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A former San Mateo County Superior Court commissioner in California was found guilty Monday of violating an unusual state statute prohibiting jurists from performing wedding ceremonies for pay during work hours. Clark Leslie was convicted of four misdemeanor counts, which could carry six-month jail sentences each. Prosecutors, however, say they aren’t interested in throwing Leslie behind bars. Sentencing is set for March 24, and Chief Assistant DA Stephen Wagstaffe indicated that a fine and some sort of community service may be given instead. Leslie, 55, maintains he hadn’t read the finer details of Penal Code 94.5 and didn’t realize he was breaking the law when he performed four weddings during work hours in 2004. The code states a judicial officer can only perform a wedding ceremony for pay on Saturdays and Sundays. Friday nights are also banned. Jurists, however, can perform ceremonies during the work week so long as they don’t accept payment. Judges and commissioners undergo extensive training before they assume the bench, and Penal Code 94.5 is one of the statutes they study. “The laws are there to prevent corruption,” said San Mateo Presiding Judge George Miram. “The ethics of the bench are critical. … I don’t question the DA’s office for prosecuting this case.” Leslie said during his trial last week that he gave the money to charity, and hadn’t realized this still made it unlawful. When court officials started making inquiries into his conduct, Leslie “relooked at the law and went, ‘Whoops,’” said Geoffrey Carr, Leslie’s attorney. Leslie was fired over the indiscretion and has since moved to Nevada, where he is trying to revive his legal career, according to Carr. While Wagstaffe admits he doesn’t think his office has ever prosecuted a jurist for breaking this particular statute, he added that the law’s obscurity doesn’t excuse Leslie for what he did. “It was a crime. Simple, old answer — it was a crime,” Wagstaffe said. “It cost him his career.” Carr disputes this, saying the State Bar of California has taken no action. Carr said Leslie plans to appeal the jury’s verdict. Alden Danner, the presiding judge for Santa Clara County Superior Court, said it is very rare for court commissioners to perform wedding ceremonies, which is something that is usually done now through the county recorder’s office. “I am aware of the rule,” Danner said. “I hope all our jurists are aware of the rule.” If a court official was caught breaking the law in Santa Clara County, Calif., Danner said, disciplinary proceedings would commence. However, he added, their background and experience would be taken into consideration. Asked if he thinks the law is too strict, Danner laughed. “You aren’t going to get me to comment on that. We are here to administer the law, not comment on the law.” Carr, for one, said Leslie received an unfair beating from county prosecutors. “I am surprised [the DA's office] went this far,” he said, noting that up until now, Leslie had an impeccable record and that his termination should have been punishment enough. As a court commissioner, Leslie was making $125,000 a year.

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