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Two judges censured after admitting having sex with women in chambers

Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner won a reelection bid Tuesday even after he was censured for conduct including having sex in his court chambers.
(Orange County Superior Court)

Two California judges — one in Orange County, the other in Kern County — avoided removal from the bench after they admitted to having sex with women inside their respective chambers and showed remorse, according to a judicial oversight panel decision published Tuesday.

Scott Steiner, an Orange County Superior Court judge since 2011, was censured for a host of improprieties, including having sex with two women in his chambers — one was his intern, the other a practicing attorney in the county — and failing to disqualify himself from a case involving a longtime friend, according to the Commission on Judicial Performance, an oversight board that investigates judicial misconduct.

“Engaging in sexual intercourse in the courthouse is the height of irresponsible and improper behavior by a judge,” the commission wrote in its decision to censure.

Steiner, a former prosecutor and son of former Orange County Supervisor William Steiner, taught both women when he was an adjunct professor at Chapman University’s law school.

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In 2012, Steiner wrote a letter of recommendation for the intern, referred to as “Ms. A” in commission documents, endorsing her for a job at the Orange County district attorney’s office. When Ms. A didn’t get a call back after her first interview, the commission said, Steiner called the office and asked why and acted irritated with the answer.

The cumulative effect of Steiner’s behavior “disrespected” the court’s dignity and decorum and tarnished his office in the eyes of the public, the commission wrote. His “libidinous conduct” in his chambers also could have subjected employees to a hostile work environment if they had heard or seen anything.

Steiner ultimately admitted wrongdoing and showed “great remorse and contrition,” wrote his attorney, Paul S. Meyer. The commission concluded that the censure — the most severe form of discipline the commission can issue outside of removing a judge from the bench — sufficed.

But it was almost a different story for Meyer’s other client, Kern County Superior Court Judge Cory Woodward.

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According to commission documents, when Woodward was repeatedly confronted about his sexual liaisons in the workplace, he deflected or misled questioners repeatedly until the very end.

From the spring of 2012 to the summer of 2013, Woodward had an intimate relationship with a court clerk, a married woman whose husband and coworkers had suspected “something [was] going on” between her and the judge, documents state.

For about four months in 2013, the two worked together in the county’s family law court during which the clerk was heard repeatedly referring to Woodward by a nickname typically used only by his friends and colleagues.

The relationship began to drive a wedge between the clerk and her colleagues, according to documents. Other court clerks complained about her use of the nickname and that the judge allowed her to show up to court late after their shared lunch breaks. At least once, the clerk’s husband called court officials and prodded them about his wife’s relationship with Woodward.

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The pair exchanged personal emails, and he passed notes “of a sexual nature” to her during court proceedings. They also had sex “in public places” and in his chambers, the documents state. During a break in proceedings early last year, a court audience member saw Woodward make an “inappropriate sexual gesture toward the clerk” when he thought no one was looking, the commission wrote.

Woodward’s behavior potentially warranted removal from the bench, the commission wrote, but he has a stellar reputation as a judge and eventually showed great remorse and contrition.

The commission is made up of three judges, two lawyers and six members of the public.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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Twitter: @JosephSerna


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