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The Forgotten Years

Contempt of Court: Judges Fratianne and Miller

Posted on | March 7, 2010 | 165 Comments

One of Brown’s appointments to the Los Angeles County Superior Court (Van Nuys District) was Robert D. Fratianne.  He was appointed by Brown on October 17, 1978.

At the time of his appointment, Judge Fratianne had a wife and five children.  One was a two time world figure skating champion and an Olympic Silver Medalist.

Unfortunately, the marriage ended in divorce in January of 1981.

On August 31, 1981, Judge Fratianne was brought before a Judge James L. Smith on contempt of court charges for failing to pay his child support and alimony.  Judge Fratianne argued that he had never been properly served the notice of the court order to make the payments, so the charges were dismissed.

The case did come back.  In September of 1981,Judge Fratianne was again charged with contempt of court and was $5,390 behind in court ordered payments.

Judge Fratianne escaped contempt charges by agreeing in mid-November 1981 to pay the amounts overdue and to make the regular monthly payments.

While Judge Fratianne’s situation was serious, it was mild when compared to that of another Brown appointee.

In March of 1978, Governor Brown appointed John J. Miller, a former Democrat State Assemblyman from the San Francisco Bay Area to the prestigious First District Court of Appeal.

When his appointment was announced, the California Bay Association was concerned and the group made the highly unusual request to meet with Governor Brown to discuss their concerns about Miller’s qualifications and to discuss several substantial complaints which the Bar said had been filed against Miller.

One month after his confirmation to the bench, Justice Miller and his wife separated in a bitter divorce.

By January of 1980 he was already $5,300 behind in payments and ordered to appear in court for contempt hearings for his failure to pay.  The charges were dropped when he agreed to catch up on the over-due amounts and gave his wife a check for $1,000 which cleared the bank.  However, a second check to her attorney to pay for her legal expenses (which he had been ordered to pay) bounced.

In February of 1980, the judge was back in court for contempt hearings for failure to make the court ordered payments.  By then, Miller was $6,950 behind and half his state salary had been garnished.

In the hearing, Justice Miller was represented by John George, a Democrat Alameda County Supervisor.  Mrs. Miller was represented by a Beverly Hills attorney, Daniel Jaffe, Mrs. Miller couldn’t get a lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area to represent her because local attorneys didn’t relish the ides of offending a powerful appellate judge.

The hearing was settled in a closed meeting in the chambers of Judge Michael Ballachey.  Justice Miller agreed to pay the delinquent amount in monthly payments of $200 per month.

According to Daniel Jaffe, the hearing “no doubt – make that probably – saved Justice Miller from being held in contempt of court, and from being jailed.”

Despite the close call, Miller again failed to keep the divorce settlement.  In July of 1980, he was hauled back into the court for another contempt hearing.  By then, the amount he owed had grown to $8,300.

In the hearing, Judge Lyle Cook of the Alameda Superior Court found the “The record shows that he (Justice Miller) did have the money in hand to pay the support had he so wished.”  Cook found Miller guilty of contempt of court for failure to pay child support.  Miller was ordered to sell his “$205,000 home in Berkeley and to pay off his debts.”  Sentencing for the contempt charge was delayed to give Miller another chance to pay.

In all, Miller had been charged twenty-two times with contempt of court.

Comments

165 Responses to “Contempt of Court: Judges Fratianne and Miller”

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