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California agency disciplines Kern County judge, again, for intimidation

Kern County judge disciplined by California panel for being too heavy-handed, intimidating

Like most judges, Kern County Superior Court Judge John Fielder did not necessarily carve out a reputation of being warm and cuddly on the bench.

But on Thursday, a judicial oversight panel publicly admonished Fielder for being especially heavy-handed. The panel said the judge intimidated court administrators and attorneys.

It was the fourth time that Fielder has been disciplined by the state in his 33-year career.

The judge abused his authority and violated several canons he was assigned to uphold, including promoting confidence in judicial integrity and impartiality and avoiding allowing personal relationships to influence his conduct, the Commission on Judicial Performance found.

In the most current case, the commission found that Fielder intimidated the court administrator, who handles staffing, in 2013 when he said the judges “would get together and fire” her.

The administrator was attempting to reassign a clerk from Judge Cory Woodward’s room because the clerk and Woodward were having sex, including inside the courthouse, and court staff had complained.

Fielder chastised the administrator for “messing around” with judges’ courtrooms and said that the clerk she was reassigning was “getting the shaft,” according to the commission’s decision. Woodward was eventually censured for his conduct with the clerk late last year.

In a separate incident in 2013, Fielder intimidated a lawyer into changing a court filing that was critical of Woodward. The attorney needed Fielder’s approval to file a request to have Woodward removed from his case and highlighted Woodward’s relationship with the clerk and the rumors that encircled it.

Fielder told the attorney some of the statements in his filing were “mean-spirited and unnecessary” and left the attorney feeling that he needed to change the document before Fielder would accept it. The attorney did change it and the filing was ultimately accepted.

But the fact that Fielder critiqued the tone of the filing was improper and unnecessary, the commission found. He only had to determine whether the document could legally be filed or not, the commission said.

The commission said the two breaches, along with his prior disciplines, justified the public admonishment.

In 1992, Fielder received an advisory letter when he didn’t ask what had changed for a defendant when the defendant switched pleas from not guilty to guilty overnight without an attorney present. In 1994, he was given another letter when he treated a witness in an “unduly harsh and intimidating manner,” the commission found. In 1997, he was privately admonished for appearing to coerce guilty and no contest pleas from defendants without telling them they had a right to an attorney.

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