Steven Bailey, the former trial court judge and unsuccessful Republican attorney general candidate in 2018, has been barred from ever holding a judicial office in California again.
The Commission on Judicial Performance announced Wednesday it has censured Bailey for misconduct committed during his eight years on the El Dorado County bench, which ended with his 2017 retirement. The punishment is the most severe that the commission can level short of removing a sitting judge from office.
“We believe there is a very high probability that Judge Bailey will engage in future misconduct if he were to return to the bench,” commissioners wrote. “There is little likelihood of reform when a judge has engaged in multiple ethical violations on and off the bench during the entire course of his or her judicial career, fails to appreciate the impropriety of the misconduct, and continues to engage in the same conduct despite being advised of the ethical impropriety.”
Reached by text on Wednesday, Bailey called the censure “a political hit by a Democrat-dominated commission designed to damage me politically.” Bailey said he “sought, received, and followed ethics advice … that is now being second-guessed 10 years later.”
The majority of the commission’s 11 members were Democrats at the time they were appointed. The politicians and political bodies that appointed them—the governor, the Assembly speaker, the Senate Rules Committee and the California Supreme Court—are all Democrats or have Democratic majorities.
Asked for comment about Bailey’s claims, Gregory Dresser, the commission’s director and chief counsel, pointed to an exchange from the Jan. 30 hearing on the charges. Bailey had been asked by CJP Chairwoman Nanci Nishimura whether he believed the proceedings amounted to political retaliation.
“I’m not suggesting that,” Bailey said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “But in, you know, the height of a political campaign, when the commission staff … they file an accusation based on conduct that was at that point over six months old … there was almost no action other than letters from the commission staff up until I announced I was going to retire. And then all of a sudden, it went into hyperspeed.”
The California Supreme Court has the discretion to review the commission’s censure. Bailey did not respond to a question about whether he will ask the California Supreme Court to do so.
Bailey was charged with 12 acts of wrongdoing, ranging from placing defendants in an alcohol monitoring program without publicly disclosing that the vendor employed his son to improperly using his judicial title to fundraise and campaign for attorney general.
Bailey said he received an ethics opinion in 2009 from the California Judges Association that concluded the then-judge did not have to include his son’s connection to the monitoring company as long as he did not testify in Bailey’s court. A three-judge panel of special masters that reviewed the disciplinary case against Bailey said the judge left out key information when seeking the opinion: that his son provided written monitoring reports to his court.
Bailey also argued he did not violate any canons barring judges from campaigning for other offices because he was conducting an exploratory, not an actual, campaign before he filed his official candidacy on Feb. 25, 2018. Bailey said that rules requiring him to take an unpaid leave of absence from the bench before campaigning for attorney general violated his First Amendment rights.
“The masters rejected these arguments, as do we,” the commission wrote. “Judge Bailey violated the Code of Judicial Ethics by soliciting contributions and conducting both an exploratory and actual campaign for nonjudicial office, and using the prestige of judicial office to do so.”