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Appeals court justice is accused of sexual harassment

LOS ANGELES — An attorney for a Los Angeles-based Court of Appeal justice said Aug. 5 during the first day of a legal tribunal in downtown Los Angeles that gossip and an attention-hungry female judge were to blame for his client facing a series of sexual harassment accusations.

The attorney for Jeffrey Johnson, 58, said one of his client’s accusers, 2nd District Court Justice Victoria Chaney, was not credible because she was known to gossip and considered herself “very attractive and appreciates the attention,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Both Johnson and Chaney were appointed to the appeals court by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Chaney alleged Johnson has sexually harassed her for years, touching her inappropriately and repeatedly asked her to have an affair with him.

Johnson has denied Chaney’s allegations along with the most serious charges brought by at least 17 women, some of whom said he touched them without their consent, but admitted that he did not have proper boundaries. His lawyers said he has taken and passed a polygraph test, The Times reported.

Attorney Paul S. Meyer said his client was being judged through the lens of the #MeToo era for incidents that occurred 20 years ago, according to The Times.

The judicial discipline case is highly unusual for a judge of Johnson’s position. The Commission on Judicial Performance, the independent state agency that is hearing the charges against Johnson, has brought formal proceedings against only two other appellate justices since 1960.

If the charges are found to be true, Johnson could face removal from the bench. Two lawsuits have been filed stemming from the sexual harassment allegations.

A witness testified that during a 2015 industry dinner Johnson complimented her figure and repeatedly asked her to perform sexual acts on him, prompting her to leave the event with her then-boyfriend, who testified the woman told him what Johnson had said. She said she feared Johnson would retaliate against the law firm she worked for if she reported his behavior to the state Judicial Council or the Commission on Judicial Performance.

A second lawyer said Johnson put his hand on her knee at a dinner and slid it up to her thigh. A third attorney said he gave her an unwelcome and extended kiss on the lips. A fourth lawyer said he sent her sexually suggestive texts after meeting her at a private party.

The charges date back to 2004, when Johnson was a federal magistrate.

A court clerk said Johnson asked her back then if she had a breast augmentation and wanted to know if he could touch her breasts, The Times reported.

Two Court of Appeal janitors also testified they believed Johnson was drunk in public on up to five occasions. Meyer said Johnson suffers from diabetes and when his sugar level drops, he can sometimes appear intoxicated, the newspaper reported.

Johnson sued the 2nd District Court of Appeal, where he serves, and Presiding Administrative Justice Elwood Lui. The suit says that Lui revealed a sexual harassment complaint by a California Highway Patrol officer against Johnson in an email sent to more than 10,000 court personnel, according to The Times.

Johnson contends that Lui, who was investigating the allegation, violated his privacy rights and that the mass email encouraged many of the women now alleging sexual harassment to view past interactions with him in a negative light. The suit seeks $10 million in compensation.

The CHP officer whose complaint Lui was reviewing also has sued Johnson and the CHP for sexual harassment.

The officer claimed Johnson propositioned her for sex when she was required to drive him, a charge Johnson denied. Another CHP officer said he repeatedly tried to get her into his house when no one was at home.

Once the hearing concludes, a three-judge tribunal will report on the findings of the case and the Commission on Judicial Performance will determine if Johnson will face any discipline. Johnson can appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The hearing is scheduled to last up to four weeks.

From City News Service