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Thursday, July 11, 2013

RETRACT THIS: Attorney Darryl Wayne Genis has demanded a retraction from me. It involves what appears to be a nitpicky point, but I intend to give him one anyway. For those just tuning in, Genis has emerged as Santa Barbara’s best-known lawyer, specializing exclusively in defending people charged with driving while under the influence. More than that, he reigns as the id monster of the local court scene, infuriating judges and prosecutors alike with his open contempt, saying out loud things that most attorneys are afraid to even think. Court documents indicate he informed one judge, “I feel sorry for your shortsightedness,” and is famous for referring to Judge George Eskin as “Georgie Porgie.” Judge Frank Ochoa he once called, “a petty-minded self-absorbed power monger,” not to mention, “a pro-Mexican-American racist.” Of a prosecuting attorney he recently beat, he was quoted in the News-Press boasting, “I slit her throat and she doesn’t even know she’s bleeding.”

Angry Poodle

As with most courthouse performers, the mystery surrounding Genis is whether he wears the mask or the mask wears him. Loud and flamboyant, Genis dresses like a leprechaun on crack. There’s an unconfirmed story making the rounds that Genis recently bought a suit off Elton John because the singer found it too outlandish. If it’s not true, it should be. In action, however, Genis is part tsunami, part wrecking ball, and all attack. On a strictly animal level, Genis is a marvel, prolific beyond belief and a force of nature for whom sleep seems utterly beside the point. Genis, it must be acknowledged, has won two major victories involving the Santa Barbara Police Department in the last year and is riding high. But he also finds himself in serious hot water with the bench. Judge Jean Dandona recently found Genis in contempt of court for calling prosecuting attorney Hannah Lucy a “little girl” in Dandona’s courtroom. She offered Genis an opportunity to apologize ​— ​which he did ​— ​but the judge deemed his contrition contrived and insincere. So she fined him $1,000, citing his “disorderly, contemptuous, and insolent behavior.” That doesn’t sound like much, but in court circles, it’s a very big deal.

Last week, I wrote ​— ​in my alter ego as a news reporter ​— ​a brief news article on the subject. In closing, I noted that judges George Eskin and Frank Ochoa had been so put off by Genis’s courtroom antics that they’d recused themselves from hearing any of his cases. While Genis never replied to any of my emails for comment prior to the writing of the article, he wasted little time demanding a retraction almost immediately upon publication. I was factually inaccurate on a key detail, he pointed out. Judge Ochoa, Genis insisted, did not recuse himself from hearing Genis’s cases in 2007; Ochoa, in fact, was ordered by another judge not to hear any of Genis’s cases because of an action brought by Genis alleging Ochoa was biased against Genis. Ochoa had called Genis ​— ​in open court ​— ​“the most unethical attorney I have encountered in my judicial career.” Genis has a point, so let me set the record straight. There are three court rulings on the matter. In two, independent judges from outside Santa Barbara County upheld Ochoa’s ability to preside impartially. But another case went the other way. On May 25, 2007, Judge Lee Cooper, then a retired assignment judge, concluded that a rational person might question Ochoa’s ability to remain impartial. Ochoa had threatened to file an official misconduct complaint against Genis, Cooper noted, and Genis had, in fact, filed such a complaint against Ochoa. Cooper, in his ruling, also praised Ochoa for displaying “a commendable level of patience” in dealing with Genis’s “insincere apologies” and “apparent misrepresentations.” As for Genis, the judge said he was “not always careful with the truth,” that he conducted himself in court “in a condescending, supercilious manner,” and that “his circumlocutious explanations seem disingenuous at best.” Cooper termed Genis’s conduct “deplorable,” adding, he “should be reported to the State Bar!” Last August, the Appellate Division of the San Luis Obispo County bench fined Genis $750 for repeatedly failing to show up despite being personally ordered ​— ​multiple times ​— ​to do so. The panel of judges described Genis’s oral arguments “a parade of insults and affronts,” taking particular exception to Genis’s description of the judges as “women in a sewing circle” gossiping about attorneys. They concluded monetary sanctions were not enough for Genis. “Something more therapeutic needs to be done,” they explained in ordering a copy of their opinion be sent to the California State Bar for disciplinary action. They differed from Cooper only in the omission of the exclamation mark.

For the record, Genis has since objected that shortly before he called Hannah Lucy a “little girl,” she had called him an “asshole.” This she did, he claimed, while walking out of Judge Eskin’s courtroom and into Dandona’s. I do not know Lucy, but I’d bet $100 she did it. When I called for a confirmation or denial, her supervisor Gary Gemberling called me back instead, to say he had been in court that day and never heard the A-word epithet hurled. To most reporters, that’s as close to an admission one can make without actually making one. Last Wednesday, Genis mysteriously sought to file “a hybrid contempt” against Lucy into Eskin’s courtroom despite Eskin’s blanket recusal. Things got hot fast. Based on second- and third-hand accounts, Genis prefaced his argument by identifying himself as “an officer of the court.” This reportedly inflamed Eskin, who countered that Genis was not an officer of the court in Eskin’s courtroom, where Genis was not allowed to practice law. Eskin then accused Genis of lying to him in his courtroom and then reportedly stood up and walked out of the room. Fireworks like that were not seen on the Fourth of July. Genis has since filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Performance.

So Darryl, there’s your retraction. But maybe the point isn’t so nitpicky after all.

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