State justice accused of sexual harassment that started when he was federal magistrate judge

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

A justice on California’s Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles has been accused of a pattern of sexual harassment that began in 1999 when he was a federal magistrate judge.

The California Commission on Judicial Performance announced the allegations and charges against Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson, 58, on Monday, report the Los Angeles Times, the Recorder, the San Francisco Chronicle and Above the Law.

Johnson is accused of harassing two other appellate justices, court employees, police officers driving him to events, and outside attorneys. He is also accused of making inappropriate comments to two court employees while he was a federal magistrate judge.

A lawyer for Johnson told the publications that his client denied the allegations and had passed a lie detector test focusing on the most serious charges. “Justice Johnson remains respectful of the process of investigation and will rely on facts and documents to provide the truth,” said the lawyer, Paul Meyer, in a statement.

According to the commission, Johnson began harassing one of the appellate justices when she telephoned him to congratulate him on his appellate appointment in summer 2009. He told her then that he didn’t realize she was “so beautiful.”

During a judicial college event the next year, Johnson went to the justice’s hotel room and had to be repeatedly asked to leave, according to the allegations. He also allegedly proposed an affair that same year (he was rebuffed).

In one incident, the commission alleges, the justice told Johnson about a difficult hearing in the courthouse hallway. Johnson said, “Well, I should kiss and squeeze your titties to make you feel better,” or words to that effect, according to the commission. Then he allegedly squeezed the justice’s breast.

Johnson also repeatedly hugged the justice between 2010 and 2018, pressing against her and putting his hand on one of her breasts, according to the charges. He would make comments during the hugs such as “Mm-hmm,” and “You feel good,” or words to that effect.

He allegedly told another appellate justice she has “the greatest ass in the Second District,” or words to that effect.

Johnson is also accused of yelling at court employees and appearing drunk in public.

Deborah Rhode, a professor at Stanford Law School, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the charges are “an example of what the #MeToo movement has unleashed.” She clarified that she was not assessing the allegations against Johnson, however.

“For decades, people just tolerated abuses of this kind because they feared retaliation, and in some instances doubted that complaining would do much good,” she said. “We are now in a new era.”

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