Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Riverside Judge Charged With Misconduct Over DUI Incident
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Riverside Superior Court judge who pled no contest to drunk driving charges last fall was formally charged with misconduct yesterday by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
The commission charged Judge Bernard J. Schwartz, 45, with two counts of willful misconduct, the most serious level of misconduct under the commission’s procedures, based upon the incident that occurred in Pismo Beach last July.
In one count, the commission reiterates the conduct to which Schwartz entered his plea, driving with a blood alcohol level shown by a breath test to be either .17 or .18 percent, more than twice the legal threshold.
In the second count, the commission charges that the judge “repeatedly attempted to avoid being arrested and incarcerated and to other otherwise receive preferential treatment” based on his office.
The commission alleges that after twice swerving across double solid lines on the road, Schwartz was stopped and, when asked to take a test for alcohol, asked “Did you run my license yet?’ When the officer responded in the negative, the commission said, Schwartz suggested that he do so “and then we can talk.”
When the officer asked if Schwartz was claiming to be a police officer, the jurist responded, “No, I’m a judge.”
When informed that his test results showed that he was well over the limit, the commission alleged, Schwarz suggested that he be allowed to simply return to the hotel where he was spending the weekend.
When the officer told him several times that he had to treat the judge in an “unbiased” manner, Schwartz allegedly told him that this was impairing the judge’s career because he would have to report himself to the CJP and was also up for re-election in 2006.
The officer, the CJP said, responded that “if I let you go, it could impair my career,” but the judge continued to ask if he could simply go back to his hotel.
Eventually, the commission said, Schwarz was taken to the police station and told that he would be held in custody until the next morning unless his wife, who was several hours away, could pick him up. When he asked if he could speak to a local judge, he was told that he could not “because you are a citizen of the State of California and we’re treating you like a everybody else.”
After another request to speak to a judge failed, he told the police that “there is no professional courtesy here anymore” and used vulgarity, the commission charged.
Schwartz becomes the second judge in two weeks to be charged by the CJP with attempting to use the office to avoid a drunk driving arrest. Sonoma Superior Court Judge Elaine Rushing was the target of such charges last week.
Schwartz, who is represented by Long Beach attorney Edward P. George Jr., has until March 13 to respond to the charges, following which a panel of three special masters will likely be appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear evidence.
If the commission eventually determines that the charges are true, discipline could range from admonishment to censure or removal from office.
George was not available late yesterday for comment on the charges against his client.
Schwartz was named a judge by then-Gov. Gray Davis in October 2003. He was a Riverside Superior Court commissioner from 2000 until his appointment to the judgeship.
He was a partner in Johnston and Schwartz, specializing in criminal defense, at the time of his appointment as commissioner and was previously a Riverside deputy public defender.
He earned his law degree at McGeorge School of Law.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company