Wednesday, September 3, 2014
CJP Censures Two Judges for Courthouse Sexual Misconduct
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Two California trial judges have accepted censure for having sexual relations in their chambers and related misconduct, the Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday.
Orange Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner and Kern Superior Court Judge Cory Woodward each agreed to the punishment, the most stringent the commission can impose short of removing a judge from the bench, the commission said in a release.
The commission said both judges cooperated and admitted misconduct in response to preliminary investigations, and that it had accepted the stipulations at a closed meeting on Aug. 20.
In Steiner’s case, the commission voted 8-3 to accept the stipulations and dispense with formal proceedings. Commission Chair Erica Yew, a Santa Clara Superior Court judge, was joined in the majority by Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Thomas Maddock, First District Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Iganazio Ruvolo, attorney Nanci E. Nishamura, and public members Mary Lou Aranguren, Lawrence Simi, Richard Simpson, and Adam Torres. Attorney Anthony Capozzi and public members Maya Dillard Smith and Sandra Talcott dissented.
In the case of Woodward, the vote was 7-4, with Aranguren joining the dissenters.
The commission said both judges engaged in serious misconduct, and noted that Woodward was privately disciplined in 2010 for violating plea bargaining procedures. But it found as a mitigating circumstance that each of the judges had “expressed great remorse and contrition” regarding his behavior.
Steiner, a former deputy district attorney who has been a judge since January 2011, admitted having intercourse on multiple occasions with two women, on separate occasions, in 2012. Steiner was an adjunct faculty member at Chapman University School of Law—the school’s website no longer lists him as such—and both women were former students of his.
One of the women was an intern for his court and the other was a practicing attorney in the county.
One of the women filed a tort claim with the state last year, saying she was coerced. The judge’s lawyer, Paul Meyer, told the Register newspaper at the time that the judge had a consensual relationship with the woman and that the tort claim was “an apparent shakedown.”
Media reports at the time raised the question of whether there was a “quid pro quo” in which the judge sought to assist one of the women in obtaining employment in exchange for sex. The commission said there was “a lack of evidence of any such...arrangement.”
The judge, however, compounded his misconduct regarding the other woman by writing a letter of recommendation to the District Attorney’s Office, and by complaining when he learned that she had not reached the second stage of the interview process, the commission found.
While a judge may serve as a reference for a job application, the commission explained, Steiner “exceeded the scope of conduct” permitted by the rules by recommending someone with whom he was having a sexual relationship at the time, and by following up by making personal contact with his former colleagues regarding the office’s rejection of his lover’s efforts to be hired.
The commission also found that with respect to one of the women, a practicing attorney with cases before him, the judge properly removed himself from the cases but violated statutory disqualification procedures by reassigning those cases to other judges, rather than returning them to the presiding judge for reassignment.
In a separate matter, the commission found that Steiner engaged in prejudicial misconduct by failing to disqualify himself from cases involving a close friend.
Kern County Judge
Woodward, a judge since January 2007 and a court commissioner for nearly four years before that, admitted that for nearly 10 months in 2012 and 2013, he had an intimate relationship with his court clerk that involved “sexual activity...in chambers” and in “public places.”
On one occasion, he acknowledged, he made an inappropriate sexual gesture toward the clerk, not knowing that a member of the public was watching. He also engaged in other inappropriate conduct, including passing notes of a sexual nature to the clerk in court, sometimes allowing her to return late from lunch, and allowing her to address him by a nickname used by his friends and colleagues.
Woodward also admitted that he had misled the presiding judge and others as to the nature of the relationship and had improperly resisted efforts to have the clerk reassigned.
The judge admitted that his conduct violated ethics rules requiring that a judge maintain the appearance of propriety and the integrity expected of the judiciary, separate personal relationships from court business, act impartially an in a manner that promotes public respect for the courts, and cooperate with other judges and with court administrators.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company