As you sit anxiously in the, crowded, gloomy courthouse waiting for your case to be called, you glance at your watch. 30 minutes pass, then another 15, and then another, but still, no sign of the judge. Maybe he’s stuck in traffic, or maybe his car broke down. Whatever the reason for his tardiness, it must be for a valid reason, you naively think to yourself as the day continues to pass you by.
While all of these possible explanations for a judge’s tardiness appear to be reasonable, select individuals at the Orange County and Kern County Superior court may have found themselves waiting excessively for an entirely different reason – not because of an issue with their judge’s car, but rather, an issue with his morality.
Two California Judges Involved in Sex Scandal with Women Inside Their Chambers
Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner and Kern County Superior Court Judge Cory Woodward were punished by The Commission on Judicial Performance after they both admitted to having sex with women inside their respective chambers. 1
In 2012, Steiner had sexual intercourse with two women in his chambers, one, a former intern and the other, a practicing attorney within Orange County. Both women were also former law students of his at Chapman Law School. In addition to the sexual violations, Steiner also contacted the local district attorney’s office to secure a job for the intern – a direct violation of ethical rules.
From approximately July 2012 to May 2013, Woodward engaged in sexual intercourse with his married courtroom clerk and passed sexually overt notes to her while court was in session. According to the Commission on Judicial Performance, Woodward also refused to reassign the clerk despite multiple requests by coworkers. He also lied to the court’s chief executive when asked about the nature of his relationship with the clerk.
“When people in power relationships are engaging in sexual conduct with people they supervise, there is always a concern of impropriety” said Charles Geyh, an ethics expert and professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. 2
While the judge’s inappropriate conduct was hard to believe, the judges’ punishment (or lack thereof) came as an even bigger surprise to the general public and legal community alike.
Judges Who Admitted To Inappropriate Sexual Conduct Allowed to Remain on Bench
After a lengthy process, the state’s judicial watchdog agency chose to only censure both Steiner and Woodward, rather than to seek the removal of the judges. Many critics feel as if a public censure is far too light of a punishment as the judges continue to be allowed to sit on the bench.
Those opposed to the moderate discipline say that the judges’ behavior does not demonstrate the necessary qualities to serve within the court system. “In both cases, the incidents demonstrate that the judge involved lacks appropriate personal boundaries that are required for any individual to serve as a judge in my opinion” said former San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein. 3
Stanford Law School professor Deborah Rhode expressed similar sentiment, adding, “the justice system is predicated on the assumption that all participants be truthful in their professional dealings.”
It is important to note that there is no procedure in California that calls for the temporary suspension of judges, which other states have.
How Does Wallin & Klarich Feel?
The decision to publicly censure the judges for their shameful behavior rather than to expel them was absurd. The men deserved a much harsher punishment than they received and a public censure is nothing short of a slap on the wrist.
Canon One of the California Code of Judicial Ethics clearly states, “A judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.” 4
Engaging in sexual intercourse with former students and employees is one thing, but to do so inside your chambers, merely yards away from individuals who are in court facing allegations that they broke a law themselves? It is safe to assume that neither the integrity nor the independence of the judiciary were on the forefront of the judges’ minds while they were in their chambers with those women.
According to court documents, Woodward and Steiner’s saving grace was their recognition of wrongdoing and the fact that they appeared to be apologetic for their actions.
What Do You Think?
Do you think the judges should be able to remain on the bench after engaging in such behavior? Or, do you think a public censure is a fitting punishment for their actions. How would you feel if you had to wait for a judge while he was in his chambers having sex with a colleague? Let us know in the comment section, we would love to hear from you.
2. [Daily Journal – “Discipline of judges who had sex at work questioned” September 26, 2014]↩