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Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jackson “Jack” Gifford may have put his gavel in jeopardy when he allegedly tried to buy sex from a police decoy on Wednesday. After his criminal case is resolved, Gifford will likely face an investigation by the Commission on Judicial Performance, the state watchdog agency that disciplines judges. The 76-year-old widower was charged with soliciting prostitution on Friday after he and 21 other suspected johns were rounded up during a routine police sting on San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. Gifford, who has been on the bench for 23 years, offered to pay the decoy $40 to have sex at his house, police reports say. The judge went on vacation Friday until the end of the month, said Joanne Lederman, assistant court chief executive officer. Judge Ronald Combest, a retired judge from Mendocino County, will be presiding over Gifford’s felony preliminary hearing calendar in the interim. Gifford will be arraigned on March 19 for a misdemeanor count of soliciting prostitution. At that time, he could plead guilty to disturbing the peace, pay a $120 fine and be put on probation for two years �� a typical plea agreement for such a crime, said Deputy District Attorney Kevin Dunleavy. “Since we have such a high volume of these cases, there is a typical disposition,” Dunleavy said. After the criminal case is over, Gifford’s troubles with the Commission on Judicial Performance will begin. The CJP would not comment specifically on Gifford’s case Monday. But in general, judges charged with crimes that involve “moral turpitude” must self-report the incident to the commission, said Victoria Henley, director-chief counsel. A judge convicted of a misdemeanor could face anything from private admonishment to removal from the bench, depending on the case. Felonies and crimes that involve moral turpitude are grounds for removal, Henley said. The publicity surrounding the Gifford case may not bode well for the judge, one expert said. Sometimes judicial misconduct that receives a lot of publicity results in stiffer penalties, said James Murphy, a San Francisco lawyer who frequently represents judges who face discipline from the commission. “I doubt that they would just issue an advisory letter, a private admonishment or a public admonishment,” Murphy said, referring to some of the lighter CJP penalties. Henley, the commission spokeswoman, acknowledged that the commission sometimes notes the impact of negative publicity when it metes out judicial discipline. However, she said, notoriety of an incident doesn’t affect the panel’s decisions. “The commission tries to apply [discipline] with consistency and to take precedent into account,” she said. Gifford’s Wednesday arrest comes in the twilight of a legal career that spans four decades. Gifford was in private practice for 22 years before Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the Oakland municipal court in 1981. He was elevated to the superior court through trial court unification. Gifford was married to former Peralta Community College District Trustee Dorothy “Dodie” Gifford for 51 years, until she died in 1999. If Gifford is removed from the bench, he will be the second Alameda County judge forced from office in recent months. In September, the Commission on Judicial Performance removed Pleasanton Judge D. Ronald Hyde for abusing his post and enlisting court staff to break ethics rules.

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