Bradley Benbrook, the attorney who last fall won a crucial recall case before Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James P. Arguelles, had been a law firm partner with Arguelles before the decision came down. Now, at least one opponent of the effort to oust Governor Gavin Newsom is crying foul.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Arguelles and Benbrook were both lawyers at Stevens, O’Connell & Jacobs—and were co-counsel on at least two cases—before Benbrook successfully argued on behalf of lead recall advocate Orrin Heatlie and the California Patriot Coalition that they needed more time to gather petition signatures due to pandemic complications. On November 17, Arguelles agreed, granting them an additional five months to mount their anti-Newsom campaign.
If Arguelles hadn’t given his former co-worker’s clients that extension, the recall effort would have failed. According to a Times source, then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the attorneys working under him to represent California were unaware of the relationship between the judge and their opposing counsel when the case was tried.
Sacramento retiree Howard Herships believes it was a conflict of interest and filed a complaint against Arguelles last month with the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct.
Legal experts believe that Arguelles—who was appointed to the bench by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and nominated to a federal judgeship by Donald Trump before he lost the presidency—at the very least committed a major snafu in failing to disclose his relationship with the recall litigator.
Scott Cummings, a UCLA School of Law ethics professor, tells the Times that even though Arguelles’s lack of transparency “may not be an ethical violation,” Arguelles should have recused himself “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”
His failure to do so, Cummings said, could end up being the “basis for reopening and overturning the case.”
Another factor that could raise eyebrows is that a different judge had been assigned to the recall hearing until Benbrook filed a notice that his onetime ally had presided over two similar cases and argued that Arguelles should decide his as well.
Sacramento County Superior Court spokeswoman Kim Pedersen told the Times that neither court officials nor Arguelles could comment because they haven’t seen the allegations in the “supposed complaint.”
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