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California Judge Admonished Over Handling of Divorce Case

May 15, 2020, 7:07 PM

A California superior court judge was publicly admonished by the state’s commission on judicial discipline for failing to remain impartial in a divorce case.

Judge Matthew J. Gary’s “loss of objectivity and neutrality, his lack of courtesy and dignity when addressing those appearing before him, and his improper comments about religion violated the canons of judicial ethics,” the commission’s Thursday order said.

The Sacramento County judge admitted that he became consumed with a divorce he presided over in 2017 and 2018, and lost his ability to remain neutral, the commission said. He stipulated to the facts and conclusions in the commission’s decision.

According to the commission, he at one point during a proceeding accused the parents of damaging their child. “How bad do you want to ruin your child? She’s going to get married and then she’s going to get divorced. And your grandkid is going to go through the same things she’s going through because this is all she knows,” he said.

Gary called the case “crazy” and “unbelievable,” according to the commission.

The commission said he also made comments about religion and death, and referenced a passage in the Bible.

During a hearing in 2018, Gary said he’d lost his objectivity. “I hate it that I have been brought into this personally. I hate it. That is not the role of a judge, and frankly, it’s not the role of parties to involve a judge like has happened here,” he said, according to the commission.

Gary’s “embroilment” violated his duty to remain impartial, the commission said. His remarks about the parents damaging their daughter were “undignified and discourteous” and failed to promote the integrity of the judiciary, as did his comments about religion, it said.

Gary’s misconduct was significantly aggravated by his prior discipline in 2014, when he received an advisory letter for misconduct in two family law matters, the commission said. It said it accepted the stipulation and would impose the admonishment because Gary accepted responsibility for his conduct.

“Family law matters can be particularly fraught with emotion,” it noted. A “calm and steady hand” is required as is “the appearance of neutrality.”

Gary didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The case is In re Gary, Cal. Comm’n Jud. Performance, Commission Rule 116.5, 5/14/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com