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Top California court upholds ouster of L.A.-based judge for sexual misconduct

Portrait of a judge
Justice Jeffrey Johnson of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal.
(California Judicial Branch)

The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to hear an appeal from an L.A.-based judge ordered removed from the bench for sexual misconduct, dishonesty and undignified conduct.

The court’s decision, made in a brief order during a closed meeting, means that Court of Appeal Justice Jeffrey Johnson may no longer serve as a judge.

Johnson appealed to the state high court after the Commission on Judicial Performance, a state watchdog group, ordered his removal.

Johnson was charged with harassing 17 women at courts where he worked over the years and at professional functions. The misconduct included unwanted touching, disparaging remarks and multiple instances of undignified conduct while he was under the influence of alcohol, the commission said.

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“Sexual misconduct has no place in the judiciary and is an affront to the dignity of the judicial office,” the commission said.

Johnson’s accusers included Justice Victoria Chaney, who has served with him on the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal. Both Johnson and Chaney were appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Chaney told the commission that Johnson harassed her from 2009 to 2018.

Johnson once squeezed Chaney’s breast in a courthouse hallway, repeatedly touched her breasts while hugging her, commented on her nipples and occasionally patted her buttocks, the commission found.

Chaney testified that she did not initially report Johnson because she believed she was the only victim and thought she was tough enough to handle his behavior. She said she also feared a complaint might spark divisions on the court.

State commission says Los Angeles-based Court of Appeal Justice Jeffrey Johnson should be removed from the bench for mistreatment of women.

Until the “Me Too” movement, she testified, she believed women who complained generally were not believed and were often marginalized. She said she decided to come forward after learning other women also had complained.

Johnson argued in his appeal that the commission’s findings were not supported by convincing evidence and removing him from the bench was too severe a sanction.

Paul S. Meyer, Johnson’s attorney, has called the removal order “unprecedented” and noted that Johnson had no past record of discipline.

“The remedy chosen deprives the public of a diverse jurist who is universally acknowledged to be brilliant and exceptionally fair,” Meyer said after the commission called for Johnson’s ouster in June.

During his appeal, Johnson has collected his salary but has not been deciding cases.

The removal of an appellate justice for misconduct is extremely rare. The commission has brought formal discipline charges against only two other justices since 1960.

San Francisco-based Court of Appeal Justice J. Anthony Kline was charged with failing to follow a precedent. The charge was later dismissed.

The late California Supreme Court Justice Marshall F. McComb was forced to retire in 1977 at the age of 82 after he was found to have “senile dementia.”


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