A state judicial watchdog commission on Monday charged Los Angeles-based state Court of Appeal Justice Jeffrey Johnson with nine counts of misconduct, including sexual harassment and squeezing the breast of a female justice.
The Commission on Judicial Performance, which issued the charges, said a formal hearing would be convened to examine the evidence.
Johnson, a former federal prosecutor appointed to the appeals court by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, could face removal from the bench.
Johnson served as a federal magistrate for 10 years before joining the Court of Appeal, and the charges filed against him date to his time on the federal bench.
Johnson said through his lawyer that he denied all the allegations and passed a polygraph test in which he was asked about the most serious of the charges.
The commission has disciplined other judges over the years for sexual misconduct, but the extent and severity of the charges against an appellate justice are unusual. The charges also involve conduct that allegedly occurred over two decades.
More recently, according to the charges, Johnson sexually harassed and improperly touched a female justice. The charges described the conduct as “unwelcome, undignified, discourteous and offensive” and akin to sexual harassment or sex discrimination.
In July 2012, Johnson and the justice met in the hallway of the courthouse, according to the charges. She told Johnson she had just finished a particularly difficult hearing.
After making a remark about her breasts, Johnson then allegedly squeezed one of them.
Between January 2010 and June 2018, Johnson repeatedly hugged the justice and put his hand on one of her breasts and patted her on her buttocks at the courthouse, the charges state.
In December 2015, according to the charges, after a discussion about sexual harassment allegations “against one or two other judicial officers,” Johnson told the justice: “You would never report me, would you?”
(The Times generally does not name victims of sexual assault unless they have agreed to be identified.)
Johnson also allegedly harassed California Highway Patrol officers who worked for the agency’s judicial protection division and were assigned to drive him to the airport and various functions.
According to the charges, Johnson told a female officer that he wanted to take off her clothes and have sex with her. He also is charged with putting his hand on her thigh while she was driving and asking her to pull over so the two could have sex.
Another CHP officer reported that Johnson spoke to her in a sexually suggestive manner and invited her into his home when no one else was there.
Johnson is also charged with yelling at court employees during disagreements and becoming intoxicated in public.
The allegations date back to 1999, when Johnson was a federal magistrate. Federal court staff reported that he made inappropriate sexual remarks, including asking a court clerk if she had a breast augmentation and then asking if he could touch her breasts.
Lisa Bloom, who represents one of the CHP officers named in the charges, said the woman has taken the first step toward filing a lawsuit against the state for sexual harassment.
Bloom said the officer initially reacted to the justice’s behavior by seeking and getting a job reassignment.
That Johnson’s alleged misconduct could have persisted for two decades did not appear to surprise Bloom.
She said women are often reluctant to complain, particularly when the harasser has a powerful position.
“It is a very difficult thing for women to complain in general,” she said. They often feel they will not be believed or hope the offensive behavior will stop, she said.
Bloom said she expects Johnson will be removed from the bench if the allegations by the women are believed.
Johnson said through his lawyer that he would rely on “facts and documents to provide the truth” and produce communications by the complainants that discredit their claims.
The statement said he was committed to the investigative process despite “irresponsible and unsubstantiated emails sent by a judicial officer to thousands of court personnel containing erroneous information.”