The California Commission on Judicial Performance is in the midst of hearing a complaint against Court of Appeal Justice Jeffrey Johnson, with closing arguments expected on Oct. 8 and a decision on his punishment – assuming he doesn’t retire first – soon after.
Johnson has been accused of numerous instances of sexual harassment, unwanted advances and demeaning language toward fellow public employees. As the state considers discipline for the high-profile judge, we think it’s time they and the feds consider a pernicious aspect of judicial accountability proceedings: that judges at both levels can simply retire to avoid judicial accountability proceedings and punishments.
In a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, FTC researcher Dylan Hosmer-Quint calls on federal and state judiciaries to hold judges accountable for misconduct by removing their pensions, rather than allowing them to retire on full salary in the wake of accusations.
“Judges should be held to the highest of ethical standards, and there’s no reason they should keep a reward, like a pension, if they cannot uphold those standards,” Hosmer-Quint writes.
Current state and federal laws allow judges to effectively end inquiry into their misconduct by retiring. That has allowed former Ninth Circuit judge Alex Kozinski, also of California, credibly accused by numerous women of sexual harassment, to retire on a $220,000 annual pension.
Fix the Court believes that those laws should be changed, allowing the judiciary to investigate and punish judges, even if they have retired.
Hosmer-Quint ends his essay by asking if these misbehaving judges feel they are entitled to lofty pensions given their years of service.
“They may argue that their time serving the public gives them the right to a state- or federally-backed retirement pay. But was Judge Kozinski serving the public when he was showing his clerks pornography, asking them their sexual preferences, encouraging them to exercise naked or groping them? Was Justice Johnson serving the public when he was propositioning California Highway Patrol officers for sex or harassing attorneys?
“Of course, they weren’t. This type of abuse of the public trust should not be rewarded with lifetime compensation.”