Friday, July 7, 2012
Orange County Judge Accepts Censure by CJP
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
An Orange Superior Court judge has agreed to be censured for attempting to obtain a favorable disposition of his wife’s traffic case from a fellow jurist, the Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday.
The commission issued the censure pursuant to a stipulation between Judge Salvador Sarmiento and Senior Assistant Attorney General Gary W. Schons, who served as the examiner, or prosecutor, in the case.
In its formal decision, the commission said it had agreed to accept the stipulation, rather than go forward with proceedings that could have resulted in the judge’s removal from office, because Sarmiento’s conduct in the one matter appeared to be aberrational. It distinguished its action in that regard from its removal of former Orange Superior Court Judge Richard Stanford, who was ousted earlier for waiving or reducing traffic fines and penalties for several friends and family members over a five-year period.
Public censure, the commission said, is a “severe sanction” that reflects the seriousness of the judge’s misconduct, which he admitted to as part of the stipulation.
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 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.
According to the stipulation, 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 judge subsequently delivered the minutes for the ticket, with the clerk’s notation that the fine and penalties were $609 to the commissioner’s courtroom. When Sarmiento’s clerk, after accessing ticket information on the court computer system, told the judge that the civil assessment had not been removed, he approached the commissioner again.
The clerk, who was a backup and not regularly assigned to the judge, subsequently made several entries in the record, including a waiver of the civil assessment. The parties stipulated that the clerk was not acting with the judge’s authority, and the entries were later corrected and the full amount paid.
Before that occurred, however, the commissioner was placed in the difficult position of trying to figure out a polite way to tell the judge there was nothing she could properly do for him, the CJP said. The fact that he sought favorable treatment from a subordinate judicial officer rather than a peer aggravated the misconduct, the CJP said.
The commission wrote in its decision:
“By attempting to influence another judicial officer on behalf of his wife, Judge Sarmiento engaged in serious judicial misconduct which severely damages the reputation of the judiciary….Judge Sarmiento’s conduct makes it more difficult for judges throughout the state to maintain the trust and respect of the public.”
Sarmiento has been a Superior Court judge since 2003, and was a commissioner of that court from 1997 to 2003.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company