A Napa County judge has agreed to resign from office after he was caught swiping a handful of fancy business card holders from a San Francisco social club earlier this year, a state watchdog agency announced Monday.
Judge Michael S. Williams has agreed to take leave from the bench in October and officially resign from office Dec. 5 after the Council of Judicial Performance notified him it had launched proceedings against him for violating cannons of the Code of Judicial Ethics.
Williams's attorney, Edith Matthai, told The Times that her client opted to resign rather than fight the allegations because he planned to retire soon anyway.
According to the commission's complaint, on March 9, 2016, Williams stole the card holders at a "Judge's Night" dinner put on by the Northern California chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers at the City Club of San Francisco.
"The cardholders were consistent with the art deco decor of The City Club" and cost up to $50 each, the complaint said. They were holding cards for the City Club's managers.
As the event wrapped up and people began to leave, Williams, who said he drank "a couple glasses of wine" and saw the card holders on a table near the elevators on the building's 10th floor.
Williams "pocketed at least one cardholder, left, and then returned and took one or two more before taking an elevator down to the first floor," the commission wrote.
About two weeks later, a City Club fellow told the judge the thefts had been caught on security camera and that he should notify the commission himself.
Williams sent the card holders back to the City Club the next day with a note saying he had "no excuse" and that he'd been drinking and "was not thinking of what I was doing."
He notified the commission of what he'd done a day later on March 30, 2016, and said he'd taken the card holders to display joke business cards he and a friend had made 40 years ago and that he'd recently found.
The commission wrote that he expressed "deep remorse, embarrassment and regret over his actions."
Williams became a judge in Napa County Superior Court in 2012. He previously served as a court commissioner from 2001 to 2012.
"Judge Williams's conduct seriously undermines public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary," the commission wrote in its decision. "The judge's agreement to resign … affords protection to the public and the reputation of the judiciary in the most expeditious manner by avoiding the delay of further proceedings."
Williams agreed never to sit on the bench again after he resigns. His last day on the bench is expected to be Oct. 19.