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California Judge Ordered Removed for Alleged Sex Harassment (2)

June 4, 2020, 12:54 AM; Updated: June 4, 2020, 3:18 AM

A California appellate judge should be removed for “clear and convincing evidence” of 18 acts of misconduct that include allegations of sexual harassment and intentional dishonesty during an investigation, a state panel said.

Judge Jeffrey W. Johnson, who sits on the California Court of Appeal, Second District, was charged with 62 allegations of misconduct, including sexual misconduct toward 17 women and sexually harassing another judge, including grabbing her breasts and patting her buttocks.

Johnson was also charged with nine instances of demeaning the judicial office by appearing to be under the influence of alcohol, seven of which allegedly occurred at the courthouse late at night. The California Supreme Court-appointed masters found that seven of the allegations were proven.

“Justice Johnson’s misconduct has severely tarnished the esteem of the judiciary in the eyes of the public. Given his persistent denials of serious misconduct, we do not have confidence that he can reform, as he has not conveyed that he recognizes the extent of his wrongdoing,” the Commission on Judicial Performance said in a ruling released Tuesday ordering Johnson removed from the bench.

“Further, given his lack of candor during this proceeding, we do not have confidence that he has the fundamental qualities of honesty and integrity required of a judge,” the 111-page ruling said.

“We find that, by engaging in sexual misconduct, Justice Johnson severely undermined public esteem for the integrity of the judiciary,” the commission said.

Johnson denied the claims. He will ask the state Supreme Court “to review the unprecedented decision to remove a sitting justice after finding that he has not committed one act of willful misconduct and has never received any prior discipline,” said Paul Meyer, with Paul S. Meyer APC in Costa Mesa, Calif., co-counsel for Johnson.

“The remedy chosen deprives the public of a diverse jurist who is universally acknowledged to be brilliant and exceptionally fair. This action snaps an unbroken string of decisions which required either a finding of willful misconduct or a violation [of] prior discipline before removing a judicial officer,” Meyer said in a statement.

Among the commission findings was that Johnson engaged in the unwanted touching of four women; engaged in conduct that would reasonably be perceived as sexual harassment of seven women at his court; misused the prestige of his position and demeaned his judicial office by attempting to develop personal relationships with three other women; and further demeaned his office by his offensive conduct toward fourth woman. The commission adopted the masters’ conclusions that allegations of inappropriate behavior involving two other women were not proven.

“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 commission said in upholding the special masters’ finding.

The decision is final in 30 days after which Johnson can appeal the commission’s ruling.

Johnson is represented by Meyer; Reginald A. Vitek, Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek in San Diego; Thomas Warwick Jr., Grimes & Warwick in San Diego; and Willie L. Brown Jr., the former mayor of San Francisco.

(Updates from ruling to clarify the number of findings in 9th paragraph. )

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: Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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