Thursday, April 16, 2009
Riverside’s ‘Jogging Judge’ Sheldon Agrees to Resignation, Censure
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Riverside Superior Court Judge Christopher Sheldon has agreed to accept censure, resign from the bench, and never seek judicial office or sit on assignment, the Commission on Judicial Performance disclosed yesterday.
Sheldon, 60, was dubbed the “Jogging Judge” after being publicly admonished in 1998 for leaving his courtroom clerks to sign off on negotiated criminal dispositions while he ran up and down the courthouse stairs for exercise.
The commission yesterday issued a public decision approving the stipulation reached between its staff and Sheldon. Commission Chair and Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Judith D. McConnell said that “[u]nfortunately the issuance of a public admonishment did not deter Judge Sheldon from abandoning his judicial responsibilities in the future.”
She said that Sheldon’s continued routine of “working part-time while being paid a full-time salary” was “utterly unacceptable and casts disrepute upon the judicial office.”
The commission filed a notice of formal proceedings against the judge in January, charging him with misconduct in routinely leaving the courthouse for the day before noon, after concluding his dependency calendar, without informing his supervising judge or receiving authorization for his half-day absence.
In his Jan. 29 response to the commission, Sheldon acknowledged that he used to leave the Indo courthouse after completing the dependency calendar, which usually occurred before noon, but denied that his superiors were unaware of this practice.
“In fact, no superior raised any issue with me regarding my hours until September 12, 2008, and when it was raised, I conformed my hours to their expectations, he said. He also denied, without elaboration, that he was unavailable to do other judicial work in the afternoons.
A three-judge panel was appointed to hear evidence in the case before Sheldon, his counsel—San Diego attorneys Reginald A. Vitek and Heather L. Rosing—and commission lawyer Andrew S. Blum proposed a stipulated resolution of the inquiry.
The stipulation was executed on March 18, pursuant to which Sheldon has agreed to tender his irrevocable resignation from judicial office, and to not preside over any judicial proceedings after May 12.
He will then go on leave, approved by his presiding judge, until Oct. 23, when he will complete his 20th year of service and be eligible to retire with maximum benefits.
Sheldon admitted that between early 2007 and late 2008, he routinely left the courthouse early and did not seek to make himself available to other judicial work during these absences.
In addition to violating the California Rules of Court, Sheldon agreed that he failed to observe the standards of conduct for judicial officers, failed to act in a manner that promoted public confidence in the judiciary, and failed to diligently discharge his administrative responsibilities.
McConnell said that Sheldon “demonstrated a flagrant disregard for his obligations to his fellow judges, the public and the reputation of the judiciary,” explaining that his responsibilities were not limited to the completion of his daily calendar.
“Judges who conclude their calendars early in the day may be assigned other duties, including presiding over cases other courts are unable to handle,” she wrote, emphasizing that unapproved absences “can have a significant impact on the operation of the court, especially in a county such as Riverside with as longstanding and well-publicized backlog of court cases.”
Sheldon was previously disciplined for running a misdemeanor pretrial calendar by having the attorneys negotiate dispositions, generally involving negotiated pleas in exchange for probation, with or without jail time, and leaving it to the court clerks to stamp his name on the orders.
In that case, the commission found that Sheldon was derelict in not personally taking the bench and making certain that the defendants were entering their pleas knowingly and voluntarily, in not imposing sentences in open court, and in leaving the courthouse during the calendar on one occasion without arranging for another judicial officer to cover.
It also found that he engaged in improper extrajudicial activity by exercising on the stairs while his courtroom was in session, and that he had undermined confidence in the judiciary.
Sheldon has been a judge since October 1989, when then-Gov. George Deukmejian named him to the now-defunct Desert Municipal Court. He had been a sole practitioner in Blythe for more than six years before that, and was a Riverside County deputy district attorney earlier in his career.
He was elevated to the Riverside Superior Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1992 and assigned to the juvenile dependency department in Indio in 2005. He did not return a call seeking comment on his resignation.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company