Judge Vaughn Walker is in the news again, and it’s not a pretty sight for those who care about the rule of law and judicial process.
First, Judge Walker gives an interview in which he acknowledges he’s been in a ten-year partnership with a man. No less a legal scholar than John Eastman, former dean of Chapman University School of Law, argues that this heretofore undisclosed relationship grave consequences for Walker’s ruling overturning Prop 8.
Eastman writes: “Walker’s admission requires that his decision in the case be vacated. He is either a direct beneficiary of his ruling in the case, or a person with a close-enough personal interest in the case that his impartiality might reasonably have been questioned if the required disclosures had been made.”
Here’s a question no one has publicly asked yet: Is Judge Walker married to his partner under California law? Are they in a domestic partnership? Judge Walker has never directly answered this question—and California permits “confidential marriage licenses” so the public would not necessarily have any way to know.
Judge Walker has never even disclosed the name of his partner, or the nature of this partnership, so the litigants in this case still do not know if there are spousal or quasi-spousal potential conflicts of interest either.
Judge Walker does not appear to be a judge with a finely-tuned sense of what judicial ethics require.
The even bigger news story (which has been largely ignored by the mainstream press, natch) is contained in the motion filed by Cooper and Kirk, on behalf of Protect Marriage, which asks the court to order Judge Walker to turn over all copies of the videotapes he made at the trial.
You may recall Judge Walker’s unseemly zest during the trial to violate all procedural rules in order to televise the trial, over the objections of the Prop 8 supporters—who demonstrated that televising would have a negative impact on expert witnesses who feared harassment as a result.
The Supreme Court had to slap Walker down in a stinging direct order (PDF) to stop trying to televise the trial.
But Judge Walker decided to continue videotaping the trial anyway, allegedly only for his own personal use.
In fact, he directly promised Prop 8 supporters, who objected and asked him to stop the cameras after the Supreme Court order, that the videotapes would not be used for any purpose other than helping him write his opinion.
Not everybody believed him at the time.
I’ve heard that at least one witness backed out of testifying when he heard the news that the judge intended to keep on videotaping. “I’ve been around the block a few times,” this witness said. “I know if there’s a videotape, it’s likely to get out.”
But who would have expected that Judge Walker himself, just days before he stepped down from the bench, would brazenly violate his own promise—upon which the litigants relied both in testifying and in declining to pursue further legal action—by showing the videotapes during a speech he made, which he knew was being videotaped by C-SPAN?
Note that Judge Walker didn’t show, say, the plaintiffs testifying, who wanted to be televised. He singled out an expert witness for Prop 8—one of the very class of people who had expressed concerns about harassment—and broadcast him in an unflattering moment on live, national television.
As I said in a NOM press release, “What more evidence do we need that Vaughn Walker is a rogue judge with little regard for ordinary judicial process and fair play?”
You can read the whole story in the motion up on the NOM blog.
But, for my money, here’s the money quote from the able litigator Charles Cooper’s motion:
“. . . .[T]he Supreme Court had just stayed his broadcast order, then-Chief Judge Walker insisted on recording the trial proceedings anyway. In doing so over Proponents’ objection, Chief Judge Walker assured Proponents on the record that the recording was ‘not going to be for purposes of public broadcasting or televising,’ but rather ‘simply for use in chambers.’ In reliance on Chief Judge Walker’s assurances, Proponents took no further action to prevent him from recording the trial proceedings. One of Proponents’ witnesses also relied on those assurances, and now the recording of a portion of his testimony has been shown by Judge Walker to a large public audience and, in turn, has been disseminated nationally by C-SPAN.”
What kind of judge would break court rules, defy a direct Supreme Court order, and break a direct promise made to litigants in court?
One who clearly does not care much about the ordinary rules of fair play.
We now know for sure what kind of judge and man Vaughn Walker is.