California watchdog agency dismissed 90% of complaints about judges' conduct in 2015

The Commission on Judicial Performance, a state watchdog agency, has concluded reviews of 1,231 complaints about how judges conducted themselves in 2015 and dismissed 90% of them after initial checks concluded they were unfounded.

The agency's annual report showed an additional 86 complaints were closed without any discipline after investigations concluded the allegations were unfounded or unprovable or the judge involved provided an "adequate explanation of the situation," the report said.

The commission imposed some kind of discipline in 41 cases: 26 in which a non-public advisory letter was sent to the judge, 11 in which a judge received a private admonishment, and four in which a judge was publicly disciplined.

The annual report looks at how the commission — whose 11 members include judges, lawyers and six citizens who are not legal professionals — handles complaints filed by the public against California's 1,830 trial and appellate court judges.

Some case dispositions roll over from one year to the next. In 2015, the commission received 1,245 new complaints against judges, the most in the last decade.

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Though complaints rose every year but one during that span, the commission initiated formal proceedings — the equivalent of an official misconduct charge — in less than 1% of them each year.

In December, the commission ordered a Tulare County judge removed from the bench for willful misconduct for having an improper relationship with a court clerk and then lying about it during an investigation.

According to the commission, the judge used trickery to pressure the clerk to have a "special friend" relationship and gave her $26,000 in gifts and cash, including a BMW and a trip to Disneyland.

The judge, Valeriano Saucedo, is appealing his removal to the state Supreme Court. He says the relationship was consensual and the commission failed to consider 11 years of exemplary service before two months of poor judgment.

greg.moran@sduniontribune.com

Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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A version of this article appeared in print on April 11, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Not many complaints took hold - California watchdog agency dismissed 90% of cases about judges' conduct in 2015. - JUDICIAL WATCH" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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