Retiring Nevada County Superior Court judge publicly admonished by state commission
Special to the Sierra Sun
Judge Robert Tamietti doesn’t agree with the state Commission of Judicial Performance’s admonishment of his actions in two cases years ago, but he’s not going to fight them either. For one, he’s retired.
In a Wednesday press release, the commission stated the admonishment was made for misconduct in which Tamietti engaged while presiding over two criminal cases including discourteous comments he made regarding the Nevada County district attorney. The release noted that the commission did not pursue the possibility of more severe discipline as a result of Tamietti’s agreement to retire and to not serve in a judicial capacity in the future.
The Commission on Judicial Performance is the independent state agency responsible for investigating complaints of judicial misconduct and for disciplining judicial officers. Misconduct can involve rude or abusive demeanor, conflict of interest, communicating improperly with only one side to a proceeding, delay in decision-making, and commenting on a pending case. Disciplinary actions start with confidential advisory letters, then move up in severity to admonishments and censures. In the most serious cases, the commission can order that a judge be removed or retired from office, or bar a former judge from receiving judicial appointments or assignments.
Tamietti is the only Nevada County judge to have been publicly disciplined since the inception of the commission in 1960, according to its database.
In Tamietti’s case, the commission found the appearance of bias against the District Attorney’s Office; discourteous comments to and about the district attorney; intrusion upon the charging authority of the District Attorney’s Office; ex parte communications that Tamietti initiated; questioning of, and apparent retaliation against, a deputy district attorney for filing a peremptory challenge; and improperly choosing a successor judge after that peremptory challenge.
Tamietti said he acted in the best interest of the community and does not regret his actions.
“The late Congressman John Lewis described the consequences suffered for speaking out against injustice as ‘good trouble,’” Tamietti said. “I spoke up when I perceived that the Truckee community was being put at risk by the inaction of our elected district attorney in two very serious felony cases.”
Tamietti, a Nevada County native, was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 to fill the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge M. Kathleen Butz to the 3rd District Court of Appeals.
Conduct found ‘discourteous’ and biased
The charges of misconduct leveled against Tamietti stem primarily from cases in front of him in Truckee in 2014 and 2019.
The 2014 case became part of the district attorney’s race that year between incumbent Cliff Newell and challenger David Alkire. The case against a man named Anthony Torres stemmed from a gang fight, according to court documents. Torres initially was charged in August 2013 with assault with a deadly weapon, battery causing serious bodily injury, and street terrorism. After a preliminary hearing, Torres was held to answer only on the battery charge and Newell then asked for a dismissal.
Tamietti then personally ordered Newell to be present to explain why the case was being dismissed. Tamietti said he was “increasingly concerned … about the impact on this community about the absence of an assigned DA,” and called the Torres case an example of a “slipshod” attitude of “‘Let’s get rid of this because it’s going to be hard to try,’ and that’s not a good reason to get rid of a case.”
The state commission found Tamietti’s conduct was discourteous, conveyed the appearance of embroilment, bias and prejudgement, and suggested Tamietti had assumed a prosecutorial role.
Tamietti said at that time, he had a very serious concern about the lack of staffing in the Truckee office because the deputy district attorney assigned to Truckee had been on leave for an extended period of time.
“They were sending up a rotation of DAs who didn’t know anything about the cases or the community and didn’t have any real interest in being there,” he said by phone from Charleston, South Carolina. “The court was suffering, the community was suffering. I complained to Cliff (Newell) about that a number of times.”
According to Tamietti, he used the Torres case as an opportunity to make the comments on the record, saying, “I felt I had to say something.”
After Deputy District Attorney Anna Tyner was assigned to Truckee, those staffing issues resolved, Tamietti said, adding he considers Tyner an excellent prosecutor.
Tamietti received an advisory letter for discourteous remarks made to an attorney in a civil case in 2018. Details of that incident were not made public. The following year, Tamietti again was accused of misconduct, this time over a case involving child molestation.
On June 19, 2019, Tamietti signed a warrant for the arrest of Anthony Coronado-Smith and subsequently authorized an increase in bail to $150,000. The judge did not impose bail conditions, based on his expectation that Coronado-Smith would not post bail and would appear for arraignment within 48 hours of his arrest, the commission’s order stated.
But Coronado-Smith posted bond and was released, and was given an appearance date of Sept. 30. Tamietti asked the District Attorney’s Office to get him back into court, and was told a criminal complaint had yet to be filed. Tamietti grew “increasingly alarmed” and sent a series of emails in early September, calling Newell’s response “baloney” and adding, “When the inaction and/or inattention of your office or any other agency puts this community at risk I have a duty to speak up. If that offends you in this circumstance, so be it.”
Tamietti subsequently engaged in an improper communication that did not include Coronado-Smith’s attorney, although he disputes this allegation as unfair because he was not informed the defendant had an attorney. He also was censured for his response to a “peremptory challenge” in the case filed by the DA that would have removed him as the judge from the case.
“The basic problem is, the sex cases are all assigned to a specific deputy, because it’s a grant-funded position,” Tamietti said. “That deputy is always in Nevada City and they don’t have that much interest in handling Truckee cases.”
Judge Was ready to retire
Tamietti said his actions on those cases were meant to ensure the community’s safety.
“If you get criticized for doing the right thing, that’s the way it goes. You still have to do the right thing,” he said. “I’m not ashamed of anything I did and I would do it again, in the same circumstances. … If the voters don’t like the way you act as a judge, your choice of verbiage or your approach to the job, they can vote you out of office. But the commission took that on. I didn’t fit into their paradigm of what judges should sound like, I guess. Frankly, I don’t think that’s their role but apparently they do. I (wasn’t) taking bribes or fixing tickets or sexually harassing my clerks — that’s what you expect them to come after judges for.”
Newell said Thursday that the ruling by the Commission of Judicial Performance spoke for itself.
“Based on that ruling of admonishment and discipline, my Office Conviction Integrity Unit will review previous similar cases presided over by former Judge Tamietti to ensure each defendant received a just and fair resolution in their case,” Newell said in an email. “I have the ability to ask the court to review a sentence if facts come to light after the event that may mitigate a previous sentence. I don’t know that there are anomalies in any previous case, but we have to look.”
Tamietti said he never shied away from a confrontation when he deemed it necessary. But, he said, he chose not to fight the admonishment further because he already was planning to retire before the end of his term in 2024.
“I didn’t retire because the commission was after me, although they tried to create that impression,” he said, citing a medical condition that cropped up two years ago. “I decided at that time I didn’t want to do this job much longer. … I never planned to sit on the bench after retirement. When I was done, I was done.”
Liz Kellar is a reporter for The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. Contact her at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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