Friday, September 20, 2002
CJP Charges Fresno Superior Court Judge With Lying About Viewing Porn on Courthouse Computer
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday charged a Fresno Superior Court judge with lying about his use of a courthouse computer to view Internet pornography and threatening a baseless lawsuit against a local television station that disclosed what he had done.
Judge Vincent J. McGraw, 56, breached his duty of judicial integrity and demeaned his office, the commission alleged, by publicly denying conduct that he had been privately admonished for three years earlier.
The issue arose this past February, when McGraw—a former CJP member—was a candidate for reelection. Asked by a reporter for KMPH Channel 26 about his misuse of the computer four years earlier, the judge specifically denied that he had used his courthouse computer to surf for pornography or that he had admitted to court officials that he had done so.
He also told the station that there was “no evidence so far to substantiate the allegations” and that he was considering “filing a lawsuit in order to protect my reputation against a reckless story.”
When asked whether Judge James L. Quashnick—who was presiding judge in 1998—had spoken to him about his use of the computer, he insisted that he had not. And he told the Channel 26 reporter that “the questions you’re asking me are very troubling because this is something that would have been the subject of judicial discipline and I have not been disciplined for these things that you are talking about.”
The issue was picked up on by McGraw’s opponent, Fresno attorney Jon Kapetan, who accused the jurist of a “total lack of judgment and abuse of the public’s trust,” the Fresno Bee reported.
McGraw then told the newspaper that he could not discuss the matter because it was within the jurisdiction of the CJP, and said he should not have issued the earlier denial. Kapetan responded by noting that commission rules explicitly permit judges under investigation to comment publicly if they wish.
On March 4, the day before the election, the court’s current presiding judge—who had earlier declined comment pending communication with the CJP—disclosed that McGraw had viewed sexually explicit material on his court computer in 1998. McGraw lost the election by a 53 to 47 percent margin.
In the Notice of Formal Proceedings made public yesterday, the commission officially disclosed that in January 1999, McGraw was privately admonished for use of the county computer that was “inappropriate” and that “breached county computer protocol.”
The notice of admonishment said that McGraw had admitted using the computer to view sex sites “before, during and after regular court business hours—and on weekends” during an eight-month period in 1998, a period during which the judge was a CJP member. The improper use averaged about 15 hours per month, more than two-thirds of it between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.
The disclosure sheds possible light on the state Supreme Court’s decision not to reappoint McGraw to the CJP after he lost his seat in mid-term due to a constitutional quirk.
McGraw was a judge of the Consolidated Fresno Municipal Court in 1997, when the justices appointed him to a four-year term on the commission, filling the seat set aside by the state Constitution for a municipal court judge. But McGraw lost that seat when Fresno County courts unified under Proposition 220 and he became a Superior Court judge.
The seat was still vacant six months later, during which time several more counties unified and the number of counties that still had municipal courts dwindled into the single digits. Under a provision of Proposition 220, that effectively converted McGraw’s old CJP seat into a seat for a superior court judge.
But instead of reselecting McGraw and allowing him to complete the term that he was appointed to originally, the high court chose Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Madeleine I. Flier. That appointment, it turns out, came six weeks after McGraw drew the private admonishment.
In addition to lying about his private discipline, the commission charged yesterday, McGraw violated rules designed to separate the judicial function from judges’ re-election campaigns.
McGraw is accused of using the court’s mail system to solicit support for his re-election, soliciting support from courthouse workers during business hours, using a photograph of himself with court employees without obtaining the employees’ consent, and leaving the courthouse for more than an hour to campaign at a time when a calendar call was scheduled.
The judge, who is acting as his own attorney, could not be reached yesterday for comment. A spokesperson for the court said he has been on personal leave since Aug. 22—the date of the CJP’s last meeting—and is not expected to return between now and January, when Kapetan will be sworn in as his successor.
Although the commission proceedings are likely to drag on beyond the expiration of his term, McGraw could still be censured and barred from court-assigned work. His response to the charges is due Oct. 3.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company