California appeals judge is removed from bench for sexual harassment and unwanted touching

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California’s Commission on Judicial Performance has ordered the removal of Justice Jeffrey Johnson from the California Courts of Appeal for misconduct that included unwanted touching and sexual harassment.

The commission said in a June 2 decision that Johnson subjected four women to unwanted touching and seven women to what could reasonably be perceived as sexual harassment. He also tried to develop personal relationships with three other women, engaged in offensive conduct toward a fourth woman and engaged in multiple incidents of undignified conduct while intoxicated, the commission said.

Justice Victoria Chaney was among the women subjected to unwanted touching, according to findings of a special master’s panel report adopted by the commission.

The panel found that Johnson twice asked Chaney to have an affair and touched Chaney inappropriately over a nine-year period. One time, he saw Chaney in a courthouse hallway after a difficult hearing and told her that he should kiss and squeeze her “titties” to make her feel better. He then proceeded to squeeze one of her breasts, according to the factual findings.

Johnson also hugged Chaney on multiple occasions, pressing against her entire body. He also intentionally touched her breast and made comments such as “Mmm-mmm” and “You feel good,” the commission said.

Jeffrey Johnson Justice Jeffrey Johnson. Image from the Judicial Branch of California.

Chaney told friends about the misconduct but did not report it because she thought it would harm her working relationship with Johnson. She also wrote a letter recommending him to an appointment to the California Supreme Court but said she did so because she thought she was the only person being harassed.

The commission said Johnson’s conduct undermined public esteem for the judiciary.

“Treating women disrespectfully, including unwanted touching and making inappropriate sexual comments, reflects a sense of entitlement completely at odds with the canons of judicial ethics and the role of any judge,” the commission said. “Sexual misconduct has no place in the judiciary and is an affront to the dignity of the judicial office.

“Justice Johnson refused to admit his most serious sexual misconduct. Rather than take responsibility for his offensive behavior, he maligned the victims, including his colleague Justice Chaney, and accused them of testifying falsely. But it is Justice Johnson whom the masters found, and we find, testified untruthfully in many instances.

“As to the sexual misconduct Justice Johnson does admit, he claimed that he did not know it was wrong. At his appearance before the commission, he attributed the misconduct he has admitted to his being ‘friendly.’ But friendliness does not extend to sexualized behavior.”

The order becomes final in 30 days if the California Supreme Court declines review, according to a June 2 press release. It’s the first time that the commission has ousted an appeals judge, the Recorder reports.

Johnson’s lawyer, Paul Meyer, told the Recorder and Law360 that the removal order will be appealed.

“This action snaps an unbroken string of decisions which required either a finding of willful misconduct or a violation prior discipline before removing a judicial officer,” Meyer told the Recorder in a statement. “Not one witness ever claimed him to be unfair in any case or anything less than brilliant. The entire matter here involved nonjudicial social conversations.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “State justice accused of sexual harassment that started when he was federal magistrate judge”

ABAJournal.com: “Afternoon Briefs: Judge’s sex-bias accuser accused of seeking attention; lawyer disbarred for office assault”

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