Thursday, March 23, 2006
Judge Admits He Drove Drunk, Sought Preferential Treatment
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Riverside Superior Court judge who pled no contest to drunk driving charges last fall has admitted that he violated rules of judicial ethics by trying to persuade police to release him because of his office.
In a formal reply filed on his behalf by his attorney, Edward George, Judge Bernard J. Schwartz, 45, said the allegations filed against him by the Commission on Judicial Performance were true.
The commission last month charged Schwartz 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.
Schwartz acknowledged the conduct to which he 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.
He also admitted that he “repeatedly attempted to avoid being arrested and incarcerated and to other otherwise receive preferential treatment” based on his office.
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, 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 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, 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.”
‘No Professional Courtesy’
After another request to speak to a judge failed, he told the police that “there is no professional courtesy here anymore” and used vulgarity.
Schwartz was the second judge this year charged by the CJP with attempting to use the office to avoid a drunk driving arrest. Sonoma Superior Court Judge Elaine Rushing, in a response filed earlier this month, admitted having been drunk when police arrested her as she drove home from a friend’s house, but denied seeking special treatment based on her office.
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 is unopposed for re-election.
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