Panel says judge ‘deceitful’ in his defense
Tulare County Superior Court Judge Valeriano Saucedo of Lindsay was removed from office Tuesday day by the state Commission on Judicial Performance.
According to documents, the commission ordered Saucedo removed from office for a course of conduct toward his courtroom clerk, Priscilla Tovar, that included “manufacturing an anonymous letter that accused her in crude terms of having an affair with a court bailiff, using the letter and numerous gifts worth thousands of dollars in an attempt to pressure the clerk into a close, personal relationship; and providing legal advice to her son.”
The commission cited Saucedo’s unwillingness to be “truthful” in his testimony as key to its decision.
Saucedo is the first judge in the history of Tulare County to be removed from office. Neither the judge or his attorney would comment.
Saucedo had been the supervising judge at the South County Justice Center in Porterville and worked through Monday, said Tulare County Superior Court Presiding Judge Gary Paden.
On Tuesday, Saucedo was suspended with pay from the bench until his removal is effective on Dec. 31, said Victoria Henley, director-chief counsel with the Commission.
She added the judge can appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court. He will have 60 days from the time the decision is effective to file an appeal.
Henley said only two other judges from Tulare County have been disciplined by the Commission, which was formed in 1960. They were Stephen Drew, who received a public admonishment, and Howard Broadman, who received a censure order.
Paden said a judge will be temporarily assigned to replace Saucedo in Porterville.
“At this point we’ll ask the Judicial Council to assign a judge to handle his caseload,” said Paden, adding he will likely appointed Judge Lloyd Hicks as supervising judge in Porterville. Other judges in Porterville are sitting Judge Gary Johnson and assigned judges Glade Roper and Drew.
Paden added the removal of Saucedo will not affect any active cases.
“Judge Saucedo was aware there could be an issue so he didn’t take any long-term cases,” Paden said. He added once the appeal process has been exhausted, then it would be up to the governor to appoint a new judge for the county. If the removal is upheld, then Saucedo can never again be a judge in the state.
The Commission’s Henley said the removal of a judge is rare. The last time it occurred in California was in 2012. She did say an appeal could be expected.
“Most often in a removal is when judges are most likely to see an appeal,” she said.
The process for such an appeal is streamlined and she said it would be settled rather quickly.
She also said Saucedo has had his licence to practice law suspended, pending action by the State Bar. He does, however, qualify for his full pension.
Saucedo was raised in Lindsay and was appointed to the bench in 2001. He ran unopposed for a six-year term in 2014.
The Commission filed charges against the judge and former mayor of Lindsay in December of 2014 due to his alleged actions involving his clerk from August into November in 2013.
The judge was charged with creating and sending to his own home address a crude, unsigned letter accusing Tovar, his courtroom clerk, of having an affair with a court bailiff. The letter was addressed to Tovar’s husband at his place of employment. The Commission also said Saucedo showed the letter to Tovar and used it in an attempt to pressure her to have a “special friend” relationship with him.
“The judge is charged with engaging in a course of conduct during the next two months in which he sent Tovar hundreds of text messages of a personal nature, gave her approximately $26,000 in gifts, including a BMW automobile and a Disneyland trip package for her family, and provided legal advice to her son,” said the filing.
“The masters concluded that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence,” said Tuesday’s final Commission report. It said Commission members rejected Saucedo’s testimony that he did not write the anonymous letter and that his actions related to the gifts and text messages reflected only a sincere desire to mentor Tovar through a difficult financial period.
“The masters concluded that Judge Saucedo’s conduct violated numerous canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics and brought the judicial office into disrepute. The masters found that the judge’s ‘creation of an embarrassing, sexually explicit letter for the sole purpose of manipulating his courtroom clerk is the essence of an act committed in bad faith,’ and his ‘ongoing dishonesty and subterfuge additionally shows bad faith.’”
The report also noted the “deceitful, calculated, and unseemly nature of the judge’s misconduct, compounded by his lack of candor in response to the commission’s investigation and untruthful testimony under oath before the masters compels our decision to remove Judge Saucedo from office.”
The Masters noted the judge’s excellent record both on the bench and as a citizen. He was named Man of the Year by the Lindsay Chamber of Commerce for his volunteer efforts in that community.
“The commission found that the judge’s highly improper course of conduct violated numerous canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics and was committed in bad faith.
“The commission found that some of the judge’s conduct was undertaken in a judicial capacity and therefore constituted willful misconduct, the most serious constitutional basis for censure or removal of a judge.”
However, the commission stated that even if the judge had not been acting in a judicial capacity, “the entirety of his misconduct warrants removal.”