High Court Asked to Censure Judge for Wide Range of Improper Actions
The California Supreme Court has been asked to “severely publicly censure” an El Dorado County judge accused of publicly castigating a coach at a youth soccer game as a “pervert,” the state Judicial Performance Commission announced Friday.
The commission charged Justice Court Judge L. Eugene Rasmussen, 52, of South Lake Tahoe with a wide range of improper conduct, including a lack of impartiality and a series of confrontations with lawyers. In one incident, the judge allegedly told an attorney, “You’re nothing in my courtroom.”
Rasmussen and his attorney expressed deep dismay with the commission’s findings but said they would not contest its recommendation to the high court.
The commission acknowledged that the soccer coach, Terry DeSanders, had been previously convicted of child molestation but said Rasmussen had made the revelation when there was “no immediate cause for concern” for the safety of the children present. He had been motivated by anger caused by “a perceived breach of sportsmanship” by the coach, it said.
The judge finally had been ordered off the field by officials at the game after his “unseemly display,” the commission said. The judge, it said, then succeeded in getting DeSanders banned from local sports programs, and on his own initiative sought unsuccessfully to have the coach’s court probation revoked.
Rasmussen, the commission concluded, had been “motivated by personal reasons” other than the faithful discharge of his duties.
The commission charged Rasmussen with willful misconduct in office and “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.”
By a vote of 8 to 0, it asked the Supreme Court to severely censure the judge--a punishment second only to removal from office in its severity. The justices are not required to follow commission recommendations but usually do.
Rasmussen, in a statement, said he was “gravely disappointed” by the commission’s action but had been gratified by what he said was widespread support from local lawyers, judges and community members.
He said that in defending himself during closed commission proceedings over the last two years, he had been left with a “crushing debt” and that he had spent more than $40,000 in investigative expenses alone.
‘Learned Some Things’
“It is now time to put all this behind us and get on with our lives,” he said. “I believe I have learned some things in this process that have made me a better judge.”
His attorney, Ephraim Margolin of San Francisco, criticized commission procedures, saying the agency effectively serves as “both judge and prosecutor” in reviewing complaints against judges.
Margolin acknowledged that the judge should not have called the soccer coach a “pervert” but pointed out that while Rasmussen, as a judge, had known earlier that the man had been convicted and was on probation, he had learned only the day of the incident that he was coaching youth soccer.
According to documents summarizing testimony in the case, the judge in October, 1984, attended a soccer game in which his son was participating and found that DeSanders was one of the coaches for the opposing team.
Rasmussen claimed that the coach was “bothering” a referee on the field, and the judge began following alongside the coach, calling him a “pervert” and revealing in a voice loud enough to be heard by bystanders that the coach had been convicted of child molestation, the documents said.
Margolin said Friday that Rasmussen had been particularly upset to find that the man was a coach working closely with children.
“He did nothing that any other parent might not have done in the same circumstances,” the lawyer said.
The commission charged also that among other things, Rasmussen had:
--Engaged in an angry “eyeball-to-eyeball” confrontation with a local public defender and, while making no physical threat, had told the attorney: “You’re nothing in my courtroom.” The commission said there was insufficient evidence to support a charge by the attorney that the argument was preceded by the judge ripping off his robe at the bench and telling the attorney to “meet me outside.”
--Discussed an upcoming sentence with a defendant in the absence of his attorney and in another case sought on his own initiative to revoke the probation of another defendant without sufficient evidence.
--Shown, in his courtroom demeanor, “a persistent pattern of intolerance” and been “persistently demeaning, abusive and sarcastic” to lawyers, litigants and others.
Rasmussen served as a deputy district attorney in San Bernardino County before becoming a prosecutor in El Dorado County in 1972. He was elected to Justice Court in the Lake Valley Judicial District in 1976.