Censure is the toughest discipline the commission can impose short of removing the judge. It mostly consists of saying harsh things about the judge’s failure to conduct himself in an ethical fashion. Both jurists acknowledged their indiscretions and “expressed great remorse and contrition.”
Orange County 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.
Still, the commission considered boinking in the courthouse “the height of irresponsible and improper behavior by a judge.”
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 Orange County Superior Court.
Kern County Judge Cory Woodward moved from civil to criminal court in 2012 and 2013 before ending up in the family law department, and with each move pressed to have the clerk with whom he was intimate accompany him. “He opposed and resisted any efforts to reassign the clerk,” the commission wrote.
Besides having sex in the judge’s chambers, “he also engaged in sexual activities with her in public places.” Judge Woodward was also spotted by a member of the public making an “inappropriate sexual gesture” to the clerk in the courtroom, while off the bench. The judge passed her notes of a sexual nature during court proceedings.
The clerk’s husband was not amused and complained to the court executive officer who recommended to the judge he reassign the clerk. He did not. A big chunk of the complaint against Woodward is that he misled court officials about the nature of his relationship. But “his effort to prevent the clerk’s reassignment is as egregious as his misconduct related to his libidinous activities with his clerk.”
The commission said actions by the Governor Schwarzenegger appointee—re-elected in 2008 and running unopposed this year—were sufficient to toss him off the bench.
But the members were swayed by mitigating circumstances. The “Mitigation” section of the 18-page commission decision is four sentences long; it includes the judge’s apology and one-sentence testimonials from two other judges.
“As such, the commission is satisfied the Judge Woodward is unlikely to engage in misconduct of a similar nature in the future.”