Monday, May 18, 2015
Merced Superior Court Judge Garcia Steps Down to End CJP Probe
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Marc A. Garcia, the youngest and first Latino Superior Court judge in Merced County, resigned Friday in order to end an investigation into $250,000 he received from his former law firm.
Garcia, who was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007, was due the money under an agreement to leave Merced Defense Associates for the bench. But he has now admitted that he never disclosed it to the Fair Political Practices Commission, as required by law, or to lawyers with cases in his court who had a right to know about it when opposing Garcia’s ex-partners.
In a lengthy statement announcing his intended resignation, Garcia explained:
“When I was first notified by the Commission on Judicial Performance that there were ethical questions concerning actions I had taken regarding my transition from private practice to judge in 2007, I was naturally horrified and confused that in 2014 they somehow had now become of concern to the disciplinary body for judges.”
The commission did not issue a statement, but Garcia said he had entered into a previously undisclosed stipulation with the commission in order to resolve formal charges that the CJP brought in March. Garcia has been on vacation since the notice of formal proceedings was made public March 10, and the Merced Sun-Star said it had obtained documents showing the stipulation was reached in mid-April.
“It is an abrupt end to my career as a judge and one that I never envisioned,” the judge said. “However, it is the most sensible and appropriate resolution for me, my family, and the community.”
The commission charged that when Garcia was appointed to the bench, his firm—which represented indigent criminal defendants and allegedly delinquent juveniles under contract to the county—agreed to pay him $250,000 at the rate of $4,518 monthly, unless the county terminated the firm’s indigent services contract before the amount was fully paid.
Payments Come to Light
Garcia continued to receive payments through August 2012. The payments apparently came to light after a judicial secretary opened an envelope addressed to the judge, who then instructed her not to open his mail in the future, the CJP said.
The commission noted that the judge’s FPPC filings were sworn to under penalty of perjury. It said the failures to disclose, and to recuse himself from the firm’s cases, violated the Code of Judicial Ethics, as did Garcia’s agreeing to receive payments after taking office, for services he would not be performing and his concealment of that fact.
Garcia said in his statement, and in an interview with the Sun-Star, that he had admitted that the failure to file accurate statements with the state’s political watchdog, and to disclose the payments in court or recuse himself from those cases, violated the canons. Although his actions “created the appearance” of an effort to conceal the payment, he said, he never intended to deceive anyone.
The Sun-Star said Garcia received a formal warning letter from the FPPC in April 2014 regarding the same disclosure issue. The letter said Garcia’s failure to disclose the payments violated the Political Reform Act.
“However, since you amended your (statements of economic interest) to reflect this income immediately after contact from the Enforcement Division, and you do not have an enforcement history, we are closing this matter with a warning,” the FPPC said in.
Garcia, who would have been barred from practicing law had he been removed from office by the CJP, said he will remain in Merced and practice agricultural law.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company