California appeals justice facing sex misconduct discipline
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California state appeals court justice was accused Monday of repeatedly groping a colleague’s breasts, suggesting they have an affair and telling a police officer who served as his driver that he wanted to have sex with her in his chambers.
The Commission on Judicial Performance charged Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles with nine counts of misconduct for allegations that date back 15 years to his time as a federal magistrate judge, when he allegedly asked a court clerk if she had a breast enlargement and whether he could touch them.
An attorney for Johnson said he denies the allegations, passed a lie detector test about the most serious accusations and plans to present evidence from other colleagues and court employees in his defense.
“Justice Johnson remains committed to the process even in the face of irresponsible and unsubstantiated emails sent by a judicial officer to thousands of court personnel containing erroneous information,” attorney Paul Meyer said in a statement. He didn’t elaborate about the emails or respond to questions for more information.
Sixteen women named in the complaint either experienced inappropriate comments or behavior by Johnson or were berated or belittled by him, according to the charges. Some of the women were lawyers who worked for the court, one was a county prosecutor and three were fellow appellate justices.
Johnson, a former federal prosecutor, could be removed from the bench or censured if the commission finds he engaged in conduct alleged in several counts to be “unwelcome, undignified, discourteous, and offensive, and that would reasonably be perceived as sexual harassment or as bias or prejudice based on gender.”
The complaint details behavior that escalated with Justice Victoria Chaney after she phoned to congratulate him on his appointment following their nominations to the court in 2009 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He responded by telling her he didn’t realize she was so beautiful, according to the complaint.
In 2010, while discussing a case in chambers, Johnson allegedly told Chaney that he wanted to have an affair with her and that they were “perfect together.”
After she said she presided over a difficult hearing, Johnson said he should kiss Chaney and squeeze her breasts to make her feel better, according the complaint. He then squeezed one of her breasts.
At a court holiday party he pressed against her and said: “It can’t be sexual harassment because we’re both on the same level,” according to the complaint.
The complaint said Johnson proposed sex three times to California Highway Patrol officer Tatiana Sauquillo, who provided security and served as his driver for work functions.
He allegedly told Sauquillo he wanted her to pull over so they could have sex in the vehicle and then said he wanted to get drinks and have sex in his chambers. On another instance, he told her he wanted to see her out of uniform and graphically described a sex act he wanted to perform.
Sauquillo did not report the allegations to superiors at the time, but she requested a transfer, according to attorney Lisa Bloom, who said she may file a lawsuit on her behalf.
“No one is above the law and that should especially be true of an appellate justice,” Bloom said. “Yet here’s another case of somebody in a position of power being accused by a large group of women of preying on them. It’s very disturbing.”
Sauquillo was contacted last year and agreed to speak with investigators after Chaney filed a complaint against Johnson, Bloom said.
Chaney would not comment on the case and referred questions to her lawyer, who was out of the country and didn’t immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment.
The Associated Press typically does not name the victims of alleged sexual abuse, but Chaney and Sauquillo agreed to be named.
One of the charges said Johnson demeaned his office by appearing to be publicly drunk at several occasions, including the reception for a wedding that he officiated for a former fellow federal prosecutor. When Johnson was asked to leave restaurant, he allegedly yelled at a staff member.