LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles Superior Court judge was publicly admonished for failing to resentence a criminal defendant for more than three years after an appeals court directed him to take action, the Commission on Judicial Performance announced Monday.
The 11-member commission determined that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jose I. Sandoval, who hears cases at the criminal courts building in downtown Los Angeles, violated “his duty to dispose of all judicial matters promptly and efficiently and (violated) his duty to perform his judicial duties competently and diligently.”
The judge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sandoval continued scheduled sentencing hearings for defendant Dewone T. Smith 19 times, according to the admonishment. The delays were often at the request of the attorneys involved, but the commission found that the judge failed to manage the process appropriately.
Sandoval, who has been a Los Angeles Superior Court judge since 2001 and was last elected in 2015, told the commission that none of the continuances he granted amounted to a failure to perform his duties. The commission countered that he failed to appreciate the impropriety of his conduct.
On Feb. 24, 2012, a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed Smith’s conviction for weapons possession — a short pencil tied to two spoons — two counts of resisting an officer and three counts of battery, all committed during his time in jail on a conviction for making criminal threats.
However, the panel vacated the sentence of 150 years to life that Sandoval had imposed and remanded the case for re-sentencing, pointing out that Smith had been diagnosed as having a severe mental disorder and probably should have been receiving treatment in a state prison hospital rather than jailed in a county facility.
Although Sandoval himself said the sentence was “excessive,” he denied a request by the defense to vacate Smith’s prior strikes — including a 1995 conviction for armed bank robbery and a 2000 conviction for involuntary manslaughter — which prompted the longer sentence. The judge said he believed “striking the strikes” would be an abuse of his discretion subject to reversal, according to a trial transcript attached to the appeals panel’s ruling.
On Oct. 12, 2016, Sandoval sentenced Smith to 25 years to life.
The commission, which has jurisdiction over 1,856 judgeships, has issued 96 public admonishments, 17 public reprovals, 39 public censures and removed 11 judges from the bench since it was established 24 years ago, according to the latest available data on its website.
The commission — which includes three judges, two lawyers and six public members — cited 2013 disciplinary action of a similar nature against Sandoval as an aggravating factor in the decision to issue a public admonishment. Three of the commissioners voted for a private admonishment of Sandoval, something the commission has only done once before, according to the website.
As for Smith, now 47, another appeals court panel vacated his second sentence last October and ordered the court to assign the case to another judge for resentencing. The panel noted that Smith could have been sentenced to as little as two to four years if the court had used its discretion to treat the weapons charge as a misdemeanor, so that the “unconscionable” delay by Sandoval was potentially an infringement of Smith’s right to be free.
Smith was sentenced last Thursday to 16 years and eight months in prison by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Garcia and remains jailed at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, according to sheriff’s department online records.