Monday, June 24, 2002
Jury Rejects Claim Ex-Judge Trammell Coerced Defendant Into Sex
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Jurors in Santa Ana Friday rejected Pifen Lo’s claim that she was coerced into having repeated sex with then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George W. Trammell III after he presided over a criminal case in which she and her husband were defendants.
Lo accused Trammell of sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sought to hold the state of California liable as Trammell’s employer. Orange Superior Court Judge David Brickner bifurcated the case, with the state’s liability being tried first.
Lo also pled a claim against the state for failing to properly supervise Trammell, but Brickner and an appeals panel ruled that a judge cannot, as a matter of law, be supervised by the state.
Trammell, whom Lo’s attorney said may be judgment proof, has been incarcerated at a federal facility in Beaumont, Tex., since last August. U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz sentenced him to 27 months in prison in October 2000, after he pled guilty to two mail fraud charges growing out of his involvement with Lo.
Connie Cura was a member of the six-man, six-woman jury that found unanimously against the 43-year-old woman Friday.
“We thought [the sex] was consensual,” she said. Lo was “not credible,” she said.
“There was so much evidence that pointed to the judge [being] not guilty based on the evidence we had,” Cura said. “There was really nothing” showing him liable.
Juror William Price said Lo “had her reasons” for having sex with Trammell.
Lo, who Trammell put on five years probation after she pled no contest to money laundering and counterfeiting charges, would not comment. But her attorney, Larry Guzin, said she was “bitterly disappointed.”
“She was terribly taken advantage of by Judge Trammell,” Guzin said. “She’ll feel the effects of his sexuality against her for the rest of her life.” But, he added, “She’s had her day in court.”
“There could be another trial for the judge,” Guzin said. “Nobody is going to go through an exercise in futility if he’s judgment-proof. He’s [moved] down to Florida to preserve his home, I presume.”
Trammell relocated to Florida after his abrupt retirement from the bench in 1997, right after his involvement with Lo became public.
Michael Hood, who represented the state, said Lo testified that the judge’s conduct toward her made her feel like a prostitute.
“My job was just to present the facts the way that I saw them, which was that, perhaps, that the plaintiff and her ex-husband, Ming Jin, used the judge’s attraction for her to achieve something they needed for themselves.”
Jin and the couple’s children also sued, claiming that Trammell’s misconduct toward Lo caused them emotional distress, but Brickner and the Court of Appeal ruled that they were not “direct victims” and thus had no cause of action.
Hood said Jin wrote a petition to the judge warning him that the relationship between Lo and the judge would be made public unless “you take care of me.”
“So it’s pretty clear [the intent was] blackmail,” Hood said.
The two also received advice about their cases from the judge, Hood said.
“What he did was appoint a lawyer, paid for by the state, to represent her in filing a motion with the judge to get some property that had been seized,” Hood said. “His sentence was essentially for being a corrupt judge.”
The mail fraud charges were filed under a provision of the Anti-Corruption Act of 1988 which makes it a federal crime to use the mails to “defraud another of the intangible right of honest services.” The Department of Justice began looking into the case after a district attorney investigation ended with no charges filed, as prosecutors said they could not prove Lo was coerced into sex.
The Commission on Judicial Performance also found that there was insufficient proof of a coercive relationship, but sustained charges the judge had violated ethics rules by having persistent ex parte contacts with parties to a case before him. He was censured and barred from receiving court assignments, and later resigned from the State Bar with disciplinary charges pending.
His years of service would normally entitle him to a pension of over $90,000 annually, but state law bars a judge who is convicted of a felony related to judicial service from receiving retirement benefits.
The inability of state authorities to prosecute Trammell led to calls for reform, culminating in the adoption of legislation making it a crime for a judge to obstruct justice in his own courtroom.
Guzin had asked the jury to award his client up to $1 million for each of the 20 times she had sex with Trammell.
One of the main pieces of evidence in the trial was a tape that Trammell made of the two having sex — without Lo’s knowledge.
Jurors commented after that she sounded happy and more the aggressor in the relationship.
Hood said that on the tape, Trammell sounds solicitous of Lo, and at the end of it tells her, “I love you.”
In his final argument, Guzin said the sexual relationship Lo had with Trammell in 1996 began with him telling her she would have to “pay the price” if she ever wanted to see Jin get out of prison. Jin had been convicted in a money laundering and kidnapping case in July 1996, after Lo had pled no contest to money laundering and counterfeiting charges and been placed on probation.
The couple was divorced at the time, but had been living together before being arrested and has since remarried.
Trammell, 65, served on the Los Angeles Municipal Court from 1971 to 1988 and on the Superior Court from 1988 to 1997. He was the Municipal Court’s presiding judge from June 1986 through December 1987, and was sitting as a trial judge in Pomona when he quit the bench.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company