Two Orange County Municipal Court judges are being investigated by the state Commission on Judicial Performance for allegedly offering lenient treatment to prostitutes in exchange for sex and showing favoritism toward other women with whom they had personal relationships.
The commission is also looking into allegations that two other judges on the same court--Harbor Municipal Court, which serves Newport Beach, Irvine and Costa Mesa--attempted last year to pressure Newport Beach officials into calling off a police investigation of Judges Brian R. Carter and Calvin P. Schmidt, the principal targets of the commission probe.
The far-ranging, confidential inquiry by the state judicial commission has also involved a fifth Harbor Court judge, Susanne S. Shaw, who has been among the other judges’ chief accusers. Shaw has been accused by the other judges of improperly endorsing a political candidate and making remarks from the bench that offended Latino defendants.
None of the judges were willing to discuss the investigations.
Newport Beach police and the Orange County district attorney’s office conducted their own investigations and took some of the allegations to the county grand jury two years ago, but no charges resulted.
Court documents filed during those investigations and unsealed late last month described the incident that triggered the district attorney’s investigation. In those documents, a police sergeant describes the prostitution arrest in June, 1984, of Della Christine Johnson, then 24, at Griswold’s Inn in Fullerton.
According to Sgt. Ron Rowell, Johnson told police after the arrest that she had had sexual relations with Carter as payment for a debt and that Carter had paid her a total of $350 for two other sexual encounters. Johnson said the chain of events through which she met Carter began when a friend told her that he knew of a judge who could help get her driver’s license reinstated. Johnson identified that judge as Schmidt, the court documents show.
“She said that she was told . . . that when she appeared before Judge Schmidt, he would make arrangements to have her license reinstated . . . and that in return she would owe a debt to him . . . referring to an act of prostitution,” Rowell testified.
At a later date, Johnson received a telephone call from Carter, who “reminded her of her debt which was owed to Judge Schmidt,” Rowell testified. “He (Carter) informed her that Judge Schmidt was not interested in collecting this debt but that he was going to come to her residence in lieu of Judge Schmidt and collect it for him.”
Rowell said Johnson paid the debt by having sexual intercourse with Carter “without charge.”
After her arrest at Griswold’s Inn in 1984, Johnson initially agreed to assist police in an investigation of Carter and Schmidt and permitted a telephone conversation between her and Carter to be tape-recorded, Rowell said.
Later, however, Johnson refused to cooperate with the police investigation, prompting authorities to search her home. Police found what authorities later described in court documents as a list of Johnson’s clients, which included Carter’s courtroom telephone number.
Also among the documents filed in court during the district attorney’s investigation
is a transcript of the June 7, 1984, taped telephone conversation between Carter and Johnson.
Johnson acknowledged that her prostitution case was out of Carter’s jurisdiction. The judge replied: “That’s true. . . . There’s nothing I can do up there.”
But Johnson also mentioned that an arrest warrant had been issued for her when she failed to appear in court on a traffic ticket.
“I was hoping, you know, we could talk about it,” Johnson said to Carter. “I was hoping you could come over.”
Carter asked: “You got some time to spend with me?”
“Oh, sure,” Johnson replied.
“OK. Well, tomorrow is what? Tomorrow is love and friendship . . . ,” Carter said.
“Yeah,” Johnson said.
“This is one you owe me,” Carter said, according to the transcript.
“Yeah,” Johnson replied.
Carter then said: “And then we’ll see . . . see what we can do on that other thing for you.”
Johnson replied: “OK. Thank you, Brian. . . . I really appreciate your help.”
Before the scheduled rendezvous between Johnson and Carter the next day, Johnson changed her mind about cooperating with police, Rowell testified.
“She said that she had visited an attorney and was no longer willing to cooperate,” Rowell testified. “It had been recommended to her that she not do so.”
Under its stringent confidentiality rules, the Commission on Judicial Performance is prohibited from confirming whether an investigation is taking place. Peter Gubbins, an investigating attorney for the state agency, refused to confirm or deny that an investigation is under way.
But several sources outside the commission told The Times that they had been contacted by commission investigators. And at the commission’s request, the state attorney general’s office has assigned an investigator to the case.
Carter and Harbor Court Presiding Judge Russell A. Bostrom said commission rules prevented them from talking about the investigation. Schmidt, now 59, did not return repeated telephone calls from The Times.
Police and prosecutors declined to discuss the case, as did attorney general’s investigator Delane Bender.
But one source familiar with details of the Newport Beach police probe said investigators have looked at the judges’ relationships with “around 10 women.”
This source and others said questions raised about the following incidents are being reviewed by the commission:
- Carter, now 62, in 1985 went out of his way to handle three traffic cases against the girlfriend of a former client and occasional golfing partner. Despite his social relationship with 24-year-old Susan Marsha Edwards of Newport Beach and her boyfriend, the judge had his bailiff remove these cases from Shaw’s chambers so they could be handled in his court.
Carter dismissed eight of nine counts in the three cases, fined the woman $35 and ordered her to go to traffic school, court records show.
Asked in 1986, during an interview with The Times, about these cases, Carter confirmed that they had been transferred from Shaw’s chambers but said it had been appropriate for him to intervene, given his knowledge of the woman’s traffic problems and her decision not to contest the charges.
“I did nothing that in my mind isn’t done, or hasn’t been done, as a routine matter by most of the judges of any Municipal Court around here,” Carter said.
- The woman’s boyfriend, Jeffrey John Harbison, was arrested in April, 1986, on two counts of felony cocaine possession and three misdemeanor charges. From jail, he made two tape-recorded calls to Carter at the request of Newport Beach detectives, court documents show.
Harbison’s attorney, Rudolph E. Lowenstein, charged at a court hearing that police were trying to get Harbison to get Carter “to make incriminatory statements and that was potentially done in return for consideration on this (Harbison’s) case,” according to a September, 1987, transcript.
In an interview, Lowenstein declined to elaborate, saying only that “I stand by what I said” in the courtroom. Tapes of the calls have not been made public.
Harbison, who is awaiting trial, later changed his mind about cooperating with investigators and failed to show up for an appointment with them, according to a law enforcement source who is familiar with the case.
- Bostrom and Judge Selim S. Franklin called a meeting with three Newport Beach city officials--Mayor John C. Cox Jr., City Manager Robert L. Wynn and City Council member Evelyn R. Hart--in May, 1987. One of the officials at that meeting, who insisted on anonymity, said the judges applied pressure on them to clamp down on the police investigation of Carter.
“ ‘Who’s in charge here--the City Council or some police officer?’ ” the official quoted the judges as asking. “It was sort of like challenging us: ‘Who’s the boss?’ ”
A few weeks later, Carter sent the same official a pass covering restaurant privileges at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club in Corona del Mar, the recipient said. Carter is an active member of the club and once served as its commodore.
Franklin also did not return phone calls from The Times.
- All the judges at Harbor Court disqualified themselves from hearing a case involving two young women who were arrested on prostitution charges in 1986 after Newport Beach police staged a sting operation in the form of a mock bachelor party at the Irvine Marriott Hotel.
Carter removed himself from the case because he knew one of the defendants, Rhonda Linn Gary of Mission Viejo, from his yacht club.
The case was handled by North Orange County Municipal Judge Margaret R. Anderson.
- Gary’s co-defendant, Pamela Grace Weston of Huntington Beach, was convicted in 1984 of prostitution but was allowed to serve her sentence in a work furlough program, doing clerical and outdoor maintenance work for the county, instead of spending 10 days in jail. Weston, who described herself as a nude dancer, said in an interview that she believed that a friend had intervened with Schmidt to obtain the lighter sentence.
The docket sheet relating to the work furlough initially was stamped with Schmidt’s name, indicating that he handled the case, court records show. But the name was crossed out and replaced with that of Judge Frances Munoz.
One source who is knowledgeable about the district attorney’s investigation said loose clerical and administrative practices are common in Harbor Court. Such practices made it difficult for investigators working on the Carter-Schmidt probe to track the various cases, he said.
Carter’s supporters contend that he and Bostrom are victims of a political vendetta stemming from the Newport Beach Police Department’s longstanding hostility toward the court. Generally considered liberal, the Harbor Court judges are more admired by defense attorneys than by prosecutors and police.
Shaw, a former deputy district attorney, has become isolated from the other judges, to the point that she does not accompany her colleagues when they lunch together once a month, according to judicial sources.
She was accused by colleagues of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct by endorsing a candidate for a non-judicial office--Councilwoman Hart--in 1986. But Hart told an investigator for the Commission on Judicial Performance that she could not remember receiving Shaw’s endorsement, according to a source outside the commission.
The commission was also told, according to court sources, that Shaw has insulted Latino defendants by, for example, making gratuitous references to beans and tacos.
Shaw, citing the commission’s confidentiality rules, declined to discuss the commission’s investigations, except to say that the controversy has been “devastating” for her.
The Commission on Judicial Performance investigates charges of misconduct by judges and is empowered to recommend to the state Supreme Court that a judge be censured or removed from office.