State Pays $250,000 Based on Sexual Harassment Claim of Judicial Assistant by Jeffrey Johnson
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The San Diego Union-Tribune has reported that newly released records show pay-outs by the Judicial Council of $1.9 million since 2018 in settlement of sexual harassment claims, including a previously undisclosed payment in 2018 of $250,000 payment to an alleged victim of then-Court of Appeal Justice Jeffrey Johnson.
Johnson, who sat on this district’s Div. One, was ordered removed from office by the Commission on Judicial Performance on June 2, 2020. It declared:
“We find that, by engaging in sexual misconduct, Justice Johnson severely undermined public esteem for the integrity of the judiciary. Treating women disrespectfully, including unwanted touching and making inappropriate sexual comments, reflects a sense of entitlement completely at odds with the canons of judicial ethics and the role of any judge. Sexual misconduct has no place in the judiciary and is an affront to the dignity of the judicial office.”
The California Supreme Court last Jan. 28 denied review.
Payment to Plaintiff
The San Diego daily on Tuesday reported the Judicial Council’s settlement of an action brought last year in Los Angeles Superior Court by Trisha Velez “alleging a five-year-long pattern of sexual harassment by Johnson, which included asking about her sexual history and a string of sexually suggestive comments.”
It said a settlement was reached in September but there was, at the time, “no public disclosure of the amount of money the state paid” to Velez.
She has been a judicial assistant at the court since 2006, and has been assigned to Justice Victoria Chaney since 2013. Johnson’s conduct toward her constituted one of the charges brought against Johnson in the disciplinary proceedings.
It was alleged that in 2013, he repeatedly asked her to have coffee with him, and she eventually agreed to do so. The Third Amended Notice of Formal Proceedings sets forth:
“While at the coffee shop, you asked Ms. Velez questions regarding her personal life, including questions about her childhood, her upbringing, and her family’s religious beliefs. You also asked Ms. Velez if she had had a boyfriend when she was growing up, if she had been married before, and how her first marriage ended. When Ms. Velez told you that her first husband was a philanderer, you responded that you were unhappy in your marriage. You then told Ms. Velez that if you were married to her, you would ‘never leave [her] bed,’ or words to that effect. You also told Ms. Velez that you liked her. Ms. Velez told you to stop and that she had to leave.”
It was alleged that he continued to harass her, including making “comments to Ms. Velez such as, ‘You’re my favorite,’ ‘We’re good,’ ‘I got your back,’ and ‘Love you,’ ” and that in uttering these comments, “you also told Ms. Velez, ‘Don’t tell anyone,’ and blew kisses at her.”
The commission, in its order ousting Johnson, recited:
“Justice Johnson denied making the comment that, if he were married to her, he would never leave her bed. He testified that he was ‘100 percent confident’ that he said, ‘A good man wouldn’t leave his wife at home in bed wondering where he was.’ He also denied telling her he was unhappy in his marriage.
“The masters found that his testimony denying the ‘I would never leave your bed’ remark was ‘not credible’ and reflects his ‘intentional fabrication of the relevant facts.’
“The masters found Velez to be a credible witness who described the events in a detailed and straightforward manner, without embellishment, and who had no motive to misrepresent the facts.”
The commission declared:
“Neither party objected to the masters’ factual findings, and we adopt them.” It said that [s]even women were victims of conduct that would reasonably be perceived as sexual harassment in their workplace,” including among them Chaney and Velez.
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