Friday, April 4, 2003
Former Fresno Judge Censured, Barred From Assignments
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A former Fresno Superior Court judge and Commission on Judicial Performance member has been censured and barred from receiving court assignments, the CJP said yesterday.
Vincent J. McGraw agreed to the discipline in January, the CJP disclosed, in a stipulation that remained confidential pending commission approval, which apparently came at a meeting last week. The vote was 9-0, with two members not participating.
McGraw, 56, admitted that he lied about his use of a courthouse computer to view Internet pornography and threatened a baseless lawsuit against a local television station that disclosed what he had done. In fact, he had been privately admonished by the CJP for misusing the computer four years before denying to reporters that the conduct had ever occurred.
McGraw was defeated for reelection last year, one day after the court’s presiding judge made public the previous private discipline that the judge had denied ever receiving. Although his term did not expire until the beginning of this year, he took a leave of absence last August—apparently right after learning that the CJP intended to bring formal proceedings—and resigned three days after the commission made the charges public.
He has since moved out of the state.
Although he is no longer a judge, the commission said, censure and a bar on future employment in the court system—the maximum penalty that can be imposed on an ex-judge—is appropriate in order to “reassure the public that such misconduct will be investigated and disciplined even after a judge leaves office.”
The issue arose in February of last year, when McGraw—then a candidate for re-election, denied to a television reporter that he had used his courthouse computer to surf for pornography.
He also told the reporter that there was “no evidence so far to substantiate the allegations” and that he was considering “filing a lawsuit in order to protect my reputation against a reckless story.”
When asked whether Judge James L. Quashnick—who was presiding judge in 1998—had spoken to him about his use of the computer, he insisted that he had not. And he told the reporter that “the questions you’re asking me are very troubling because this is something that would have been the subject of judicial discipline and I have not been disciplined for these things that you are talking about.”
The issue was picked up on by McGraw’s opponent, Fresno attorney Jon Kapetan, who told the Fresno Bee that McGraw showed a “total lack of judgment and abuse of the public’s trust.” McGraw then told the newspaper that he could not discuss the matter because it was within the jurisdiction of the CJP, and said he should not have issued the earlier denial.
Kapetan responded by noting that commission rules, while imposing silence on CJP members and staff, explicitly permit judges who have been investigated to comment publicly if they wish. McGraw lost the election by a 53 to 47 percent margin after the presiding judge—who had previously withheld comment pending consultation with the CJP—disclosed the prior discipline.
In agreeing to the censure, McGraw publicly acknowledged for the first time that he had been admonished for use of the county computer that was “inappropriate” and that “breached county computer protocol.” He admitted using the computer to view sex sites for a total of more than 100 hours “before, during and after regular court business hours” and on weekends during an eight-month period in 1998, during the time he served on the CJP.
The admonishment, while not known to the general public at the time, may have cost McGraw a chance to return to the commission after losing his seat due to a constitutional quirk.
McGraw was a judge of the Consolidated Fresno Municipal Court in 1997, when the state Supreme Court appointed him to a four-year term on the commission, filling the seat set aside by the state Constitution for a municipal court judge. But McGraw lost that seat when Fresno County courts unified under Proposition 220 and he became a Superior Court judge.
The seat was still vacant six months later, during which time several more counties unified and the number of counties that still had municipal courts dwindled into the single digits. Under a provision of Proposition 220, that effectively converted McGraw’s old CJP seat into a seat for a superior court judge, making him eligible for reappointment.
But instead of reselecting McGraw and allowing him to complete the term that he was appointed to originally, the high court chose Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Madeleine I. Flier. That appointment, it turns out, came six weeks after McGraw drew the private admonishment.
In the stipulation for censure, McGraw also admitted violating rules designed to separate the judicial function from judges’ re-election campaigns. He acknowledged using the court’s mail system to solicit backing, seeking support from courthouse workers during business hours, using a photograph of himself with court employees without obtaining the employees’ consent, and leaving the courthouse to campaign without clearing his calendar.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company