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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Two superior court judges disciplined for ‘libidinous’ courthouse behavior

By Amy Yarbrough
Staff Writer

Two superior court judges’ libidos have landed them in trouble with the state’s judicial watchdog agency.

On Sept. 2, the Commission on Judicial Performance censured Kern County Superior Court Judge Cory Woodward and Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner for improper conduct on the job, including sex with women at their respective courthouses. Both judges signed stipulations agreeing to their discipline.

Woodward’s misconduct involved his relationship with a courtroom clerk and his efforts to cover it up. According to the commission, from July 2012 through mid-May 2013, Woodward had an intimate relationship with the married courtroom clerk who was assigned to him. Woodward had sex with her in his chambers and in public places, used court computers to send her messages and passed sexually charged notes to her during court proceedings.

During their relationship, Woodward made repeated efforts to ensure the woman would remain his clerk and resisted court administrators’ attempts to reassign her, saying there was nothing going on between the two.

In its decision, the commission wrote that Woodward ran the risk of exposing court staff to a hostile work environment by engaging in intimate communications and sexual relations with one of their colleagues.

“In fact, the intimacy of the relationship was sufficiently overt that the court received more than one complaint concerning the clerk’s overly familiar and flirtatious behavior towards Judge Woodward, and rumors circulated that ‘something [was] going on between’ the judge and his clerk,” Judge Erica Yew, chair of the commission, wrote in the decision. “Woodward’s conduct placed the court administration and his presiding judges in the uncomfortable position of having to bring these concerns to his attention.”

Woodward had one prior record of discipline, a 2010 private admonishment for the improper handling of a contempt case.

Orange County judge Steiner’s misconduct included having sex on multiple occasions with women he was having relationships with, contacting the district attorney’s office about a job application filed by one of the women he was involved with and assigning cases of an attorney whom he was seeing to other judges. Steiner also did not disqualify himself from a case involving a longtime friend.

According to the commission, both of the women Steiner was involved with were former students in law school classes that he taught. One woman went on to work as an intern for the judge, while the other was an attorney practicing before the Orange County Superior Court. Steiner had sex with one of the women in his chambers during the evening in early 2012 and the other in his chambers on multiple occasions that May, all during the day. Court was not in session at the time.

In its decision censuring Steiner, the commission wrote that “engaging in sexual intercourse in the courthouse is the height of irresponsible and improper behavior by a judge.

“It reflects an utter disrespect for the dignity and decorum of the court, and it 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 woman who had worked as an intern applied for a position with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office but was not called for an interview. Steiner, who had written her a letter of recommendation, phoned the district attorney’s office to ask questions about the interview and hiring process and seemed irritated that his letter of recommendation didn’t result in the woman’s employment.

Although he took action and removed himself from cases involving the second woman, Steiner erred in assigning those cases to other judges because disqualified judges are supposed to notify their presiding judge and not participate any further in the proceedings.

In determining the judges should be censured rather than removed from the bench, the commission noted that both admitted wrongdoing and expressed remorse and contrition.