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California Appeals Court Judge Removed For Sexual Misconduct

Justice Johnson’s removal is a victory for judicial accountability. But the culture that allowed rampant misconduct on the bench still runs deep.  

By Dylan Hosmer-Quint, FTC research associate

Earlier this month, the California Commission on Judicial Performance ordered the removal of Court of Appeal Justice Jeffrey Johnson, who was accused of sexually harassing multiple women, including a colleague on the bench.

Johnson’s removal will become final on July 2 unless the California Supreme Court intervenes. According to his attorney, Johnson has appealed the decision.

With revelation of his misconduct, Johnson joins a growing number of state and federal judges who have committed rampant misconduct with impunity for years. Johnson’s case stands out because the California judiciary finally intervened, both investigating his misconduct and acting to remove him from office.

Johnson was ultimately found to have committed of 18 counts of prejudicial misconduct. The Commission reported he “engaged in unwanted touching of several women; attempted to use the prestige of the judicial office to create personal relationships with women; and engaged in ongoing improper touching and sexually related comments toward his colleague.”

Based on these findings, the Commission determined that Johnson had “tarnished the esteem of the judiciary” and was not likely to be reformed.

One reason Johnson may be fighting the charges is that he’s not currently eligible for a full state pension. (California judges must be 60 and have 20 years of service; Johnson is 59 and has 11 years of service.) Previously, Johnson served as an Article I magistrate judge for eight years. Due to his leaving the federal bench before the age of 65, he is also ineligible for a federal pension.

Too often in the federal context, accusations of misconduct are either ignored, or the perpetrators are allowed to retire on full pensions. Former Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, for example, effectively ended investigation into his litany of misconduct complaints by retiring, and was allowed to return to his old courthouse later as an attorney.

Fix the Court has endorsed legislation that would enable the Judicial Conference, the body responsible for investigating federal judges, to remove the pension of a judge found guilty of misconduct.

Want to learn more? You can read a comprehensive CRS report on the history of adding judgeships here.

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