A Tulare County judge testified Monday that he was simply trying to help his court clerk overcome financial problems and improve her marriage when he gave her money and gifts, and showed her an anonymous letter accusing her of having an affair with a bailiff.
Judge Valeriano Saucedo is accused by the Commission on Judicial Performance of violating judicial ethics and could be removed from the bench.
Saucedo, 63, told a three-judge panel Monday that he was trying to be a mentor for his court clerk when he gave her the money and gifts, including a car and a trip to Disneyland for the clerk’s family and her sister’s family.
The hearing is taking place this week in the courtroom at the Fifth District Court of Appeal in downtown Fresno. The panel of judges from out of the area was appointed by the Commission on Judicial Performance to hear witness testimony this week about the alleged misconduct.
If the charges are considered proven, the panel will recommend to the commission punishment that could range from privately disciplining the judge to removing him from office. The commission has the final say.
Two months ago, the commission began formal proceedings against Saucedo and issued a 21-page report charging that the judge from mid-September to mid-November 2013 had used the anonymous letter “in an attempt to establish a closer relationship with her” in which she would confide in him and be his “special friend.”
Saucedo denied he had a romantic or sexual affair with the clerk.
The report said Saucedo told the clerk that the anonymous letter was addressed to her husband and had been sent to her husband’s boss, but that he would call her husband’s employer under a pretext that it was a letter from the court sent in error, intercept it and have it destroyed.
Commission examiner James Harrigan of Sausalito asked Saucedo whether the promise to intercept was a lie.
“I said it to make her feel better,” Saucedo said. “It was a reaction out of human compassion.”
Harrigan repeatedly pressed Saucedo on the appropriateness of money and gifts to someone who was a subordinate in his courtroom.
The Disneyland trip for the clerk and her family cost $1,826 and $1,324 for her sister’s family. He also gave her cash and put cash into her banking account, gave her money to help buy a new cell phone, and spent $15,000 for the car.
Saucedo said he was trying to help his court clerk with her financial problems so she’d have a stronger marriage, and wanted to help reconcile her marriage.
“Aren’t you conditioning your financial assistance on her telling you everything?” Harrigan asked.
“No,” Saucedo said. “The context was to build a mentoring relationship.”
Saucedo and the clerk engaged in a series of text messages that showed their friendship falling apart.
At one point, Saucedo indicated he would resign as a judge. Another said he was “in the garage committing suicide. Have the red car running with the door down. Please call.”
Under questioning from Harrigan, Saucedo said by then his mentoring efforts had spun out of control and he felt helpless. “That was one of the darkest moments of my life.”