Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner was censured Tuesday by California’s judicial watchdog for having sex in his chambers with two women, contacting prosecutors about a job for one of the women and failing to disqualify himself from a case involving a close friend.
According to the Commission on Judicial Performance, Steiner had sex on multiple occasions in his chambers with a woman who had worked as an intern for him and with another woman who is an attorney. Both women are former students in law school classes taught by Steiner.
“Engaging in sexual intercourse in the courthouse is the height of irresponsible and improper behavior by a judge,” the judicial commission said in its decision.
“It reflects an utter disrespect for the dignity and decorum of the court and is seriously at odds with a judge’s duty to avoid conduct that tarnishes the esteem of the judicial office in the public’s eye,” the commission added.
The Attorney General’s Office last September decided not to pursue criminal charges against Steiner based on claims from the woman who is an attorney that she was coerced into having sex with him.
The commission’s public censure was part of a settlement negotiated by Steiner’s attorney, Paul Meyer. Public censure is the most severe punishment short of being removed from the bench.
“Judge Steiner cooperated fully in the investigation,” Meyer said. “He apologizes and appreciates the commission’s thorough review and fair findings in this matter.”
Steiner, a former prosecutor, was elected to the Superior Court bench in 2010. He was transferred during the attorney general’s probe from the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana to handling small claims court cases at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.
In its ruling, the judicial commission found insufficient evidence that Steiner helped the woman who is an attorney to obtain employment in exchange for sex.
But the CJP faulted him for contacting the District Attorney’s Office to help his former intern get a job. She was interviewed for the position, but when she didn’t get it, Steiner called the office to ask why.
“When informed by an attorney who at one time had been his supervisor that (the intern) had not passed the initial interview, Judge Steiner made a statement to the effect of, ‘Well, I guess writing a letter of recommendation means nothing,” according to the commission. Steiner disqualified himself from cases involving the other woman he had sex with, but assigned them to specific judges, which is against the rules, according to the commission.
The commission also censured Steiner for not disqualifying himself from a case involving attorney Steven Baric, his “very close friend.”
According to the CJP, Steiner had sex with the former intern on one occasion in the evening in early 2012 and with the female attorney on two occasions during the work day while court was not in session in May 2012.
Meyer has described the judge’s relationship with the attorney as consensual. “The relationship ended last year when it was discovered by her husband,” he said. “There was never any complaint to law enforcement.”
In May of last year, the California Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board rejected the woman’s claim for at least $1 million in damages.
The allegations of coerced sex prompted an Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigation last year. All the evidence in the case was turned over to the Attorney General’s Office because the Orange County District Attorney’s Office declared a conflict of interest.
The judicial commission credited Steiner for expressing “great remorse and contrition regarding his conduct in engaging in sexual activity in chambers with two women with whom he was involved in personal relationships. The judge acknowledges wrongdoing and apologizes.”
— City News Service