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2 Calif. Judges Censured for Intimate Relations in Chambers

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Yes, judges behave badly, too. But when they behave badly, it makes lawyers and courts look bad.

This week, the Commission on Judicial Performance issued a pair of sanctions to two different superior court judges who both engaged in some inappropriate conduct in camera.

Judge Cory Woodward

Judge Cory Woodward of Kern County Superior Court had an "intimate relationship" with a courtroom clerk. That alone would be a problem. Woodward, though, went above and beyond the call of duty by passing her sexy notes during court, exchanging personal emails and texts at work, letting her call him by an overly familiar nickname at the courthouse, making an "inappropriate sexual gesture" to her while a member of the public was in the courtroom, and -- oh yeah -- having sex with her in chambers.

OK, fine. A little sexy time in chambers is bad enough. But according to the Commission, then Woodward had to go and lie about it.

The Kern County court's chief executive officer told Woodward that the clerk's husband had complained about their "relationship." He suggested that she be reassigned. Woodward claimed that the clerk had talked to the husband, and the husband was angry with her and they might be separating. Over the course of four different meetings with court officials, he continued to tell others that their relationship was professional (it wasn't!) and that she didn't need to be reassigned (she probably did!).

Finally, the presiding judge said he was going to reassign the clerk, suggesting he didn't believe the relationship was purely professional: "[T]he court 'can't be reacting to something when someone thinks this is a Peyton Place when this isn't.'" Woodward received a censure rather than removal, because he "acknowledged wrongdoing and expressed great remorse and contrition." Woodward also appeared to be a pretty good judge, otherwise.

Judge Scott Steiner

Judge Scott Steiner of Orange County Superior Court also had some illicit sexy time in his chambers, but with two women (though at different times). The women were former law students who took classes he taught; one of them had even been his intern at one point. In the case of one of the women, Steiner reassigned cases in which she was an attorney to other judges, but without notifying the presiding judge as required by the Code of Civil Procedure.

According to OC Weekly, revelations about Steiner's infidelity broke in 2012 during a controversial case in which Costa Mesa police allegedly framed a city councilman -- and a staunch critic of public sector unions -- for drunken driving. Despite Steiner's prior connections to the parties in the case, he wouldn't recuse himself. That all changed after the police union's law firm found an attorney in its employ whose law school roommate had an affair with Steiner while he was a part-time professor at Chapman University School of Law. Steiner became so flustered with the public revelation that he ultimately recused himself.

Steiner also failed to recuse himself when long-time good friend Steven Baric appeared in his court, or even to disclose the fact that they were good friends. As with Woodward, Steiner received censure because he said he was sorry.

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