Wednesday, December 2, 2015
CJP Orders Removal of Tulare Superior Court Judge
Commission Says Jurist Sought to Intimidate Clerk and Buy Her Silence, Then Lied About It
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday ordered the removal of a Tulare Superior Court judge for conduct the commission called “deceitful, calculated, and unseemly.”
Commissioners voted 9-0 to toss Valeriano Saucedo from the bench after 14 years in office.
The commission, acting on the report of a panel of special masters, said Saucedo violated several canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics by writing an anonymous letter accusing the clerk of an affair in his effort to strike up a personal relationship with her, showering her with gifts that included a BMW and a Disneyland trip, and lying about his actions.
Saucedo can seek review in the Supreme Court, but the court has never overturned a removal order in the 20 years since Proposition 190 gave the CJP the power to remove judges, which previously belonged to the court itself. He retains his office until the commission decision becomes final, but cannot perform judicial duties.
The commission found that in mid-September 2013, the judge showed clerk Priscilla Tovar a letter that was purportedly sent to him at his home by an anonymous person alleging that she had been involved in an extra-marital affair with a male bailiff. He purported to act to protect her, including placing a call to her husband’s employer to cause his copy of the letter intercepted and destroyed.
Saucedo said the letter must have come from a law enforcement person, because it came to the judge’s home address. The commission noted that it was well known among court staff members that Tovar was involved with a bailiff while separated from her husband years earlier.
In fact, the letter was authored by Saucedo, the commission found. The CJP rejected Saucedo’s claim that the reason he lied about contacting the employer was to make Tovar “feel better.”
Saucedo also made numerous gifts of money to Tovar, and periodically made payments on the BMW, then paid off the $14,000 balance on the car, the commission found.
A few days later, Tovar told the judge she intended to ask for a transfer to another courtroom. Saucedo testified before the masters that she threatened to report him to the court’s human resources office unless he gave her $8,000.
Judge’s Credibility Questioned
Tovar, whose testimony the commission found more credible than the judge’s, said she never threatened the judge or asked for any specific amount of money. She said she reminded him that he had promised to pay for her family’s Disneyland trip and told him that if she did not receive the money, she would have to cancel the trip and tell her family the circumstances.
The next day, the commission found, Saucedo deposited $8,000 in Tovar’s account and handed her a letter in open court shortly after the lunch break, which he asked her to read. The letter enclosed the deposit slip and said:
“Please stop. It is done. Enough is enough. It ends today. No more money will be paid out.”
It was unclear, the CJP said, whether Saucedo or Tovar suggested the $8,000 figure. But what was clear, the commission said, is that Saucedo was “using his judicial office to intimidate Tovar and ensure her silence” regarding his past behavior.
The commission rejected the argument that censure would be sufficient punishment for the judge’s misbehavior. Saucedo, the members found, “engaged in a calculated course of egregious misconduct involving dishonesty and subterfuge,” and his “willingness to life under oath to the three special masters….”
Saucedo’s misconduct, the commission added, was more serious than that of judges who were censured, including two judges who engaged in sexual activity in chambers.
Those relationships, the commission noted, were consensual and the judges involved admitted, and expressed remorse for, their conduct and did not lie under oath.
Saucedo, on the other hand, “continues to deny the essential facts, blame Tovar for his conduct, and minimize the gravity of his misconduct to a brief lapse in judgment,” the CJP said.
The commission acknowledged that Saucedo—who served as director of California Rural Legal Assistance from 1985 to 1993 and was mayor of his home city of Lindsay when he was appointed to the bench in 2001—had a distinguished record of service as a lawyer, judge and community leader.
But it found his conduct to be “so completely at odds with the core qualities and role of a judge that no amount of mitigation can redeem the seriousness of the wrongdoing or obviate the need for removal in order to…maintain public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company