legal limit of 0.08.
Schall plea-bargained to a lesser reckless driving charge of “driving the wrong way” in March 2008.
The Commission on Judicial Performance has publicly admonished San Diego Superior Court Judge Lisa Schall over her conviction stemming from a 2007 arrest for drunk driving.
Seven of the commission’s 10 members voted 6-1 to admonish Schall—who is referred to in the admonishment as Lisa Guy-Schall, but who dropped the hyphenation of her name in June—in a letter dated Sept. 5.
Schall, who could not be reached for comment, currently presides over civil trials in the court’s Vista Courthouse, and was arrested on the evening of Sept. 12, 2007 when an officer of the Escondido Police Department conducted a traffic stop after observing her vehicle traveling in the wrong direction on the Centre City Parkway, a divided four-lane highway.
The jurist was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of Vehicle Code Sec.23152(a), and driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of 0.08 percent in violation of Sec. 23152(b), after she allegedly failed a field sobriety test, and a blood test performed within the hour indicated a blood alcohol level of approximately 0.09 percent.
She pled guilty to the lesser offense of alcohol-related reckless driving in March.
The commission wrote that Schall’s unlawful conduct “evidence[d] a serious disregard of the principles of personal and official conduct embodied in the California Code of Judicial Ethics,” and violated canons one and two of the code, which require that members of the judiciary maintain high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved, respect and comply with the law, and act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
I can’t help but wonder if the prosecutor would have offered a plea bargain to somebody seemingly so clearly guilty of DUI and endangering public safety if she wasn’t a judge.
Abuse of Contempt of Court Power
Many judges seldom do a thing about perjury and contempt of court. Schall is usually no different, but when she has chosen to act, she’s done so abusively and illegally. In 1995, Schall abusively misused a contempt of court ruling to imprison an upset litigant for five days in violation of court rules. She illegally ordered the bailiff, an apparently uninformed and/or spineless employee of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department , to violate the litigant’s legal rights and throw her in jail. As many bailiffs errantly believe they are akin to a personal security detail for judge-dictators, the bailiff did Schall’s illegal bidding.
The California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly admonished Schall for this misconduct.
On December 18, 1995, Joanna Slivka appeared before Judge Guy-Schall for a hearing on a petition for a restraining order against Ms. Slivka. During the hearing, Ms. Slivka began yelling and acting aggressively, and Judge Guy-Schall ordered her out of the courtroom. While Ms. Slivka was outside the courtroom, Judge Guy-Schall had her bailiff ask Ms. Slivka if she would be willing to reappear in court and keep herself under control; the bailiff reported to the judge that Ms. Slivka had responded that if the judge would not allow her to tell her story, she would probably “go off” again. In Ms. Slivka’s absence, without citing her for contempt or having her returned to the courtroom, Judge Guy-Schall found her in contempt and sentenced her to five days in jail. The order issued by Judge Guy-Schall stated that Ms. Slivka was in direct contempt and was to serve five actual days in jail. With respect to the facts underlying the finding of contempt, the order stated, “full order and findings are set forth in the reporter’s transcript that is order [sic] this date.”
Ms. Slivka was taken into custody outside the courtroom and remained in custody for five days.
Judge Guy-Schall’s actions constituted an abuse of the contempt power. By failing to return Ms. Slivka to court to inform her that she was in contempt, failing to give her a chance to respond to the contempt order, and finding her in contempt in her absence, Judge Guy-Schall failed to follow the required procedures for holding an individual in contempt of court. (See, Ryan v. Commission on Judicial Performance (1988) 45 Cal.3d 518, 533, in which the commission and the California Supreme Court found that a judge committed willful misconduct by holding a litigant in contempt in her absence and incarcerating her, for a remark uttered as she left the courtroom.) The contempt order entered by Judge Guy-Schall failed to state on its face facts sufficient to constitute a contempt, as also required by law. (See, In re Baroldi (1987) 189 Cal.App.3d 101, 110; Cannon v. Commission on Judicial Qualifications (1975) 14 Cal.3d 678, 694.) Judge Guy-Schall, who had been a judge for ten years at the time of the incident, was obligated to know or research proper contempt procedures. (See, Cannon, supra, 14 Cal.3d at p. 694; Ryan, supra, 45 Cal.3d at p. 533.)
The contempt power, which permits a single official to deprive a citizen of his fundamental liberty interest without all of the procedural safeguards normally accompanying such a deprivation, must be used with great prudence and caution. It is essential that judges know and follow proper procedures in exercising this power. (See, Furey v. Commission on Judicial Performance (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1297, 1314; Ryan v. Commission on Judicial Performance, supra, 45 Cal.3d at p. 533; Cannon v. Commission on Judicial Qualifications, supra, 14 Cal.3d at p. 694.)
Judge Guy-Schall has informed the commission that this is the only instance in which she has found an individual in contempt. However, she has acknowledged no problems in her handling of this matter.
Is it really conducive to resolving issues to toss a litigant upset over the way he or she is being treated in the courtroom into jail for five days?
It is not surprising that a litigant who believes he or she is being prevented from discussing what happened would be upset about it. The public has a very inaccurate perception that people have a right to present their version of events and facts in a family law court. That’s not at all what happens in many of these courts. Often the lawyers and judges appear to litigants to do everything they can to silence the truth, often while letting dishonest parties commit perjury unabated and “aggressive” lawyers lie and harass with twisted questions.
Further, many family law court litigants are self-represented because they don’t have the money to pay for legal representation at $250 or more per hour. It’s not reasonable to treat these people the same as trained and experienced lawyers who are not deeply emotionally involved in their cases.
The state has wrongly decided to handle divorces and child custody matters in senselessly counterproductive and damaging adversarial fashion. Compounding this already amply demonstrated error, its judges are unwilling to even let many people, especially self-represented parties, talk, question witnesses, or present evidence. All of these complaints have been leveled against Schall and many other family law judges in San Diego, California, and the United States.
Private Admonishment in 1995 for Misconduct in Juvenile Dependency Case
Prior to her current involvement in San Diego family law cases, Schall was previously a judge in civil cases. Prior to that, she was a judge in juvenile court. In 1995, she was privately admonished over his misconduct in a juvenile dependency case. Details are not available as the Commission on Judicial Performance has not yet published adequate information on her actions.
Improper Involvement in Political Activities
Judges are supposed to stay out of politics to avoid the creation of a perception of bias. Even at the start of her judicial career when you might think she’d be keen on playing by the rules, Schall didn’t stay uninvolved. Attorney Michael Aguirre filed a complaint against Schall for her involvement in the re-election campaign of Governor George Deukmejian in what appears to be a possible violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. This is the same person who appointed her to San Diego Municipal Court in 1985 and then to San Diego Superior Court in 1989.
(from Lawyer Seeks Probe of Forum Speech by Judge )
A San Diego lawyer has requested that a state panel investigate whether Municipal Court Judge Lisa Guy-Schall violated judicial ethics guidelines when she appeared on behalf of Gov. George Deukmejian at a candidates’ forum last week.
In a complaint filed with the California Commission on Judicial Performance, Michael Aguirre charged that Guy-Schall’s appearance at the forum violated a judicial conduct rule stating that judges should not take active roles in political campaigns. The commission is likely to decide whether to investigate the incident at its meeting Oct. 23 and 24, a spokesman said Tuesday.
In family law cases, Schall has been widely criticized for rude, arrogant, malicious, and unjust behaviors in her courtroom. These include refusing to allow a party to be represented telephonically in an ex-parte hearing, disconnecting the call, and then conducting the remainder of the hearing without the party who was effectively banned from participation.
Schall is also reputed to have a poor track record in appeals courts. Some believe she has an unusually high number of her decisions being overturned on appeal.
How Did Schall Get Re-elected?
Despite clearly evident problems with her behaviors, Schall has continued to be re-elected term after term since she was first appointed in 1985 as a judge by then-Governor Deukmejian.
Why is that? It’s for at least three reasons.
- Nobody bothers to run against her. In the June 2008 election immediately after her drunk driving fiasco, she wasn’t even on the ballot and won automatic re-election simply because nobody else ran for the office. When you look at the judicial races for that June 2008 election , you see that out of 51 judges up for election, only 3 races were contested. The other 48 judges won by default.
- Incumbents have an excessive advantage, especially in elections in which the public has little idea of the basis for selecting the best candidate. Judicial elections are a prime example of this sort of election.
- There is no timely oversight of judicial misconduct. Schall’s abusive behavior in December 1995 wasn’t publicly reprimanded until October 1999, nearly four years later. That’s conveniently long after she stood for re-election in 1996 and well before she stood for re-election again in 2002. Schall’s drunk driving conviction in March 2008 wasn’t publicly reprimanded until half a year later, conveniently after the election in June 2008. Perhaps the Commission on Judicial Performance should adopt a name-change to the Commission on Judicial Cover-up.
What kind of confidence can the public have in courts that employ abusive drunk drivers who abuse people’s civil rights? It’s no wonder the public sentiment in California is that its courts are corrupt, slow, unjust, and even abusively illegal.
Court Integrity Requires Means to Vote Out Bad Judges
The public should have had a chance to vote Schall out of office even if there was nobody else running for the office. She’s disreputable and abusive. She doesn’t belong in on the bench, even if nobody else wants the job.
There’s a strong need for judicial candidates outside of the corrupt insider club to run for office. However, it’s clear with only 6% of the offices in 2008 being contested with more than one candidate, there is very little competition for judicial offices. This is unfortunately resulting in some very poor judges remaining in office.
The legislature should enact a “none of the above” choice for all elections of public officials in California. If the public votes 50% or more for “none of the above” choice, then all of the candidates running should be disqualified and not allowed to run for that office again until the next regularly scheduled election. The situation should be handled in a manner similar to what would happen if the elected candidate elected died before taking office. If necessary, the governor could appoint an interim judge. A special election could then be called to select a suitable replacement.
As judges serve six year terms, Schall won’t stand for re-election until 2014. The only ways to get her off the bench in a timely fashion is via the exceptionally slow judicial disciplinary process or to mount a recall effort. It’s our understanding that one or more formal complaints to the Commission on Judicial Performance against Schall are underway by citizens she has abused in San Diego family law courts. There’s also discussion of using the recall process to clean up the California judiciary given the problems in the state courts. Perhaps Schall will find herself looking for a new job sooner than she thinks.
Judge Lisa C. Schall