Tuesday, January 26, 2016
CJP Admonishes Judge for Abuse of Staff
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A San Mateo Superior Court judge was publicly admonished by the Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday for mistreating staff members.
The commission, in a unanimous decision, cited three incidents involving Judge Joseph E. Bergeron, 65.
The commission said Bergeron, a judge for 18 years:
•In August 2014, tossed a crumpled calendar at a clerk, asking her if she played baseball. After the clerk responded “I guess not,” and after another matter was heard, the judge did it again;
•In October 2014, after a different clerk failed to return a voicemail message from him—because he didn’t leave a number—called the clerk’s supervisor from his chambers and complained in a voice loud enough to be heard by the clerk and others in his courtroom; and
•In December 2014, while working in a courtroom to which he was not regularly assigned, asked a female deputy district attorney to fetch him a cup of coffee from across the hall, and told her as she was leaving “If I had cash, I’d give you a tip.” When the deputy returned with a cup of coffee, and sarcastically asked if she could iron the judge’s shirts, the judge suggested that if that morning’s rain persisted, “I can give you my keys, and you can go get my car,” to which she responded “[t]hay may be a man’s job.”
The commission disciplined Bergeron under its rule 115, meaning he waived his rights to formal proceedings and Supreme Court review. It said his conduct constituted “at a minimum, improper action” and violated rules requiring judges to observe high standards of conduct, promote public confidence in the judiciary, and treat those with whom they deal in a professional capacity with dignity and respect.
The judge acknowledged that his actions in the first incident made the clerk angry and uncomfortable and were discourteous, and that, in the second incident, “he raised his voice and overreacted,” the commission said.
The CJP found as aggravating factors that Bergeron had been previously notified by court officials that he had been the subject of complaints by six female employees; that he was privately admonished in April 2014 for interrogating an attorney who had allegedly grabbed the arm of the judge’s court clerk, even though the judge lacked jurisdiction to do so, and asserting the lawyer had committed a crime, even though a law enforcement investigation had not been completed; and that he received a “stinger” letter in 2004 for meeting with jurors ex parte and over counsel’s objection.
Bergeron was elected to the bench in 1996. He had previously run his own practice for 28 years and had been president of the San Mateo County Barristers Club and San Mateo County Trial Lawyers Association, and a member of the State Bar Board of Governors and the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation.
The discipline of Bergeron came on the heels of Friday’s public admonishment, also under rule 115, for Humboldt Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson. The court found that Wilson, a judge since 1999, filed eight affidavits between 2011 and 2014 in which he falsely claimed to have no cases under submission for more than 90 days.
In fact, the judge on each of those occasions had one to three matters before him that were under submission for between 92 and 125 days, the commission found, and on six occasions received his salary despite having failed to decide matters for more than 90 days, in violation of the state Constitution.
The commission acknowledged that Humboldt judges carry above-average workloads, but said that could not justify false swearing or acceptance of pay while cases remain under submission for excessive periods. Wilson, the commission suggested, have either completed the matters on time or waited until they were finished to file his affidavits, since he would still have collected full salary upon doing so.
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