One of three former Superior Court judges whose conduct in office is being probed by federal authorities has been reported missing by his family, the Sheriff's Department announced Wednesday.
The wife and daughter of former Judge Michael I. Greer, 62, reported him missing Tuesday night after he failed to return from his law office in San Diego.
Greer served 16 years as a judge, including a term as the presiding judge of San Diego Superior Court, and was widely admired in the legal community before he became ensnarled in an ethics scandal and resigned in 1993.
He was one of three San Diego County judges who came under fire for taking gifts from attorneys whose cases they were hearing. One of the others, James Malkus, retired as well, and a third, Dennis Adams, was ousted for ethical violations by the state Supreme Court.
For months, federal investigators have been probing the three judges as well as San Diego civil attorney Patrick Frega, who had given gifts to the judges. The gifts included a sweater, dinners, free legal services, car repairs and help in buying an automobile.
Legal sources have predicted that the federal probe could lead to indictments in the near future. Federal authorities have interviewed dozens of court personnel and Greer's family members.
Sheriff's Lt. Gerry Lipscomb said there is no evidence of foul play in the disappearance of Greer, who did not leave a note. He apparently did not go to his office Tuesday.
Greer bought a present for his wife, June, with a credit card from a store in Lake Elsinore in Riverside County midmorning Tuesday and had it delivered Wednesday, Lipscomb said.
He declined to reveal the nature of the gift. He said Greer is at medical risk because he has only a few days' supply of heart medicine.
Greer, who lived in suburban Poway, is thought to be driving a late-model Volvo sedan.
"We're desperately concerned," said Richard D. Huffman, a close friend of Greer and a judge on the 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego. "For him to walk away from his family like this shows a person who's at the end of his rope.
"I just hope that maybe he reads this article and comes back home," Huffman said. "Whatever the problems are, they can be worked out."
Lipscomb said he is attempting to determine what Greer's state of mind was when he was last interviewed by the FBI, which has served warrants on all three ex-judges and Frega.
Adams, 54, was removed in September by the state Supreme Court, the first San Diego judge ever ousted. Among other things, Frega had helped him buy a used car despite Adams having ruled in his favor in a lawsuit.
Greer resigned, citing ill health, amid an investigation by the State Commission on Judicial Performance. He has consistently denied wrongdoing and said he reported all gifts on state-mandated disclosure forms.
Malkus, 59, who served 14 years on the bench, resigned five months after Greer. Among other things, Frega had helped pay a car repair bill for Malkus.
Greer and Malkus, after their retirements, went to work as well-paid private judges working to settle civil lawsuits where the parties are impatient to get a court date.
The Greer family Wednesday issued a statement saying: "We are hopeful that our loving husband, father and grandfather will be located soon."
Times staff writer Alan Abrahamson contributed to this story.