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SACRAMENTO — A retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge accused of making inappropriate comments to and about women in his courtroom received a public admonishment Thursday from the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance. The commission said Judge John Harris’ conduct on 10 counts constituted either prejudicial misconduct or improper action. The commission cited instances where the judge met privately with sexual assault victims and praised their testimony in court. Harris even invited one of the victims, an attorney, to dinner. But Harris’ attorney, Edward George Jr., said the judge met with the two victims “out of humanitarian motives.” Commissioners said the meetings gave the appearance of impropriety, which led to an appeal court vacating the sentence Harris had imposed in one case and remanding it to another judge for resentencing. Harris retired in October, telling the commission at that time, “I realize my career has concluded as a bench officer.” Prejudicial misconduct was also found in an instance when Harris “thanked counsel at sidebar for not exercising a challenge against a female juror because she was nice to look at.” The commission defines prejudicial misconduct as “acts that a judge undertakes in good faith, but which nevertheless appear to an objective observer to be unjudicial.” The commission’s members, including the commission’s chairman, Third District Court of Appeal Justice Vance Raye, unanimously voted to admonish Harris “in light of the media attention surrounding Judge Harris’ conduct and the impact his conduct had on the judicial system.” Harris had served as a Los Angeles County Municipal Court judge for 15 years and a superior court judge for five years. He is still eligible to do private judging and has not been formally barred by the commission from hearing cases in California courts. The CJP also rebuked the judge for asking two female security officers posted outside the courthouse in 2003 “if he could choose who would search him and said he wanted to be searched in chambers.” In another instance, the judge used the words “caveat emptor” to describe a woman up on criminal prostitution charges who complained of a pelvic disorder. Commissioners said the judge also “failed to maintain and personally observe high standards of conduct” by “pressing” a female attorney for lunch who regularly appeared in his courtroom. They rapped Harris for failing to disclose to the commission that he had provided names and phone numbers of women to a deputy city attorney looking for dates. They said Harris had also failed to tell them that a supervising judge had reprimanded him for his interactions “with young female attorneys.” Nevertheless, the commission — made up of superior court judges, state appellate court justices, attorneys and members of the public — said the judge’s behavior was mitigated by his explanations, suggesting that “he did not fully grasp the implications of his actions.” Harris had not been disciplined before, and many people testified to the CJP about his good nature and character. “In terms of what the commission found, I don’t think it was inappropriate, when you consider all the circumstances of the case,” the judge’s lawyer said.

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