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Judge Receives Disability Pay for ‘Stage Fright’

February 15, 1990

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A judge who resigned after developing what he called ″stage fright″ on the bench has won a lifetime disability pension at age 44.

Former Municipal Judge Joseph K. Davis received the pension - currently worth $56,002 annually - to settle a dispute with a state agency over the severity of psychiatric problems he had after nine years on the bench.

Davis resigned a year ago, the final day of a six-year term. He had actually stopped working more than a year earlier, when he filed for a disability pension.

In the lawsuit filed last summer, Davis said he developed ″stage fright″ about a year after taking the bench.

Complicated by ″depression with anxiety,″ the problem became so bad that it interfered with Davis’ ability to perform routine judicial tasks and required him to take ″inordinate″ amounts of tranquilizers to get through the job, he said.

Despite efforts to hide the problem, it worsened to the point where he experienced panic in any public setting where he was expected to speak, he said.

There is no telephone listing for Davis in San Diego. His attorney, John Mitchell, said Wednesday he would not discuss the case.

Davis sued after the state Commission on Judicial Performance, which oversees the retirement benefits and discipline of judges, denied him a disability pension.

But in September, Superior Court Judge Kevin Midlam found the commission had acted arbitrarily. He said none of the four doctors who examined Davis disputed his claim that he could no longer perform his judicial functions.

Two months later, the commission chose to settle rather than appeal. Midlam approved the settlement providing for a pension for Davis.

The agreement included a stipulation striking Midlam’s finding that the agency acted arbitrarily.

″That was one of the reasons we entered into the settlement,″ said Jack Frankel, the commission’s director and chief counsel.

Frankel said the commission had contested Davis’ pension claim because it felt all avenues of treatment had not been exhausted.

But he said commission officials decided to work out a settlement soon after the judge’s September decision. ″We thought we wouldn’t be able to prevail if we carried it further,″ Frankel said.

State law provides for lifetime pensions totaling 65 percent of an active judge’s salary for any ex-jurists who no longer can do the job because of a mental or physical disability that is permanent or is likely to become so.

The pension is tied to salaries paid active Municipal Court judges, so Davis’ pension could increase.

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