Legal Ethics

Judge's coffee request, inappropriately aimed paper bring admonishment

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A California judge has been admonished for his treatment of women in his courtroom, including an incident in which he asked a female prosecutor to get him a cup of coffee.

Judge Joseph Bergeron of San Mateo County was admonished (PDF) on Jan. 25, according to a press release. The coffee incident was one of three incidents cited by the California Commission on Judicial Performance. The Recorder (sub. req.) has a story.

The coffee incident occurred in December 2014, according to the commission. As a female deputy district attorney was leaving the courtroom, Bergeron asked if her office was across the hall and whether coffee was available. He conveyed that he would like the prosecutor to bring him coffee, though “the facts about how he inquired, including the point at which he handed her his empty coffee mug, are in dispute,” the commission said.

The prosecutor responded “in a sarcastic manner intended to convey the impropriety of his request what kind of coffee he would like and whether he would like cream and sugar,” the commission said. Bergeron responded he would make it easy and would take his coffee black. As she was leaving, Bergeron said that if he had cash, he would give the prosecutor a tip.

When the prosecutor returned with the coffee, she said, “Is there anything else I can do for you, Your Honor? Can I iron your shirts?” The judge responded that if it was still raining at noon, the prosecutor could retrieve his car for him. “That may be a man’s job,” the prosecutor responded.

In another incident cited by the commission, Bergeron asked a court clerk in August 2014 if she played baseball and tossed a crumpled calendar at her, striking her in the chest. He later tossed another crumpled calendar that once again hit the clerk in the chest.

In a third incident in October 2014, Bergeron left a voice mail for a different clerk and asked her to call him back, but he did not leave a phone number. He later called the clerk’s supervisor from chambers to complain about the lack of a call back, speaking “in a very stern, very loud voice,” the commission said. Bergeron spoke so loudly that the clerk and others in the courtroom could hear him.

The commission cited aggravating factors. Bergeron had been warned in October 2013 that six female court employees had complained he treated them in a rude and condescending manner. He was privately admonished in April 2014 for an incident in which he summoned a lawyer after a clerk accused the lawyer of grabbing her arm. Bergeron conducted a proceeding with the lawyer without jurisdiction to do so, the commission said.

Bergeron’s lawyer, Joseph McMonigle, told the Recorder his client made mistakes but his actions weren’t motivated by gender. “He will, however, be more careful with his tone of voice and actions with staff and not engage in sarcastic conversation to prevent unfounded insinuation in the future,” McMonigle said.

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