Former Superior Court Judge George W. Trammell III pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony charges growing out of a sexual affair he had with a criminal defendant's wife.
Trammell, who resigned from the bench after the sex scandal surfaced in 1997, faces up to 18 months in prison under a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors.
Appearing with his lawyers before U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz, Trammell admitted misusing his judicial authority to help the woman recover a Mercedes-Benz, several Rolex watches, a computer and other valuables seized by law enforcement.
He also faces a fine and possible loss of his pension. Trammell, who lives in Florida, was ordered to return for sentencing Jan. 24.
Although he served on the bench for 26 years, Trammell was read his legal rights and questioned about his state of mind like any other criminal defendant entering a guilty plea in federal court.
He responded to most of those questions with a simple yes or no. He was not asked specifically about his affair.
"This is a crime of the worst kind," U.S. Atty. Alejandro N. Mayorkas said afterward. "This individual, entrusted with the most sacred of responsibilities, abused his power and corrupted the administration of justice."
Defense lawyer John Barnett said Trammell, 64, is looking forward to putting the case behind him. "It's been very difficult for everybody involved," he said.
The charges involved Trammell's conduct while presiding over a criminal case in Pomona Superior Court in 1996 against Ming Ching Jin and his wife, Pifen Lo.
Lo pleaded guilty to child endangerment, counterfeiting and money laundering and was sentenced by Trammell to five years' probation, over a prosecutor's objections.
Months later, Jin complained that Trammell was having an affair with his wife.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office investigated the allegations but ultimately declined to prosecute.
Then the state Court of Appeal ordered a judicial inquiry, which found that Trammell had been having sex with Lo for more than three months while her husband was appearing in his courtroom.
The judge who conducted the inquiry concluded that Trammell had pressured Lo into having a sexual relationship in exchange for a lenient sentence for Jin.
In his defense, Trammell contended that his relationship with Lo was platonic, that he befriended her to protect himself from potential organized crime figures.
The judge ruled that Trammell had committed judicial misconduct and ordered a new trial for Jin.
Afterward, the district attorney's office reconsidered charging Trammell with obstructing justice or with rape under color of authority, but ultimately decided it could not make the charges stick.
Federal prosecutors then took up the case. They decided to go after Trammell under a little-used mail fraud statute that makes it a felony for a public official to defraud citizens of their "intangible right of honest services."
Trammell had appointed a private attorney at public expense to file a motion on Lo's behalf seeking the return of the Mercedes-Benz and the other valuables. Trammell had helped Lo prepare an affidavit, which her lawyer then submitted to Trammell to recover the items.
Because the lawyer's legal papers and a $700 check for his fee were sent through the mail, federal prosecutors were able to charge Trammell with mail fraud.