Tulare County judge removed from office for misconduct

Tulare County Judge Valeriano Saucedo
Tulare County Judge Valeriano Saucedo Fresno Bee file photo

Tulare County Superior Court Judge Valeriano Saucedo, a judge for more than 14 years, was ordered removed from office Tuesday for having an improper relationship with a court clerk and lying about it.

His removal by the Commission on Judicial Performance was immediate. The action becomes final in 30 days unless Saucedo files a petition with the California Supreme Court to review the case.

Reached by phone, Saucedo said he had no comment.

Removal from office is rare. Only six judges have been removed from office in the past 10 years, according to commission statistics.

Saucedo violated judicial ethics in how he handled himself during the relationship with his clerk between mid-September and mid-November 2013, the commission said in its 60-page decision.

The commission said Saucedo wrote an anonymous letter accusing the clerk in crude terms of having an affair with a bailiff and then sent it to his own home.

He showed his clerk the letter in private and pressured her to have a “special friend” relationship with him, the commission said. Saucedo showered her with $26,000 in gifts and cash, including a BMW and a Disneyland trip for the clerk and her family.

He also wrongly provided legal advice to her son, the commission said.

When the misconduct was reported to the commission, Saucedo didn’t tell the whole truth to investigators or in his testimony before a three-judge panel hearing the case, the commission said.

“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” compelled his removal from office, the commission said in the decision.

At the hearing in Fresno in April, Saucedo said he was trying to be a mentor for his clerk and help her do better in her marriage and in life.

Saucedo said he did not have a romantic or sexual relationship with the clerk, and none was alleged in the charges against him.

The commission’s action removing Saucedo from office did not come as a surprise to local lawyers, especially after the details of the relationship were spelled out in the notice of formal proceedings posted on the commission’s website late last year.

“Given what I read in the press and on the commission website, it seemed a foregone conclusion they were not pleased with his actions, and were prepared to take some drastic measures,” said Visalia lawyer Joe Altschule.

The decision noted that Saucedo is a well-respected judge devoted to the community, but “his reputation cannot redeem the seriousness of his wrongdoing, nor obviate the need for removal in order to fulfill our mandate to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”

Saucedo, whose parents were migrant farmworkers who settled in Lindsay when he was 7 years old, almost didn’t go to college.

A recruiter from the University of California at Berkeley came to Lindsay High and gave him an application, which he threw away. But his mother removed it from the trash and persuaded him to fill it out.

He graduated from Stanford Law School and joined California Rural Legal Assistance, becoming statewide director. He returned to his hometown, was elected to the Lindsay City Council, and was a partner with the Miner, Barnhill and Galland law firm working from Visalia.

In June 2001, he was appointed Tulare County Superior Court judge by Gov. Gray Davis.

Most recently, Saucedo had the civil and family law calendar at the South County Justice Center courthouse in Porterville. Presiding Judge Gary Paden said the court would ask the judicial council to assign a judge to handle Saucedo’s caseload.

There are now three vacancies on the Tulare County bench, Paden said. All will be filled by appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown, and two are expected to be filled this month, he said.

The last judge from the central San Joaquin Valley to be removed from office apparently was Corcoran Municipal Court Judge Glenda Doan in 1995. She was accused of misconduct over a bail reduction hearing for her gardener in a felony drug case, not reporting loans, accepting improper loans, and making false statements in a bankruptcy petition.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold