Top California Appeals Judge Out After History of Lengthy Case Delays
The presiding justice of the California appeals court in Sacramento has retired as part of a punishment announced Wednesday for delays in deciding 200 cases over a decade that cost litigants money and some criminal defendants their freedom.
Justice Vance Raye agreed to step down from the Third District Court of Appeal as part of a public admonishment for excessive delays that lasted years in some cases, the Commission on Judicial Performance said.
“Justice Raye engaged in a pattern of delay in deciding a significant number of appellate cases over a lengthy period,” the commission said. “He failed to encourage and adopt reasonable procedures to ensure that priority and older cases were decided first.”
While there was a high volume of cases in the court, the commission said that alone couldn’t explain the delays because not all justices had similar backlogs.
California law requires that judges’ salaries be withheld if they issue decisions more than 90 days after hearing arguments. But there are no other specific time limits on how long appellate courts take and no rules over how long cases can languish before a case is submitted after argument.
Raye never violated the rule that would have withheld his paycheck, but delays prior to arguments dragged on nearly eight years in a civil case and more than 8.5 years in a criminal matter involving a juvenile.
“In some cases, the appeals became moot as a result of the passage of time,” the commission said. “Some defendants in criminal cases served time that would not have been served had the appellate decision been issued at an earlier date, and others had served their full term of probation, subject to conditions that were ultimately found to be improper.”
There was no evidence Raye intentionally disregarded his duty, the commission said.
Raye agreed with the commission’s findings and stipulated with the discipline, according to the order for public admonishment. He agreed not to serve as a judicial officer again.
An attorney for Raye did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Raye, an Oklahoma native, was a U.S. Air Force prosecutor at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville before joining the California attorney general’s office. He served as deputy legislative secretary and legal affairs secretary to Gov. George Deukmejian.
Deukmejian, a Republican, appointed Raye to Sacramento Superior Court in 1989 and then to the appeals court two years later. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also a Republican, appointed Raye as presiding justice in 2010.
As the court’s administrative judge, Raye was responsible for leading the court, establishing policies, supervising personnel, promoting access to justice and providing a forum for fair and “expeditious resolution of disputes,” according to California court rules.
Raye authored a unanimous opinion a year ago upholding Gov. Gavin Newsom’s use of emergency powers to make far-reaching policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. The opinion overturned a lower court finding that the Democrat had done too much unilaterally.
Newsom, who is up for reelection this year, can appoint Raye’s successor.