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A Sense of Deja Vu for Judge in Sex-Swap Case

The hot news in Orange County is that four judges in the Harbor Municipal Court in Newport Beach are being investigated by the state Commission on Judicial Performance in a case involving X-rated plea bargaining.

Two judges allegedly sought to swap sex for leniency in prostitution cases, and two others allegedly pressured Newport Beach officials to stop police from investigating their two colleagues.

The latter charge involves an allegation that Judge Selim S. Franklin and Presiding Judge Russell A. Bostrom sought to block a police investigation into allegations that the two other judges had improperly used their positions.

Judge Franklin? It isn’t the first time his name has been associated with charges that a fellow judge has indulged in illicit pleasures.

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Franklin was the judge in the 1981 misdemeanor case against former San Diego Municipal Judge Lewis A. Wenzell, in which Wenzell was charged with soliciting prostitution. The case was shifted to the Harbor Municipal Court when Wenzell’s attorney complained of prejudicial pretrial publicity in San Diego.

A jury convicted Wenzell on five counts, but the conviction was overturned after an Orange County Superior Court panel found that Franklin had bollixed the case by talking to jurors without making sure that both the defense and prosecution attorneys were present.

An appeal court, acting on a motion by the San Diego County district attorney, returned the case to Franklin’s court for retrial. But the paper work sat on a courthouse shelf while the 30-day deadline for refiling lapsed.

Wenzell’s attorney then successfully sought a dismissal of all charges. San Diego prosecutors were left sputtering that Franklin and the Harbor Municipal Court had shortchanged the public and derailed the criminal justice system--although there was a dispute over whose responsibility it was to refile, the judge’s or the D.A.'s.

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Wenzell, who resigned his judgeship in the face of a recall movement, is alternately amused and solicitous about Franklin’s plight.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said Thursday. " . . . Franklin gave me 60 days in jail. He was really on his high horse, and now he’s been caught up in something like this.”

Wenzell, 46, who practices criminal defense law in San Diego and dispenses legal advice on a radio talk show, wonders whether his case might have left a lasting impression on Franklin about what happens when judges go on trial.

“I remember when the verdict came down in my case, with cameramen and reporters everywhere,” he said. “It was a zoo. I always thought the reason he let (the appeal-court order) sit on the shelf was to display his complete frustration and distaste for the case.”

Franklin, 58, appointed in 1972 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, is declining to discuss the judicial commission’s investigation.

When he sentenced Wenzell, Franklin told the courtroom: “When a judge violates a law, it encourages others to violate the law.”

Not to Judge, but . . .

Politics just seems to bring out the best in some people.

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Rob Butterfield, in his opening statement during a debate with opponent Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego): “I’m not here to pass judgment on Jim Bates.”

Butterfield, in his closing statement: “Jim Bates is a hypocrite.”

Know Your Audience

San Diego psychologist Steven T. Padgitt has joined the ranks of health professionals fighting AIDS through education. He has trademarked what he calls “an impish phallic character” named Safe SAM (Sexually Active Male).

As part of AIDS Awareness Month, Padgitt plans to debut a line of Safe SAM greeting cards and a flip-book showing Safe SAM happily donning a condom.

County Health Officer Dr. Donald Ramras, who has reviewed a variety of AIDS education materials, cautions that such private efforts need to be tailored to a specific audience. What flies in one area or with one group won’t work with another.

For example, Ramras remembers seeing some AIDS literature being circulated in San Francisco. “Apparently, for the group it was intended for, it was useful,” he said, “but, frankly, I had to ask some people what most of the words in it meant.”


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