AP NEWS

California judge ordered removed from office for misconduct

November 6, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Commission on Judicial Performance said Wednesday it has ordered a county judge removed from office for multiple acts of misconduct, including denial of due process to a defendant, improper conversations with attorneys and comments that constituted sex harassment.

The removal of Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge John T. Laettner becomes final in 30 days, subject to possible review by the California Supreme Court, the commission said in a statement on its 76-page decision.

The commission said it adopted the findings of so-called special masters who presided over an evidentiary hearing that Laettner “was not credible or not truthful as it relates to his testimony concerning several events making up this inquiry.”

The commission also faulted Laettner for failing to acknowledge impropriety and for lack of candor during the proceedings.

Laettner’s attorney, James A. Murphy, said the judge intends to file a petition for review by the state Supreme Court.

“Our position is that the order and decision by the commission is slanted in that it does not include a lot of exculpatory evidence that was offered on behalf of Judge Laettner,” Murphy said, asserting that it was his client who was denied due process during proceedings.

Laettner was appointed to the bench in Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco Bay, by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.

The commission, a state agency that investigating complaints of judicial misconduct, began its inquiry in September 2018.

“Much of Judge Laettner’s misconduct reflects a pattern of engaging with attorneys appearing before him in a manner that is governed by his emotions, rather than by the California Code of Judicial Ethics,” the order said. “His desire to have certain attorneys like him and not be upset or ‘mad at him’ about his rulings, and action he has taken when he was angry or upset with them, has, at times, overridden his compliance with the canons of judicial ethics.”

The order also said Laettner “has also displayed a pattern of inappropriate treatment of women in his courtroom that reflects bias based on gender, as well as physical appearance.”

Laettner took responsibility for some, but not all the improper comments he made to and about women, the order said.

Among other instances of misconduct, the commission found he increased a defendant’s bail without holding a bail hearing with the defendant present, had a substantive conversation with a prosecutor without a public defender being present, and had an improper conversation with a public defender in courthouse hallway in the presence of potential jurors.