Commission Acknowledges Actions Were ‘Well-Intentioned’; Faults Her Letter to Police Chief Indicating
Her In-Court Criticism of Two Detectives Was Based on ‘Unfortunate Misunderstanding’ of Facts
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judith Meyer yesterday drew a public admonishment from the Commission on Judicial Performance based on composing a draft of a letter to the Long Beach chief of police, forwarded to him by another, advising him that remarks she had made in court about two detectives were based on misinformation, then sending a second letter to clarify her intent.
The commission acknowledged that her actions were “well-intentioned,” but said that she “gave the appearance” that she was cozy with law enforcement.
Meyer had presided over a pretrial hearing on May 15, 2017, at which Deputy Public Defender Alison Hudak challenged the admissibility of evidence obtained by Long Beach Police Detectives Malcolm Evans and Todd Johnson. Hudak alleged improper tactics on their part, and Deputy District Attorney Angie Christides appeared to acquiesce in the allegations.
The judge, relying upon the information presented, commented that “the behavior of the detectives is appalling and unethical and inappropriate” and imposed an evidence sanction. That prompted Christides to move for a dismissal.
Investigators from the Police Department contacted Meyer in response to Christides’s complaint about the officers. Meyer did not discuss the matter with them but had the court reporter provide them with a transcript.
About a year later, the two detectives came to see Meyer, providing her with excerpts from the preliminary hearing transcript, which supported their contention that they had, in fact, acted in good faith. To avoid unfairness to them stemming from her comments at the pretrial hearing, she drafted a letter to Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna saying that there had been an “unfortunate misunderstanding.”
Meyer remarked that “based on the information I have at the present time, it appears that both detectives conducted themselves appropriately in this case, and I find no fault with their investigation.”
She sent the letter not to Luna, but to Johnson, saying:
“Please review. If you like it, I’ll send a copy to DA and Chief.” Johnson proceeded to forward the letter to Luna.
The Police Department provided that letter to the defense in a case that was before Meyer; the Office of Public Defender wanted her to recuse herself; she did; she wrote to Luna to clarify her intent in drafting the first missive. She said it was “never intended to give a representation” that she had “an overall feeling about” the detectives’ “general character” and, with respect to the perception of the Public Defender’s Office. she related:
“It distresses me greatly to think anyone considers me unfair or biased.”
Superior Court Judge
The commission said in its decision and order:
“Judge Meyer’s conduct in meeting with Detectives Evans and Johnson, and then writing the April 23, 2018 letter on their behalf, gave the appearance that law enforcement had special access to her and were in a special position to influence her conduct and judgment in contravention of canon 2B(1)….
“The commission also found that Judge Meyer’s letters to Chief Luna, on official court stationery that contained the Superior Court seal, and using an electronic typeface and original signature and judicial title, constituted a misuse of the prestige of judicial office (canon 2B(2)).”
The order went on to say:
“In her response to the commission, Judge Meyer argued that while she erred in attempting to right a perceived wrong, she was well-intentioned. The commission does not disagree that Judge Meyer was well-intentioned. In sending both letters, however, Judge Meyer acted impulsively, without stopping to consider the potential consequences of her actions.”
The commission noted that Meyer had received a private admonishment in 2016 for comments during two proceedings including characterizing existing law as “outrageous and ridiculous.” It commented that “both the prior discipline and the current circumstances reflect well-intentioned but imprudent comments which, upon minimal reflection, might not have been made.”
One Los Angeles Superior Court judge provided this reaction yesterday:
“The CJP’s decision to publicly admonish Judge Judith L. Meyer for appropriately reacting to allegations of police misconduct and subsequently attempting to rectify an error, has succeeded in one thing only—dealing a deathblow to the independence of the judiciary and the vital role an independent judiciary plays in the fair administration of justice.
“I have known Judge Meyer since 2016.1 know her to be a person of the utmost integrity and someone who has the strongest sense of propriety. I had no prior knowledge of this matter until I read the Decision and Order imposing public admonishment dated April 5, 2022. In essence, Judge Meyer tried to right a wrong. For her efforts she has been publicly admonished. This impact of the CJP’s action is likely to result in bench officers declining to open a can of worms when police misconduct is alleged, and worse, declining to set the record straight.
“Well done CJP, not.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel Lowenthal, who sits in Long Beach, said yesterday:
“Judge Meyer is a phenomenal judge and professor. And she’s an even better person. I’m honored to be her friend and colleague. She is extremely conscientious about adhering to the Code of Judicial Ethics and she always does the right thing.”
Another colleague in Long Beach, Judge Mark S. Arnold, had this to say: “I have known Judy Meyer for many years. I have never known her to be anything other than hard-working, smart, articulate, honest, ethical, and loyal.”
Supervising Judge’s Letter
James Otto, the supervising judge at the Long Beach courthouse, said in an Oct, 20, 2021 letter to the commission:
“Judge Meyer’s actions on this case are not indicative of her skills or judgment as a bench officer. Her legal acumen is well respected by her colleagues. Even experienced judges ask her legal advice and guidance on their cases. She volunteers to cover her colleagues’ calendars when they are out of the office and willingly accepts assignments by the supervising judge. She is also very generous with her time when officers need search warrants signed. As is customary in this courthouse, the officers come into chambers to present search and arrest warrants and other court orders. It is common for the Judge’s bailiff or judicial assistant to bring the officer(s) back, but sometimes they may not be made aware of what the officers are here to see the judge for.
“During the more than decade that I have known Judge Meyer she has repeatedly demonstrated a desire to treat all litigants fairly and justly. She has never declined any assignment and regularly volunteers to help out. Even in the fall of 2018 when she was diagnosed with a serious health condition, I had to repeatedly tell her follow her doctor’s recommendations about not coming to work. I can say with out reservation that she is one of the most honest, dedicated, and fair judges I have known in the nearly fifty years I have been a lawyer and judge.”
Meyer was elected to the Superior Court in the June 2006 primary election. Giving her an early start, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her to the bench in August 2006.
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