Wednesday, April 14, 2004
CJP Slates Misconduct Hearing for Superior Court Judge John D. Harris
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday it had scheduled a May 24 judicial misconduct hearing for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John D. Harris.
The commission also disclosed that the state Supreme Court has named Court of Appeal Justice Eileen C. Moore of the Fourth District’s Div. Three, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Morris, and Ventura Superior Court Judge Henry J. Walsh as the special masters who will conduct the hearing.
The masters will report their findings to the 11-member commission, which has final authority over the discipline to be imposed, if any, subject to review by the Supreme Court. The hearing will take place at the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals building in Pasadena.
The CJP, in a formal notice made public Feb. 19, accused Harris of seeking to establish personal relationships with sexual assault victims, making inappropriately personal comments to jurors, attorneys, and court staff, throwing a file at a deputy city attorney, and lying during an investigation into his conduct.
The CJP alleges that after two felony sexual assault trials in 2000, Harris met in chambers with the victims and sought to initiate personal relationships. One of the victims was only 16 years old, the notice of charges points out, and the Court of Appeal cited the meeting in ordering the defendant resentenced by a different judge.
On eight occasions in 2002 and 2003, the CJP claims, the judge made comments to or about female attorneys, court staff members, or jurors that were inappropriately flirtatious or sexual. The comments included invitations to have lunch, a remark that a staff member was “cute,” and thanking a lawyer for not challenging an attractive female juror because “[a] judge has to have something to look at during trial.”
The most recent incident, the CJP alleges, took place in October, after the judge had already been notified that he was being investigated. Harris remarked to a female security officer screening visitors for weapons at the South Gate courthouse, “Let’s go to chambers so you can search me,” the CJP’s notice asserts.
The file-throwing incident, the CJP alleges, took place in October 2002 and involved Deputy City Attorney Chadd Kim. After the incident, the judge “continued to be abrupt and impatient with Ms. Kim,” and he later exhibited anger when Kim filed a peremptory challenge preventing him from hearing another case, the notice claims.
Harris also recommended women to a male deputy city attorney for dates and failed to disqualify himself or disclose their relationship when the lawyer appeared before him, the CJP said.
The CJP said Harris lied when he stated, in his response to a preliminary investigation letter sent to him in August, that he had never been “counseled, criticized or reprimanded” concerning his conduct by court officials.
In fact, the CJP alleges, Judge Carol Rehm Jr., then the Criminal Courts assistant supervising judge, spoke with Harris in December of 2002, advising him of concerns about his “interactions with young, female attorneys.”
Four months later, the notice relates, Harris met with Presiding Judge Robert A. Dukes, Assistant Presiding Judge William McLaughlin, then-Criminal Courts Supervising Judge Dan Oki, and Rehm to discuss the complaints about his conduct again. At that time the judge was told he would be transferred to South Gate, the CJP said.
Harris filed an answer denying the allegations March 3. He is represented by Long Beach attorney Edward P. George Jr., who has said the allegations are founded on misinterpretations of Harris’ behavior.
Harris, formerly a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge, was elected to the Superior Court in 1998. He did not draw an opponent for re-election, and would be returned to office without opposition unless a petition in support of the election of a write-in candidate is signed by 100 qualified voters and filed by Aug. 11.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company