Wednesday, May 2, 2012
CJP Sets Hearing for Orange County Judge Charged With Trying to Fix Wife’s Traffic Ticket
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday it has scheduled a hearing for an Orange Superior Court judge with attempting to influence a fellow jurist’s handling of a traffic citation issued to the accused judge’s wife.
The hearing for Judge Salvador Sarmiento is set for June 13 at the Fourth District Court of Appeal courtroom in Santa Ana, at 9 a.m. The panel of special masters, appointed by the state Supreme Court, consists of Court of Appeal Presiding Justices Vance W. Raye of the Third District and Dennis M. Perluss of this district’s Div. Seven, and Alameda Superior Court Judge Ronni B. MacLaren.
Sarmiento, a commissioner of the Orange Superior Court from July 11, 1997 to Aug. 6, 2003, and a judge of the court from Aug. 7, 2003 to the present, is accused of willful misconduct in office, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, and improper action, meaning that he could be removed from the bench if the commission finds the charges true following formal proceedings.
If the charges are proven by clear and convincing evidence, the commission could order Sarmiento’s removal from office or impose a lesser penalty, such as censure.
The commission explained in a notice of formal proceedings, issued in February, that the judge’s wife was cited by Santa Ana police on Nov. 18, 2010, for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, but that she failed to pay the $234 bail or appear in court by the Jan. 19, 2011 deadline and the matter was sent to the court’s collection unit.
The commission alleges that Sarmiento approached the traffic commissioner, Carmen Luege, in February of last year and asked her to vacate the $300 civil assessment that had been added to the ticket as a result of the non-appearance.
The commission explained:
“The commissioner responded by telling you that she had to get back to court and would get back to you. You then took out a folded-up piece of paper and placed it on the commissioner’s desk, without saying what it was. It was the minutes for your wife’s ticket. The commissioner returned to her courtroom and you left her chambers.
“In the afternoon, after your calendar was concluded, you gave the courtroom clerk assigned to your department that day copy of the courtesy notice for your wife’s ticket, and asked him to check the status of the ticket. The clerk accessed the ticket information, and told you that the last action taken was the addition of the [civil assessment]. You responded that you were going to talk to ‘Carmen.’
“You then returned unannounced to the chambers of Commissioner Luege.”
Sarmiento, the CJP said, then asked if he could “at least get [a] trial date.” The commissioner eventually instructed the clerk to set a trial date, and the judge’s wife appeared, pled guilty, and paid the full fine, including the civil assessment.
The judge is represented by Los Angeles attorneys Randall A. Miller and Scott Newman of Miller LLP.
In his formal response to the charges, filed March 26, Sarmiento “emphatically” denied that he had done anything improper. His contacts with Leuge and with the court clerk, he said through his counsel, were merely designed to learn the proper procedures for dealing with the ticket.
“Judge Sarmiento’s sole and exclusive motivation was to handle this matter ethically and efficiently as possible, and “[n]o attempt was made to commit any illegal act and all actions were done openly and with no intent to deceive,” according to the response.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company