A judge's gavel. Photo via Pixabay.
A judge's gavel. Photo via Pixabay.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has been publicly admonished for writing two letters to Long Beach’s police chief in 2018, including one on behalf of two of the agency’s detectives after a murder case was dismissed, the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance announced Tuesday.

In its seven-page decision, the commission found that Judith Judith L. Meyer “engaged in several instances of misconduct arising out of the same matter, creating the appearance that law enforcement officers were in a special position to influence her, misusing the prestige of her judicial office to advance the personal interests of law enforcement officers and herself, and making statements that gave the appearance of bias in favor of law enforcement officers and that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing.”

The commission noted that Meyer presided over a May 2017 pretrial hearing in which a deputy public defender alleged that Long Beach police Detectives Malcolm Evans and Todd Johnson engaged in misconduct when they, through the prosecutor, provided incorrect information regarding a witness and used improper tactics when obtaining an identification from another witness.

“When presented with this information, Judge Meyer stated on the record that `the behavior of the detectives is appalling and unethical and inappropriate’ and later stated that `the prosecution, unfortunately, has been the victim, as well, of their own detectives,” according to the commission’s decision, which noted that the judge barred the prosecution from calling two of its three eyewitnesses and that the case was subsequently dismissed at the prosecution’s request.

Nearly a year later, the judge met in her chambers with the two detectives and reviewed excerpts of a transcript that apparently addressed some of the evidentiary issues a deputy public defender had raised and that “seemed to indicate that the detectives had not, in fact, engaged in misconduct,” according to the decision.

Meyer wrote a letter in April 2018 on official stationery containing the Superior Court seal to then-Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, in which she penned that she felt “compelled to write … on behalf of the detectives” and characterized the allegations against the detectives as an “unfortunate misunderstanding” and wrote that it appears that the detectives “conducted themselves appropriately in this case,” according to the decision.

The judge subsequently sent another letter on official court stationery in May 2018 in which she tried to retract the statements she made in the first letter, which she characterized as a draft, and wrote that she “never intended to give a representation that (she had) an overall feeling about their general character” and that she wanted to “dispel any concerns anyone may have” about her integrity, according to the decision.

The judge’s conduct in meeting with the two detectives and then writing the April 2018 letter on their behalf “gave the appearance that law enforcement had special access to her and were in a special position to influence her conduct and judgment,” and that each of the letters on official court stationery “constituted a misuse of the prestige of judicial office,” according to the decision.

“In writing the first letter, Judge Meyer lent the prestige of her judicial office and used her judicial title to advance the personal interests of the detectives by attempting to rehabilitate their reputations; in writing the second letter, she advanced her personal interests by attempting to retract her earlier statements in order to rehabilitate her own reputation.”

The commission concluded that Meyer’s conduct in sending the letters “reflected a failure to observe the high standards of conduct that preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary,” noting that she “acted impulsively without stopping to consider the potential consequences of her actions.”

The commission noted that Meyer recognized prior to being contacted by the commission that she had committed misconduct, accepted that her actions were improper and expressed remorse, along with taking remedial steps about law enforcement officers’ access to her chambers and reporting her errors to her supervising judges and seeking their guidance.

Meyer — who has been a judge since 2006 — had previously received a private admonishment in 2016 for statements she made on whether a defense attorney should be removed from a case during two hearings that “conveyed a negative opinion of the relevant law by calling it `outrageous and ridiculous,’ commenting on the merits of the prosecution’s case, making statements endorsing a defense attorney, and encouraging the defendant to keep the attorney based on her long relationship with the attorney and their status as former colleagues,” according to the latest decision.

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