Thursday, December 10, 2015
S.C. Sweeps Aside Disgraced Ex-Judge’s Pension Bid
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday declined to review a Court of Appeal decision that bars a former Santa Clara Superior Court judge from claiming a pension based on the expungement of his conviction for conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, unanimously denied review in Danser v. California Public Employees’ Retirement System (2015) 240 Cal. App. 4th 885. The Third District, in an opinion by Justice Anthony Mauro, said the application of the benefit forfeiture statute is unaffected by a post-conviction order that reduces the offense of conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor or relieves the offender of other collateral consequences of the conviction.
The statute is Government Code §75526. It provides that a judge loses his or her pension upon finality of a conviction of a felony “which either involves moral turpitude…or was committed in the course and scope of performing the judge’s duty.”
Danser was convicted of conspiracy and several misdemeanors in 2004. The charges related to the fixing of nearly three dozen tickets for local celebrities, including sports figures, who gave their tickets to the judge’s co-defendant, an ex-police officer working as a security consultant for the San Jose Sharks hockey team.
Danser retired from the bench after nine years of judicial service, after the jury found him guilty but before sentencing.
He entered into a stipulation with the Commission on Judicial Performance, agreed to accept censure for engaging in “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute,” and to give up his right work as an assigned judge or on matters referred by state courts.
Retired Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge William Kelsay, who presided over the trial, cited the judge’s and his wife’s serious health problems in sentencing him to three years’ probation with 90 days of house arrest.
After completing probation, Danser successfully moved to reduce the “wobbler” conspiracy conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor and to have the conviction expunged. He then asked CalPERS to approve his pension benefits, and petitioned for a writ of mandate after the agency turned him down.
Mauro, writing for the Court of Appeal, said he wasn’t entitled to them.
The jurist explained:
“Although the relief provided by Penal Code section 1203.4 is sometimes referred to as ‘expungement,’ the statutory release from penalties and disabilities does not literally expunge the conviction and it does not render the conviction a legal nullity….Danser seeks to compare his circumstances to disqualification from public office…but the release pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4 does not apply to provisions designed to protect the public….
“Section 75526 is designed to protect the public by requiring civil consequences under circumstances such as those presented in this case. The dismissal of the case in October 2006 did not erase the fact that a jury found Danser guilty of a crime punishable as a felony, and it did not alter the civil consequences flowing from the jury’s verdict, consequences that attached many months before the dismissal when the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment and the California Supreme Court denied review.”
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company