In 2003, Judge Angela Bradstreet spoke with the L.A. Times in response to potential ethical dilemmas posed by judges’ membership in Boy Scouts of America due to the organization’s exclusion of gay men. While campaigning to amend the California Code of Judicial Ethics, she encouraged judges to recuse themselves from cases where membership in the Boy Scouts might “give an appearance of partiality” in adjudicating cases involving gay parties.
If Judge Bradstreet believed that association to the Boy Scouts would give the appearance of bias, why did she not believe it would apply to her? Did her veneer of fairness only runs so deep, as illustrated by her lack of impartiality in City of San Francisco v. Kihagi?
In the case against landlord Anne Kihagi, Deputy City Attorney Michael Weiss played on Judge Bradstreet’s known affiliation to the gay community. He alleged Ms. Kihagi was driven by an anti-gay agenda because of her properties’ locations in predominantly gay communities. It must be noted that, until she was assigned to the case, the prosecution never purported that Ms. Kihagi was discriminatory against the gay community. This suggests that the city attorney’s office was trying to gain favor with Judge Bradstreet.
Judge Bradstreet had already ruled to deny Ms. Kihagi an opportunity to testify on her own behalf. Hence, Ms. Kihagi could not testify to the truth that she had no discriminatory agenda; in fact, any evictions she made were a result of lease violations. The issue in this case lies not with her alleged bias, but rather, Judge Bradstreet’s inability to remain impartial in her courtroom, after publicly appealing for impartiality from all judges.
Judge Bradstreet’s first mistake was not recusing herself from the case due to her strong association to the gay community. Even if she felt she could remain impartial, this association presented a conflict of interest. If she believed potentially biased judges should recuse themselves in similar situations, then she should have recognized her own conflict. The judge’s second mistake was allowing this bias to prevent her from seeing the malfeasance in front of her. If she could not recognize the potential of her own bias, how could she be trusted to make fair rulings?
The problem in this case is not Judge Bradstreet’s sexual orientation or her association with the gay community. What is troubling is that she formed her judgement at the beginning of the case, and, therefore, closed herself off from evidence presented. This refusal to listen is the absolute antithesis of judicial ethical integrity.
Had the judge recognized the false evidence presented by the prosecution, she might not have penalized Ms. Kihagi millions of dollars in fines for events that do not make sense. For example, she would have recognized that a male couple with a combined weight of 500 pounds screaming simply because they glimpsed at their black landlord on a Sunday afternoon was not normal and adding a $5,000 penalty further illustrates her bias. Judge Bradstreet would have noticed inconsistences raised by defense attorneys instead of ruling based off a misrepresented advertisement.
Additionally, Judge Bradstreet willingly ignored the professional third-party testimony of five building inspectors, instead choosing to believe the negative opinion of one inspector, resulting in another $1.25 million in penalties for Ms. Kihagi. This inspector in question possessed no plumbing or electrical expertise and never visited Ms. Kihagi’s properties.
Even beyond her rulings, Judge Bradstreet physically exhibited “an appearance of partiality” when she sneered at Ms. Kihagi during the trial on several occasions.
Throughout the trial, Judge Bradstreet continued to show disregard for the facts and neglected the very impartiality for which she advocates. The evidence presented openly contradicted her rulings, a clear indication of her bias. Over forty pages of messages among tenants were submitted as evidence, many of which detailed their intent to cause Ms. Kihagi physical harm or celebrated their successful intimidation tactics. Despite this solid evidence, Judge Bradstreet ruled the tenants never meant to harm Ms. Kihagi. Not only was this a blatant dismissal of facts, but also complete disregard for Ms. Kihagi’s personal safety.
Further complicating these biased rulings is the possibility they will not be overturned by the Court of Appeal, as the errors must be “material” and rooted in the laws themselves. It is difficult to qualify actual judgment, unless the rulings are considered together. The Court of Appeal cannot take on every issue, so these rulings have the potential to continue punishing a businesswoman with no anti-gay sentiments.
If Judge Bradstreet would have allowed herself to hear both sides, she would have learned that this was not an attack on the gay community. This was a group of tenants who were intent on hurting Ms. Kihagi for upholding terms in their lease agreements. Instead, Ms. Kihagi learned how detrimental the unchecked bias of a judge can be.
For more information on Anne Kihagi and West 18 Properties, visit http://annekihagisf.com/