Top attorney of watchdog group at center of controversy

The Associated Press
Tuesday October 30, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — The top lawyer for the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance is at the center of an ethical controversy, and experts say the watchdog agency must be careful in its handling of the issue. 

Victoria Henley, the commission’s chief counsel and top administrator, is accused of having a conflict of interest when she handled disciplinary action against a judge her husband was suing. 

How the commission, which is responsible for disciplining judges, handles the controversy could affect its integrity, experts say. The commission has already requested that an independent investigator handle the case. 

“That was the right thing to do,” Steve Barnett, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school told the Los Angeles Times. “The commissioners should be commended for the speed with which they acted on this.” 

In December, Henley and her staff accused Sonoma County Judge Patricia Gray of unfair campaign practices during her 2000 re-election campaign and began disciplinary proceedings. The charges claim she unfairly accused her challenger, deputy public defender Elliot Daum, of condoning the actions of those he defended in court. Gray lost the election. 

The commission could bar Gray from serving as a judge again if it sustains the disciplinary charges. 

But Gray’s lawyer says Henley should have disqualified herself from the proceedings because her husband, Alameda County lawyer Michael Boli, filed a malpractice suit against Gray for a 1994 civil case she handled while still a lawyer. 

Boli had already filed the suit against Gray when the disciplinary proceedings were launched. The suit is still pending. 

Gray’s attorney accused Henley of using the disciplinary proceedings against Gray to enhance the outcome of the civil suit if it’s decided in favor of Boli’s clients.