Sunday Commentary: An Inappropriate Nomination

rosenbergSitting Judge Nominates His Own Wife For a Civic Award –

When I first saw the list of Thon Hy Hunh award nominees, and saw that Lea Rosenberg had won the award for Humanitarian, I thought very little about it.  After all, anyone who knows Lea, understand and appreciates the years of work she has done in our community.

She is a longtime volunteer who works very hard and is totally devoted to many non-profits who do humanitarian work.

It was only when I saw that her husband, a former Mayor but a sitting Judge, had nominated her, that I got an unsettling knot in the pit of my stomach.

It is inappropriate for a husband to nominate his wife for an award.  It would be like nominating oneself.  It is a conflict of interest and strikes of self-promotion if not more.

What makes this worse is that dozens in this community would gladly have stepped in to nominate Mrs. Rosenberg, who is a very appropriate nominee, but for judge Rosenberg to do so looks self-serving.  And it cheapens the award which, has a distinguished history in this community, honoring people for public service and commitment to civil rights in our community.

Moreover, as a sitting Judge, in fact the presiding Judge, David Rosenberg ought to stay out of such trivial matters.  This would be like Judge Mock nominating his wife Ann Hurd for Prosecutor of the Year.  She may well be deserving of it, but family should not be nominating family.

What is amazing is the disconnect between Judge David Rosenberg who sits on the bench in Yolo County and the one who, for whatever reason, gets bogged down in these sort of self-promoting activities.

Judge Rosenberg, if I should have the misfortune of being accused of a crime, would be the judge I would want to preside over my case.  He is fair-minded, he is caring, he knows the law and he treats people with respect and decency.

He is a good and decent person and has often used his positions to help people in need.  He shows a level of compassion and decency that is often missing in our judicial system. 

Many of our judges do not even pay lip-service to compassion.  Judge Rosenberg has demonstrated it on a consistent basis from the bench in a way that not only brings humanity to the courtroom, but also a sense of fair play.

At the same time, for whatever reason, he is prone to enormous lapses in judgment.  The building of the new courthouse is a good example.

Few people who utilize the current courthouse would doubt that the Yolo County Court facilities are badly in need upgrading, either through a remodel or a new building that would enable all of the courts to operate within a single building, without exposing the public and staff to the security risks of marching in-custody defendants through common-use hallways that the public inhabit.

Unfortunately, we have talked to many in the community who are just appalled that, at a time when public employees are being laid off and people are jobless, such a grandiose courthouse is being proposed.

Sadly, the court itself is not immune to such cutbacks.  Court staff have been laid off.  There are furlough days.  And recently many of the law enforcement officers who provided security through the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department had to be laid off as well.

When such financing schemes were called into question by people like Davis City Councilmember Sue Greenwald,  Davis Enterprise Columnist Rich Rifkin and myself, Judge Rosenberg took it upon himself to respond in an op-ed.

While on the one hand, I do not think it is appropriate for sitting judge to so publicly weigh in to a public policy matter, on the other hand it showed his hand, that even the mild criticism generated was enough to force a response.

It demonstrated how important the new courthouse was to his legacy.  Perhaps he likes the idea of a new courthouse bearing the name, “Judge Davis Rosenberg Courthouse?”

I am not suggesting that is his only motivation, but it is obvious that he views the new courthouse as some sort of legacy.

I believe it is inappropriate for Judge Rosenberg to have nominated his own wife for a municipal award.  It puts the Human Relations Commission in a bad position of deciding between choosing a worthy recipient, which Lea Rosenberg is, of the award, and choosing proper process.  Having husbands or family members nominating their spouses or other loved-ones cheapens the award and wreaks of nepotism.

Unfortunately, no one took this into consideration and now the city council is largely stuck with this decision.  The only reassurance they have is that Lea Rosenberg is worthy and deserving of the award in her own right.  But I would hope the council would amend nominating procedures to avoid a repeat of this in the future.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 Comments

  1. Ryan Kelly

    I disagree with you on this one.

    Lea works tirelessly to help the less fortunate in our community. Her current efforts to provide scholarships to former foster kids who would like to attend college, grants to foster children who have aged out of the system and are now on their own, and more are activities that I support.

    I think that there is a problem with current Board members nominating their family members, but I don’t think this should extend to the community. Would you have rather he found a friend of the family to nominate her? Do you think this would really make a difference?

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Ryan:

    First of all, “Lea works tirelessly to help the less fortunate in our community.” I said as much. I agree she is worthy.

    And yes, I believe he should have gotten a friend to nominate her, I’m sure there is no shortage of people in the community that glad would have.

    Would it make a difference? Yes. She wouldn’t have had her husband and a sitting judge nominate her. I think that’s a problem.

    Again, I agree with you about her merits, there is no disputing them.

  3. hpierce

    [quote]But I would hope the council would amend nominating procedures to avoid a repeat of this in the future.[/quote]I respectfully disagree with you on whether someone, for ANY reason, can’t make a nomination. That smells like prior restraint on ‘free speech’… is that something you/we want to espouse (pun intended). That being said, any [b]real[/b] problem would be if those who evaluated the nominations were [b]swayed[/b] BY WHO THE NOMINATOR WAS, EITHER FOR OR AGAINST.

    I do not know Lea personally, but from my encounters, and from talking to those who do know her, and or have worked with her on projects, she is “Aces”. We are very lucky to have her in the community.

    Did Judge Dave commit a gaffe? Perhaps. I leave that to others.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    I don’t see how it is a prior restraint issue, there are already rules against conflicts of interest, this would merely expand that definition. I guess I’ll have to say this in every post I make in response, there is no question she is worthy of the award.

  5. Phil Coleman

    “Conflict of interest” constraints control persons in authority who would personally benefit with favorable support, most commonly financial benefit. In this instance, Judge Rosenberg would not gain personally other than the pride in a spouse’s indisputable achievements going decades past.

    As politically astute as Dave is, I’m puzzled as to why he took this action on his own initiative. Indeed, there are legions of people who would have submitted her name on Lea’s behalf. If this is the worst misdeed that Judge Rosenberg makes in his remaining years of public service, I’d give him a pass on this rather insignificant issue.

  6. Rifkin

    I agree with David Greenwald and am confused by the comments of Ryan Kelly, who seems to have missed David’s point, and HPierce, whose thoughts on “prior restraint” are completely off-base.

    This is really simply an issue of “appropriateness.” And as David said explicitly, there are a great number of others in Davis who could have and would have nominated Mrs. Rosenberg for this award.

    I have no experience or opinion regarding Judge Rosenberg in the courtroom. Mr. Greenwald surely would. However, I think outside the courtroom, in the public arena, Dave Rosenberg has demonstrated here and in other respects a serious lack of judgment.

    It’s arguably not all that important that he acted inappropriately in this one award matter. But it does confirm to me that his lack of judgment was not limited to his misguided attack on my column ([url]http://lexicondaily.blogspot.com/2011/04/judge-rosenberg-claims-my-column-was.html[/url]).

  7. E Roberts Musser

    What difference does it make who nominates persons for an award? As long as the Human Relations Commission is not somehow “rigged” with friends of Rosenberg, which I do not believe is the case, then I really don’t see a problem here. Is there some rule against nominating one’s spouse that I don’t know about?

  8. hpierce

    Let me clarify my comment. Arguably, judge Dave was ‘out of line’, “boorish”, however you characterize it, I wouldn’t have done it if I was him. I’m not. I agree with David’s statement, [quote]I believe it is inappropriate for Judge Rosenberg to have nominated his own wife for a municipal award.[/quote]

    But, my point is should he be “allowed” to do it? Should the city have a policy against being “inappropriate”? Kiss “public comment” at CC meetings goodbye… I read the thrust of David’s comments to be that the fact that the nomination from Judge Dave should have been dismissed and never even forwarded to the HRC. How else can he criticize the process and yet affirm the result?

    Should the CC have guidelines saying the HRC [b]shall[/b] reject all nominations made from a spouse? Or should they simply be admonished to ignore the source, neither with favoritism nor prejudice, and evaluate the nominees based on the facts. I would support this. If any members of the HRC are not ‘strong enough’ to ignore the source of the nomination, perhaps they should be removed, in favor of those who can be independent. The Commissions/committees supposedly exist to give independent advice to the CC (& the community). If this cannot happen, let’s save some money and get rid of them.

  9. roger bockrath

    For sure, the $178,000,000. Rosenberg courthouse issue and this very minor award nomination gaffe are two separate issues. But one added to the other creates the impression that Presiding Judge Dave Rosenberg, in his relentless career climbing, is very concerned about prestige. In the dog eat dog world in which the Alpha class(those folks who always win the game, rules be damned)operate, prestige is power. Having that name in the media is worth a lot of campaign donations. It will be interesting to follow the meteoric career path of Judge Rosenberg to see how far our $178,000,000. donation to his next campaign will take him.

  10. civil discourse

    I don’t think it matters. Unless there are rules preventing it. This one reads a bit like a gossip column. The award recipient should stand on their own merits.

    Rifkin: C’mon, really? Where you see pattern, I see blatant blog promotion.

  11. Mr.Toad

    “When such financing schemes were called into question by people like Davis City Councilmember Sue Greenwald, Davis Enterprise Columnist Rich Rifkin and myself, Judge Rosenberg took it upon himself to respond in an op-ed.

    While on the one hand, I do not think it is appropriate for sitting judge to so publicly weigh in to a public policy matter, on the other hand it showed his hand, that even the mild criticism generated was enough to force a response.”

    It is no more a problem for the head judge of a county to defend the construction of a courthouse in that county than it would be for the Chief Justices of the California or US Supreme Courts to speak on behalf of the courts under their jurisdiction. It is different for judges to be involved in party politics and while Dave Rosenberg likes party politics and often comes up to the line he knows better than to cross it.

  12. JustSaying

    Mark me down on the side of the “who cares?” folks. David, you should have stuck with your initial impression, that Ms. Rosenberg was judged more than deserving of this award by the group assigned to the task–a selection with which you agreed.” So, why engage in this petty exercise about a worthy person?[quote]“It was only when I saw that her husband, a former Mayor but a sitting Judge, had nominated her, that I got an unsettling knot in the pit of my stomach.”[/quote]The next time this happens, take a pill or try some deep-breathing exercises.

    I’ve observed that you’ve been similarly afflicted many times recently. I’d be hard pressed to come up with any action by a Yolo judge that hasn’t been criticized by the [u]Vanguard[/u] during the last year. Conversely, I haven’t read much about defense attorneys other than that their opinions and comments are meaningful and truthful without further examination.

    But, I’m surprised you’d be so spiteful to someone who you agree deserves the award. This is a trivial pursuit, not up to the usual [u]Vanguard[/u] topic standards. To compound it, you’re just plain incorrect.[quote]“The Thong Hy Huynh Award process has been developed to be as inclusive and as transparent as possible in order to protect the integrity of the award.”[/quote]You didn’t say how hard you had to dig to get this scoop. But, It seems the City and Human Relations Commission would be among the first disappointed if you had to get the information via some secret source in City Hall.

    As I read through the rest of their guidelines, I see that “nominations may be submitted by anyone” (including commissioners and council members). And Commissioners (and [u]only[/u] Commissioners) “cannot nominate a family member, partner or spouse.”[quote]“It is inappropriate for a husband to nominate his wife for an award. It would be like nominating oneself. It is a conflict of interest and strikes of self-promotion if not more.”[/quote]Where do you come up with this rule? Sez who? Certainly not those in charge of the Huynh Memorial Award, for they obviously already have affirmatively considered your made-up rule and chose not to do it your way.[quote]“I believe it is inappropriate for Judge Rosenberg to have nominated his own wife for a municipal award. It puts the Human Relations Commission in a bad position of deciding between choosing a worthy recipient…and choosing proper process.”[/quote]What does this sentence even mean? The Commission followed [b]its process[/b] (not yours), and it chose the same worthy recipient that you would have picked if they had done it the way you think they should have.

    The Commission was [u]not[/u] “put in a bad position” by the judge submitting his wife’s name. I think it’s kind of sweet, in fact, taking time from his busy judge life to support his wife’s good works this way.

  13. E Roberts Musser

    To Just Saying: Thanks for doing the research as to whether there was some specific rule against nominating one’s spouse. Obviously there isn’t unless you are a member of the Human Relations Commission itself. Thus it was perfectly permissible for Judge Rosenberg to nominate his wife, who seems for all intents and purposes to be very worthy of the award she is receiving. My congratulations to Lea Rosenberg for the award; and thanks to Judge Rosenberg for nominating a worthy candidate. I just don’t see a scintilla of a problem here…

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