SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - "Great remorse and contrition" saved two California judges from being removed from the bench for having sex with women in chambers, the Commission on Judicial Performance said Tuesday.
The unrelated cases involve Kern County Superior Court Judge Cory Woodward
and Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner
. Both agreed to be publicly censured rather than face removal, according to orders filed by the 11-member oversight panel.
Woodward admitted having an intimate relationship with his courtroom clerk, in his chambers and in public places. He also demanded that she continue as his clerk when he moved from civil to criminal to family law between 2012 and 2013.
Woodward admitted he passed sexy notes to the clerk during court proceedings and one time "made an inappropriate sexual gesture toward the clerk while a member of the public was present in the audience" during a break, the commission said.
When the other clerks, and the clerk's husband complained about the relationship, Woodward resisted calls to reassign the clerk to another department. He also misled the court's executive officer and supervising judges about their relationship, the panel found.
Woodward's only other disciplinary incident involved a private admonishment in 2010 for improperly handling a contempt of court issue.
Steiner had sex with two women in chambers - during the work day and in the evening - in 2012. Both women were former students in law school classes Steiner taught, the commission said.
Steiner also wrote "Ms. A" a letter of recommendation for a job with the Orange County District Attorney's Office - and exerted a mild amount of pressure on his former colleagues there when she did not advance beyond the first interview.
Steiner recused himself from cases in which "Ms. B," an attorney, appeared before him. But in several instances he improperly assigned cases to other judges after he'd disqualified himself, the panel found.
Besides sexual improprieties, Steiner also heard cases involving a longtime friend and attorney, when he should have disclosed their relationship to the parties or disqualified himself.
While contacting the DA's office on Ms. A's behalf and failing to disqualify himself would not typically warrant public censure, the "consideration of these incidents of misconduct in aggregate with the misconduct related to the judge's sexual activities bolsters the commission's conclusion that censure is the appropriate sanction," the panel said.
The commission found that Woodward's misleading of court administrators and supervising judges to prevent his clerk's reassignment was "as egregious as his misconduct related to his libidinous activities with his clerk," according to the order.
"Court officials and supervising and presiding judges must be able to rely on the integrity and honesty of judicial officers in the performance of their duties," the panel wrote. "This requires more than the avoidance of outright untruths; it demands that judges avoid material omissions in fulfilling their duty to cooperate fully with court officials and other judges in the administration of court business. By misleading the court as to the nature of his relationship with his clerk and opposing her reassignment, Judge Woodward impeded administrative efforts to appropriately respond to complaints and concerns about the clerk's inappropriate personal interactions with the judge. Not only should Judge Woodward have acceded to the recommended reassignment of the clerk, he should himself have requested her transfer as soon as the intimate relationship began."
The commission said that while Woodward's willful misconduct was enough to have him removed from the bench, his admission of wrongdoing and expressions of remorse "indicate a capacity to reform."
Seven commission members voted to censure Woodward, while four dissented and would have instituted formal proceedings. For Steiner, the vote was eight to three in favor of censure.
The commission is made up of three judges, two attorneys and six members of the public.
Both Woodward and Steiner were represented in the proceedings by Paul S. Meyer.