Orange County judge arrested after his wife is shot to death in their home. ‘It’s a shock’

VIDEO | 01:25
Orange County judge arrested on suspicion of murder after wife shot in Anaheim Hills home

Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson was released from jail on a $1-million bond after being arrested on suspicion of murder.

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The quiet that normally fills East Canyon Vista Drive in Anaheim Hills was punctured Thursday night by the thudding of helicopter blades and the barking of police orders.

Through her open bedroom window, Angela Herrmann heard a man’s voice yell, “Don’t shoot me!”

She was too scared to go outside, but other neighbors gathered in the dusk and were shocked to see longtime resident Jeffrey Ferguson, an Orange County Superior Court judge, standing in front of his home, speaking loudly into a cellphone. Green laser dots focused on his body as a booming voice from above directed Ferguson to get on the ground.


“I heard the judge shout, ‘I’m unarmed, but I’m not going to get on the floor,’” recounted Russell Ventura, who lives nearby.

Officers rushed up and quickly apprehended Ferguson, placing him in handcuffs and sitting him on the curb outside his home.

The 72-year-old judge, police say, had earlier shot and killed his wife inside their home.

Anaheim police arrived at the home in the 8500 block of East Canyon Vista Drive shortly after 8 p.m. after reports of a shooting.

Officers made an emergency entry and found Sheryl Ferguson, 65, shot to death inside the residence.

A closeup police booking photo of Judge Jeffrey Ferguson
Judge Jeffrey Ferguson was arrested in Thursday night’s shooting death of Sheryl Ferguson in Anaheim Hills. He was released on bond Friday afternoon.
(Anaheim Police Department)

One other person who was in the home at the time of the shooting was not injured, Anaheim police Sgt. Jon McClintock said.

Law enforcement sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the case said that the person was one of the Fergusons’ adult sons, and that he had called 911 and attempted to perform CPR on his mother.

Police have recovered the weapon that was used to kill Sheryl Ferguson, according to anonymous sources.


Ferguson was released from jail Friday afternoon on a $1-million bond.

Neighbor Jim Carey said he saw Phillip Ferguson sitting on the sidewalk opposite his father, who hung his head while surrounded by police Thursday night.

“From what has been reported, it’s out of character for this judge to carry out this act,” Carey said, adding that he’d visited the Fergusons a few months ago and they talked about the judge being eligible for retirement.

On Friday morning, police had cordoned off the street in front of the two-story tile-roofed home where the fatal shooting occurred. Red crime-scene tape blocked the front of the house and its three-car garage. Investigators were searching the property, from which several large boxes of ammunition were removed.

Ventura said he saw police load several rifles into an unmarked SUV outside the home.

Another neighbor, John Poulter, called the news of the shooting and arrest tragic.

“It’s a shock,” he said, adding that he occasionally saw the Fergusons outside their home while walking his dogs.

He said they had exchanged pleasantries when they saw each other in the street and that he never expected anything like this to happen.

“So many people in the neighborhood flooded the street [afterward] and just kept repeating, ‘There’s no way he could have done this,’” Poulter said.


Ferguson has served as a judge in Orange County Superior Court since 2015. He previously spent more than three decades with the Orange County district attorney’s office, during which he worked on major narcotics enforcement, according to the North Orange County Bar Assn. Ferguson served as president of the association from 2012 to 2014.

The victim, Sheryl Ferguson, had previously worked for both the Orange County and Santa Barbara probation departments, according to the judge’s campaign biography, and the couple had two sons, Phillip and Kevin.

The judge described himself in his biography as a “Navy brat” whose family had moved to Orange County in 1962. As a teen, he — like many locals — worked at Disneyland. He graduated with biology and social ecology degrees from UC Irvine, where he was regional director for Young Americans for Freedom. He also was a graphic designer and advertising communications writer before graduating from Western State College of Law.

Colleagues who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they were not aware of any issues between the judge and his wife.

“Absolutely shocked. I had them sit on my couch. I would never have thought this for a minute,” one said Friday morning.

Susan Kang, a former chief of staff for Orange County’s district attorney, said she has been friends with the Fergusons since 1999, “when Jeff was one of the prosecutors who helped train our hiring class.”


“I have always known Jeff to be someone who was devoted to his wife and his sons,” Kang said. “Just a little while ago, they were at my house having dinner. To be shocked to hear Jeff was arrested for murdering Sheryl would be an understatement. I cannot wrap my mind around it. I am brokenhearted, especially for Phillip.”

Eric Johnson met Ferguson when they attended Southern California Military Academy in the 1960s. He sat outside his friend’s home on Friday after police had investigated the crime scene.

“It’s not Jeff. I would imagine he better get some medical counseling. To take out your wife, you’re not in your right mind,” Johnson said. “Something is not right here.”

Ferguson was admonished by the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance for comments connected to a heated 2016 judicial contest between Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner, who was running for reelection, and Karen Schatzle, a senior deputy district attorney for the county. Ferguson was backing Steiner, who had been censured in 2014 for having sex with two women in his chambers.

According to the commission, which investigates judicial misconduct, Schatzle posted a comment on a Facebook page of the North Orange County Bar Assn. on April 26, 2016, saying, “Scott Steiner uses his office for sex and yet so many aren’t concerned, crazy politics!”

In response, Ferguson went to Facebook and claimed: “Karen Shatzle has sex with defense lawyer [while she] is DA on his cases and nobody cares. Interesting politics.”


The commission ruled that Ferguson’s comment violated ethics rules and that he had acted with “reckless disregard for the truth,” noting that he could not produce any factual support for the accusation.

The incidence of injuries attributed to domestic partner violence rose sharply after the coronavirus outbreak began, and those injuries were more serious.

Aug. 18, 2020

On Friday morning, Ferguson’s Fullerton courtroom was dark. A note posted on the door said cases had been transferred to another courtroom at the North Justice Center.

Kostas Kalaitzidis, an Orange County Superior Court spokesman, said the situation is a tragedy.

“My heart goes out to his family,” Kalaitzidis said from outside Ferguson’s courtroom. “This is not easy for us.”

Kalaitzidis said that the reassignment of cases is standard when a judge is unable to work, but that Ferguson’s arrest may be without precedent in the county’s court system.

“The Orange County district attorney’s office has not submitted anything to the court yet,” he said of charges in the case. .