The judges were disciplined for their dalliances, sort of, but they were the rare exception when the commission considered the 1,174 complaints filed against the judiciary last year. The commission’s report was consistent with previous years: judges are rarely disciplined in any meaningful way for their behavior on the bench.
Either jurists are a very disciplined, righteous group who conduct themselves in a fashion that is above criticism, or it’s hard to bring complaints against judges and make them stick.
Of the 1,174 complaints brought to the commission, 1,039 were closed after an initial review by the staff. Ninety of the remaining 135 were closed without discipline. Two were closed after the judges involved resigned.
Of the 43 remaining complaints, 29 received private advisory letters of rebuke and nine got private admonishments. That left five judges to face public discipline. Three received public admonishments, two were publicly censured and none were removed from office.
Only one judge has been removed in the last six years. Numbers in 2014 were nearly identical to 2013, except for 38% more confidential advisory letters, which “range from a mild suggestion to a severe rebuke.” Advisory letters are sometimes used “when there is actionable misconduct offset by substantial mitigation,” according to the report.
The two public censures in 2014 were for the aforementioned boinking in the courthouse. Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner, who was elected to a six-year term in 2010, admitted that he had “engaged in sexual activity in his chambers on multiple occasions, with two women.” He engaged in intercourse with one woman in his chambers during working hours, but the commission pointed out the court was not in session.
Both women were former law students in classes the judge had taught. One of the women went on to intern for the judge while the other became a lawyer who practiced in OC Superior Court.
Kern County Superior Court Judge Cory Woodward was censured for having sex with a clerk, whom he brought with him when moving from civil to criminal courts before ending up in the family law department. Besides having sex in the judge’s chambers, “he also engaged in sexual activities with her in public places” and was spotted by a member of the public making an “inappropriate sexual gesture” to the clerk in the courtroom, while off the bench.
The other three public spankings were in the form of admonishments. Former Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald M. Sohigian was chastised for his general sarcastic demeanor and disrespect for lawyers. The report highlighted a few favorites, including his response to a lawyer who asked why something wasn’t ruled as hearsay: “I’ll explain it to you sometime when you pay tuition.” He was admonished in 2007 for the same stuff.
Solano County Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Healy was publicly admonished for picking on family law litigants. He threatened to lock up one couple, although he admitted he really couldn’t do that, and told one mom her kid was “screwed” because she wasn’t “smart enough” to avoid him having to change schools. Healy counseled another couple that if they exposed their daughter to “one-fifth of the attitude” he was getting, “they might as well have her start walking the streets as a hooker.”
San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Joseph Scott blew a 0.12 on a breath test after police pulled him over for erratic driving. The legal limit is 0.08. He pleaded no contest and was publicly sanctioned for getting caught.
That is apparently a worse offense than the behavior exhibited by the nine judges who received private admonishments. Their names were not made public and some facts were withheld to disguise the disgraced.
They did things like hold a juror in contempt without listening to what turned out to be a legitimate explanation for why he was late returning to the jury box. One judge often left court early to play sports. Another issued a restraining order “without jurisdiction over the restrained individual and without according due process.” The others were similar run-of-the-mill abuses of power indicative of ingrained attitude and behavior.
The commission report does not name the two judges who resigned while investigations of them were pending.