California’s judiciary paid a Tulare County Superior Court clerk $120,000 in 2016 to settle claims that a judge—now removed from the bench—harassed her over several months in 2013.
The court released the five-page settlement document Tuesday in response to a newly amended Rule of Court that requires the disclosure of any agreement in which taxpayer money was spent to resolve misconduct allegations against a judge. Tulare is the first court to provide documents in response to a request for such settlements by The Recorder.
The payment was made to Priscilla Campos Tovar, a Tulare court clerk who alleged that Judge Valeriano Saucedo attempted to pressure the married woman into a romantic relationship by sending her frequent text messages and numerous gifts, including a family trip to Disneyland, cash and a car. Saucedo argued he was only trying to act as a mentor to Tovar.
The Commission on Judicial Performance ordered Saucedo removed from the bench in December 2015, calling his conduct “so completely at odds with the core qualities and role of a judge that no amount of mitigation can redeem the seriousness of the wrongdoing.”
The Tulare court settlement is one of three involving judges around the state dating back to 2010. Lawyers for the Judicial Council acknowledged in March that the judiciary had paid $296,000 to settle three complaints against judges, although it declined to identify the judges or say whether they remained on the bench. Tulare County court officials acknowledged to The Recorder in April that they had a related record, but they also cited various exemptions to the judiciary’s open records rules.
The Judicial Council last month amended those rules to specifically require financial settlements involving judges to be released.
Under terms of the agreement among Tovar, Saucedo and the Tulare County Superior Court, Tovar dropped all current and future claims against the judge and court. The agreement also includes a confidentiality clause forbidding the parties from talking about the payment.
After the Judicial Council loosened the rules governing financial settlements, The Recorder asked California’s Supreme Court, its six appellate courts and all 58 trial courts for records of payouts involving claims against judges. As of Tuesday, representatives of the Supreme Court and four of the six appellate courts said they have no such records. The vast majority of trial courts also reported that they have no agreements.
Alameda County Superior Court last week created a web page that links to highly redacted copies of every type of agreement the court has entered into since 2010. A court representative declined to say whether any of the documents describing payouts involved a judge accused of misconduct.
The sources of the remaining two settlements involving judges and totaling $176,000 remain unknown.