Former Judge Danser Sentenced to House Arrest in Ticket-Fixing Case
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A former Santa Clara Superior Court judge who dismissed at least 33 traffic tickets for local celebrities — including professional athletes and wealthy executives charged with drunken driving — was sentenced yesterday to 90 days in jail.
But former Judge William Danser, found guilty of a felony and several misdemeanors related to obstruction of justice, may serve his sentence under house arrest with electronic monitoring.
Danser resigned from the bench effective July 19 in an agreement with the Commission on Judicial Performance. He also agreed to accept discipline for engaging in “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute,” to give up his right work as an assigned judge or on matters referred by state courts, and to waive his right to appeal whatever discipline is imposed by the CJP to the state Supreme Court.
Retired Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge William Kelsay, who presided over the trial, said the 50-year-old diabetic would likely not survive jail, and his family would suffer tremendously. Danser’s wife, Superior Court Judge Catherine Gallagher, is fighting breast cancer.
Danser, an obese, insulin-dependent man being treated for depression, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, must spend 400 hours in community service and remain on probation for three years.
Danser must also pay fines of $2,700 and repay county agencies roughly $200 for each ticket he dismissed. The felony conviction renders him ineligible for state retirement benefits.
The judge also sentenced former police detective Randy Bishop, who was found to have conspired with Danser in the ticket-fixing scheme, to the same terms and conditions. It’s unclear whether Bishop, 38, whose wife and children live in Vancouver, British Columbia, can leave the country or whether he must live in Santa Clara County for 90 days.
Kelsay insisted that Danser and Bishop receive the same punishment. During the two-month trial, each man blamed the other for a corruption ring that began in 1997.
“Truly this is not the worst case of corruption — it’s doing favors for friends and athletes,” Kelsay said. “But once the head of an organization shows any sign of permissiveness, it permeates the whole organization. We were all surprised how pervasive this became.”
Danser’s administrative staff, including a court reporter and bailiff, were not indicted.
San Jose Sharks goalie and former rookie of the year Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks President Greg Jamison, San Jose Earthquakes soccer forward Dwayne DeRosario and other local celebrities were named in the investigation. Many never paid fines or attended traffic school but simply passed tickets to Bishop, a former Los Gatos police detective and Sharks security consultant, who then had Danser dismiss them.
Ken Robinson, Danser’s attorney, said he was “disappointed” with the felony conviction. Robinson argued for misdemeanors so Danser could practice law and become a “productive citizen” again.
“It’s very devastating,” Robinson said after the sentencing. “His future’s not too bright in dealing with his own problems, but at least he’s got a loving, supportive family.”
The judge and the prosecutor expressed shock in court that neither defendant appeared contrite. Santa Clara County District Attorney David Pandori said the case revolved around “callousness, arrogance and people who think they’re above the law and think they deserve no more than a slap on the wrist.”
“This wasn’t a lapse of judgment or a simple mistake,” Pandori said. “They set up two systems of justice — one for their friends and acolytes, the other for everyone else.”
Craig Brown, Bishop’s attorney, refused to apologize for his client’s actions.
“He knows what he did, albeit with good intentions, subjected him to criminal prosecution,” Brown said.
Brown, who said Bishop could never return to law enforcement because of his felony conviction, said an appeal was unlikely.
The trial sparked anger from rank-and-file citizens who have never had tickets dismissed. A juror compared Danser with Martha Stewart. Hundreds of locals wrote letters to the judge.
“These turkeys think they’re above the law,” said Mary Ann Welch, 62, of Saratoga, a courtroom gadfly who attended most of the trial. She gasped or gesticulated wildly whenever defense attorneys proclaimed their clients’ innocence. “But when a regular citizen comes in front of a judge, we’re all expected to respect the black robe. It’s terrible.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company