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Calif. Judge Removed Over Finding of ‘Undignified’ Conduct

Nov. 6, 2019, 10:37 PM

A California state judge was ordered removed from the bench over a disciplinary panel finding of misconduct that included denying a defendant due process and conduct toward women that was “unwelcome, undignified, discourteous, and offensive.”

The Commission on Judicial Performance determined Judge John T. Laettner, California Superior Court for Contra Costa County, engaged in “a significant amount of misconduct,” including five acts of willful misconduct and eleven acts of prejudicial misconduct.

“Much of Judge Laettner’s misconduct reflects a pattern of engaging with attorneys appearing before him in a manner that is governed by his emotions, rather than by the California Code of Judicial Ethics,” the decision said.

The charges, prompted by complaints from public defenders, included ex parte communication with a prosecutor, remanding a criminal defendant without notice and an opportunity to be heard, and discouraging deputy public defenders from filing peremptory challenges.

“Judge Laettner has also displayed a pattern of inappropriate treatment of women in his courtroom that reflects bias based on gender, as well as physical appearance. He has taken responsibility for some, but not all, of the improper comments he was found to have made to and about women, but he has not accepted responsibility for the other misconduct that the special masters found was proven,” the determination said.

It’s Laettner’s “lack of candor during this proceeding, and his selective and limited acknowledgment of his misconduct, that leads us to conclude that removal from the bench is the appropriate discipline,” the commission said.

Eight commission members supported removal while three agreed with the factual findings but not removal.

Counsel will seek California Supreme Court review within 30 days before the decision is final, said James A. Murphy, Laettner’s co-counsel with Murphy Pearson Bradley & Feeney in San Francisco.

“The Commission’s decision is slanted and does not mention the evidence directly contradicting the witnesses it deemed ‘credible,’” Murphy said in an email. ”Judge Laettner was denied due process in multiple ways.”

Laettner, a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, has been on the bench since March 2006.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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