Judge John Laettner of California’s Contra Costa Superior Court has been charged with nine counts of judicial misconduct, allegedly occurring between 2007 and 2018. Laettner denied some allegations, did not recall others, and justified others.
The accusations against him span a broad range of topics. One issue is the way Laettner treats females in his courtroom. The women he is accused of behaving inappropriately toward include deputy public defenders, one prosecutor, one court reporter and defendants. He is also accused of not recusing himself from cases involving his son.
Additionally, he is accused of abusing his authority as a justice by raising bail for a defendant who was not present and altering the minutes after the fact. By raising bail when the defendant was not present, he “failed to accord the defendant and her attorney the full right to be heard according to law,” according to the complaint.
Other accusations include pressuring defendants to plead guilty for a reduction in jail time and prejudging a minor’s case.
Contra Costa Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Harrigan emailed the court stating, “we believe that Judge Laettner’s behavior was egregious and a violation of his oath to uphold the Constitution and follow the law.”
With regards to the justice telling one deputy public defender that her parents didn’t spank her often enough as a child, he claimed this was intended “as a funny way to draw a diffusive end to a serious conversation.”
California’s Commission on Judicial Performance formally reviewed the nine counts of inappropriate behavior and the trial began on February 25, 2019. Mark Lizarraga acted as the trial lawyer for the commission. In Lizarraga’s opening statements he stated that the judge had admitted to many allegations in pretrial conversations. Laettner’s attorney, James Murphy, stated that some allegations were merely “half-truths” and others were taken out of context.
The judge is accused of willful and prejudicial misconduct. If the commission finds that the allegations have merit, the justice could be censured or removed from office completely.
Laettner’s attorney referred to him as “a dedicated public servant” and claimed that the accusations were made because public defenders were angry that he denied bail requests.
Closing arguments were delivered on Friday, April 26th. Now it is up to the three-judge panel to determine if the justice acted inappropriately, abused his power, and failed to uphold the Constitution.
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