Two Southern California judges are in trouble with state disciplinarians for, in part, making “undignified” and “discourteous” remarks to people in their courtrooms.
Recently retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Timothy Stafford and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carol Williams Elswick were both publicly admonished for their actions by the Commission on Judicial Performance.
Stafford’s punishment stems from a 2017 case involving an employee seeking a civil harassment restraining order against a co-worker. At the end of the hearing, Stafford chided both parties for acting like “junior high school students” and suggested the petitioner “liked” the attention from her alleged harasser “because she got things.”
Stafford also referenced in court a text the alleged victim sent to her husband asking “Will you buy me a new car if I give you a blow job every day?”
“And don’t—counsel, you’re giving me a frown,” Stafford said during the hearing. “If I got a letter from someone, or a phone call saying, ‘I’ll give you a blow job every day for the rest of your life for a car,’ we will be at the Mercedes dealer pretty soon, but not because I’m married, all right.”
Stafford denied the request for a restraining order and the petitioner appealed. The Fourth District Court of Appeal called the trial court judge’s comments “clearly inappropriate” and “created an appearance of gender bias.” The appellate court remanded the restraining order petition to a different trial judge.
The Commission on Judicial Performance concluded Stafford failed in his duty to be dignified and courteous and to act without bias or prejudice.
Stafford’s attorney, Edith Matthai of Robie & Matthai in Los Angeles, declined to comment on the commission’s findings. Stafford retired Sept. 30 after serving five years on the Orange County bench.
In the case of Elswick, the commission found that the Los Angeles County judge on three occasions improperly remanded the defendants and delayed setting revocation hearings until after they served a predetermined amount of time in jail, an action commissioners said “conveyed the appearance” she was trying to circumvent the sheriff’s early release program.
The commission also chastised Elswick, an 18-year veteran of the superior court, for expressing “bias and embroilment” with a public defender after that office moved to disqualify her in another case. Commissioners also found the judge showed “poor demeanor” when needling two litigants for not working as hard as she had when she was a college student.
“Judge Elswick has engaged in numerous incidents of misconduct over a three-year period,” the commission concluded. “In the commission’s view, the judge’s misconduct involving abuse of authority and disregard of the defendants’ fundamental rights, resulting in deprivation of liberty, is particularly serious.”
Two of the nine voting commission members favored giving Elswick a private admonishment instead of the public discipline instituted by the majority. Elswick’s attorney, Randall Miller of Miller, declined to comment.