Steven Bailey, the retired El Dorado County judge now running for attorney general, suggests a state disciplinary investigation tied to his tenure on the bench “was timed to coincide” with his campaign for the Republican nomination.
In documents filed Wednesday, Bailey did not allege outright that the Commission on Judicial Performance was motivated by politics in filing 11 counts of ethical wrongdoing against him last month. But his attorney—James Murphy of Murphy Pearson Bradley & Feeney—noted that the commission “is largely comprised of Democrats” appointed by the state’s top officeholders, all of whom are Democrats. Murphy also said the commission announced the charges against Bailey during the statewide candidate filing period.
“Judge Bailey denies that he committed willful misconduct in office, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, and improper action” as alleged by the commission, Murphy said in the response to the charges.
Gregory Dresser, the commission’s director and chief counsel, declined to comment on Bailey’s claims.
The commission accused Bailey of several ethical missteps during his eight years on the bench. In February, the agency launched formal proceedings, a process usually reserved for the most severe charges. Although Bailey retired from the bench last August, commissioners can still censure him or bar him from serving as a judge again.
Disciplinary actions against a retired judge are rare. And while many judges criticize the commission for how it operates, it’s also rare for one to suggest politics plays a role in who is investigated.
The governor and leaders of the state Senate and Assembly—all Democrats—appoint nine of 11 commissioners. The remaining two are named by the California Supreme Court, which is currently split 3-3 among Democratic and Republican appointees.
The commission alleged, among other things, that Bailey placed defendants in a private-sector alcohol monitoring program without disclosing that the company employs his son. Bailey said he consulted with his presiding judge about the situation and obtained an informal opinion from a California Judges Association ethics committee. That opinion said he did not have to disclose his son’s work unless his son was called to court to testify about the monitor.
The commission also accused Bailey of appointing a friend as a special master without disclosing their relationship. Bailey acknowledged the friendship—the judge said he officiated at his wedding—but said the lawyer was appropriately selected from a list of discovery referees approved by the presiding judge.
Bailey is one of two leading Republican candidates running for attorney general. His GOP opponent, Eric Early, called on Bailey to drop out of the race shortly after the commission announced its investigation.
Bailey’s response to the ethics claims is posted below: