Legal Ethics

Judge receives 'severe public censure,' largely for misconduct showing lack of sensitivity

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Updated: A California judge has received a “severe public censure,” largely for failing to appreciate how his courtroom conduct affected others and for failing to recognize its impropriety.

The sanction imposed on Judge Gary Kreep is the worst punishment, except for removal, that can be imposed, report the San Diego Union Tribune and the Recorder (sub. req.). The California Commission on Judicial Performance explained its reasoning in an Aug. 17 decision and order (PDF).

“We have determined to issue a severe public censure, the highest level of discipline available under the California Constitution short of removal,” the commission opinion said.

The commission majority said some of Kreep’s conduct might warrant removal, but most of the problems occurred during his first year on the bench and he has “made efforts to reform his judicial style.” Four of the 10 commissioners favored removal.

The commission adopted all but one of the findings of special masters, who had concluded that Kreep was “tone deaf’ to how his comments could be offensive to some people.

The commission cited findings that Kreep: commented on the accent of a public defender and joked he wasn’t planning to have her deported; commented on the attractiveness of female lawyers who appeared before him; developed nicknames for people such as “Ms. Dimples,” “bun head” and “Star Parker” (because he believed the deputy city attorney looked like the syndicated columnist); and asked an accused prostitute whether she did it because she liked the money or because she liked “the action.”

Kreep demonstrated “an astonishing lack of sensitivity to how such comments could be perceived by others and a judicial style unbefitting the judicial office.”

The commission opinion also said Kreep expressed “hostility” when the San Diego City Attorney’s office employed a tactic called a “blanket challenge” that usually results in a judge being temporarily reassigned. Kreep was moved to traffic court. He is now assigned to a courtroom dealing with landlord-tenant disputes.

Kreep’s lawyer, James Murphy, told the Recorder that Kreep has “heeded to the advice” of his presiding judge and has worked hard to make himself a better judge.

Updated at 8:10 a.m. on Aug. 25 to correct misspelled word in fifth paragraph.

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