Legal Ethics

Two California judges censured for in-chambers sex, among other conduct

Two sitting California judges were sanctioned Tuesday in unrelated legal ethics cases for in-chambers sexual activity, as well as other misconduct.

The Commission on Judicial Performance said Kern County Superior Court Judge Cory Woodward became involved with his married court clerk during portions of 2012 and 2013, engaged with her in sexual activity in chambers, resisted suggestions that she should be reassigned to another judge, sent her sexual notes during court and misled the county’s chief executive about the relationship, according to the Associated Press, the L.A. Now blog of the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Woodward was censured rather than losing his seat on the bench because he cooperated and showed “great remorse and contrition,” the commission said. It also cited respect among his colleagues for his judicial work and work ethic.

The commission said Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner had in-chambers sex in 2012 with two of his former law students, tried to arrange a job with the district attorney’s office for one woman with whom he was having an affair and failed to step down from hearing a case involving a close friend, according to the AP, the Times and NBC Los Angeles.

The Chronicle says one of the two women was an intern for Steiner and the other was a practicing attorney. Although Steiner disqualified himself from hearing the attorney’s cases, he violated court rules by assigning those cases to specific judges, the commission says.

“Engaging in sexual intercourse in the courthouse is the height of irresponsible and improper behavior by a judge,” the commission said, pointing out that Steiner’s behavior could have tarnished the court’s reputation and potentially subjected other employees to a hostile work environment. The commission censured him, but he will remain on the bench.

Steiner, who formerly served as a deputy Orange County district attorney for more than a decade, has taught as an adjunct at Chapman University’s law school. The Chapman Law Courier and the Orange County Register reported last year that he had been under investigation by the Orange County sheriff’s office after a Chapman law graduate complained to the university about a claimed sexual quid-pro-quo arrangement in which she was to get a job with the district attorney’s office. However, no criminal case has been pursued against the judge.

Woodward also served for over a decade as an assistant district attorney in his county before he was appointed to the superior court bench, the Bakersfield Californian reported in late 2006 as he was about to begin the $158,201-a-year job. He is a McGeorge School of Law graduate.

Attorney Paul Meyer represents both judges and said in written statements that both regret their conduct.

Steiner “cooperated fully in the investigation. He apologizes and appreciates the commission’s thorough review and fair findings in this matter,” says a statement provided by the attorney to NBC Los Angeles.

Woodward “has apologized and appreciates the thorough review of the commission in this matter,” says another statement provided to the AP. Mayer said his client feels “great remorse,” the news agency reports.

See also:

Navel Gazing (OC Weekly): “Scott Steiner’s Sex Court”

Navel Gazing (OC Weekly): “Scott Steiner, Judge in Middle of Sex Scandal, Escapes Charges from State Attorney General”

Updated on Sept. 3 to add details about Steiner’s censure.

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