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Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patrick Couwenberg never earned a Purple Heart. He didn’t fight in Vietnam or work for the CIA. Nor did he attend Loyola Law School or earn a master’s degree in psychology or any other subject. A panel of special masters assigned to investigate allegations that Couwenberg fabricated parts of his academic and military background concluded Wednesday that he lied to the governor to improve his chances at a judicial appointment. “Judge Couwenberg’s falsehoods create the appearance that he obtained his judicial office by deceit,” according to panelists San Francisco Judge Ina Levin Gyemant, San Joaquin County Judge K. Peter Saiers and Santa Clara County Judge Thomas Hansen. “A judicial applicant who gets appointed after submitting falsified qualifications brings the judiciary into disrepute and damages public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.” If the 11-member California Commission on Judicial Performance adopts the masters’ conclusions, Couwenberg could be removed from the bench. The judges outright rejected Couwenberg’s plea for mitigation based on a recently diagnosed condition called “pseudologia fantastica,” which doctors say causes people to tell tall tales and mix fantasy with facts. Rather, they found the judge’s lies constituted willful misconduct and violated the basic precepts of the judicial canons to uphold and promote the integrity of the judiciary. But Edward George Jr., the Long Beach, Calif., lawyer representing Couwenberg and a former member of the commission, said his client is undergoing treatment for the condition, which he said is tied to his gruesome experience growing up in a concentration camp in Indonesia at the end of World War II. “We’re not saying it was an excuse but an explanation of why,” George said. And he hopes the commission will opt for something other than removal from the board. “Off with his head — I don’t subscribe to that solution on this type of a case.” George has until May 31 to file a reply brief to the special masters’ findings. Couwenberg, a former prosecutor, was appointed to the bench in 1997. The commission instituted formal proceedings against him last July based on allegations that he’d lied to the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission by listing false dates of attendance to university, misleading officials about his war record, and failing to include his attendance at a community college. Couwenberg offered up various defenses. At one turn, he said his wife typed the application forms; at another, he said he didn’t believe certain biographical and educational information was important. But the panel said, “We find that Judge Couwenberg’s professed view that education is essentially irrelevant to a judicial application is manufactured, in an effort to minimize his lies to the governor.” The panel also pointed to statements from a CIA information review official with the agency’s directorate of operations confirming that Couwenberg never worked for the CIA. The masters also referred to the testimony of John Davies, former California Gov. Pete Wilson’s appointment secretary, who “recalled his interview with Judge Couwenberg because of his ‘unusual war experiences.’ ” Davies testified that it involved undercover work and “ some sort of heroism” — which the special masters took to mean Couwenberg willfully touted his fabricated war record when applying for a seat. “Judge Couwenberg introduced numerous letters and called several witnesses who testified to his excellent performance as an attorney and a judge,” the panel wrote, alluding to attorneys who testified on the judge’s behalf. “However, there can be no mitigation for willful or prejudicial misconduct.”

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