Thursday, September 30, 2004 Posted: 12:02 PM EDT (1602 GMT)
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- A state commission has rebuked a northern California judge for telling potential jurors that they should think of a phony reason not to serve if they couldn't acknowledge they were racially biased.
Placer County Superior Court Judge Joseph O'Flaherty, in cases in 1999 and 2000 involving black and Iranian defendants, told prospective jurors they should come up with some other reason to get off the jury if they had racial biases and couldn't admit them.
The Commission on Judicial Performance said O'Flaherty defended his statements by asserting that he was condoning lying only in limited circumstances.
"We could not disagree more," the commission said in its Wednesday decision admonishing O'Flaherty. "Lying of any kind is never appropriate in a court of law, the very existence of which is the ascertainment of the truth."
In an interview, O'Flaherty said his statements to jurors were a "legal error" but did not constitute misconduct.
"I do not feel in any way that it brought down the image of the judiciary," he said. "Quite the contrary. It was an effective way to protect these defendants' rights."
In the 1999 trial, O'Flaherty told prospective jurors, "I recognize that most people in today's world don't want to raise their hand and say I am a bigot or I'm a racist.
"So what I'm going to do, if any of you have the slightest doubt that you might not, for racial reasons, be able to give this defendant a fair trial, I'm going to give you permission to lie."
During the 2000 case, he told prospective jurors who had racial biases to "do whatever you have to do to get off the jury."