Updated 3:35 p.m.
A Los Angeles state appellate justice is facing possible expulsion from the bench based on alleged instances of sexual harassment, including groping a fellow jurist on the Second District Court of Appeal.
The Commission on Judicial Performance on Monday announced charges of willful misconduct, prejudicial conduct and improper action against Jeffrey W. Johnson for inappropriately touching or making sexually suggestive or inappropriate comments to more than a dozen women who worked in and around the court, including two Second District justices.
The commission also launched formal proceedings against Johnson, the first step in a disciplinary process usually reserved for the most serious cases. The commission has a range of options in such cases, from issuing no discipline; filing a public censure; or removing the accused judge from office. Johnson’s formal response is due by Jan. 24.
Johnson’s attorney, Paul S. Meyer of Costa Mesa, issued a statement denying the allegations and said his client has sworn declarations of court personnel and “other communications” that contradict the accusations against him.
The justice “unequivocally passed forensic lie detector testing focused on the most serious allegations,” Meyer wrote. “Justice Johnson remains respectful of the process of investigation and will rely on facts and documents to provide the truth.”
Daniel Potter, clerk executive officer of the Second District court since July, said in a statement: “We do not comment on matters before the CJP.” Kathleen Ewins, a partner with Long & Levit who said she is representing the court in this matter, declined to comment.
In a 17-page document, the commission leveled numerous accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Johnson, reaching back to 2010. A fellow justice alleged that Johnson, between 2010 and 2018, made unwelcome sexually suggestive comments to her and, in one courthouse hallway encounter in 2010, squeezed her breast. He also “repeatedly patted … her buttocks” over that same eight-year period, the commission alleged.
Johnson was appointed to the appellate court in 2009 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The commission said Johnson also made inappropriate comments to two female members of his security detail, asking one of the California Highway Patrol officers to pull over on a drive “so that [he] could have sex with her.” The commission also alleged Johnson on several occasions commented to court employees and lawyers about their physical appearances and the fit of their clothing and that in 2011 he told another justice that she had “the greatest ass in the Second District.”
Some initial details of Johnson’s alleged behavior become public in July when Elwood Lui, the Second District’s administrative presiding justice, sent appellate court employees around the state an email memo outlining some of the security detail’s complaints about Johnson, according to two of the email’s recipients. The court at the time did not respond to The Recorder’s inquiries about the allegations.
“Justice Johnson remains committed to the process even in the face of irresponsible and unsubstantiated emails sent by a judicial officer to thousands of court personnel containing erroneous information,” Meyer said in Monday’s statement.
Last June, the Judicial Council, responding to a Public Records Act request filed by The Recorder, disclosed that the judiciary had spent just under $645,000 between 2012 and 2018 to settle sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims filed against judicial officers. The identities of many of the accused judges and the nature of their alleged misbehavior largely remain a secret, however, as the settlement documents often provide few details about what happened.
The Recorder last year asked every trial and appellate court in the state for any documents, including settlements, related to complaints of discrimination or harassment against judges dating back to 1998. Every appellate court, including the Second District, reported that it had no responsive documents.
The CJP’s notice of formal proceedings against Johnson is below: