By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Illustration by Bob AulOrange County Superior Court Judge John M. Watson removed himself from a lawsuit against televangelist Paul Crouch last week because of a courtroom tirade the jurist launched against a Los Angeles Times reporter who may be called to testify. At a September pretrial hearing, Watson dubbed Times religion writer William Lobdell a "star witness" in the upcoming Crouch case and invited Lobdell's fellow reporters to watch him testify.
"They just love that kind of stuff," Watson said, referring to any journalists who might cover the trial. "And hopefully we take [Lobdell] out of here in shackles with a big ball chained to his foot so they can get a picture of that in the paper and how noble they are."
This isn't the first time Watson's comments have gotten him into trouble. But unlike Watson's remarks in the Crouch case, his mouth isn't getting him removed from a lawsuit—it's getting him added to one.
Leticia Bañuelos, who rented a La Habra condo from Watson from April 2001 to July 2004, filed suit against the judge on Nov. 16 for breach of contract, breach of implied warranty of habitability, unfair competition, nuisance, violation of statutory duty, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit follows complaints Bañuelos filed in August with the Superior Court and the State of California Commission on Judicial Performance. Paperwork Bañuelos provided to the Weekly shows Watson directed his personal secretary, a county employee named Kathy Growsky, to handle on government time all telephone calls about his rental property, and that he used courthouse stationery to harass his tenant when she complained about his shortcomings as a landlord.
Here, according to an Oct. 10, 2001, letter to Bañuelos, is Watson rudely refusing to pay for badly needed repairs to the rental unit:
If you continue to cause needless repairs for such things as washers or sending electricians out to flip a switch in a fuse box—those added costs will result in not renewing the lease when it expires (which might be a good idea for both of us) or, [sic] raising the rent a couple of hundred dollars per month to pay for those service calls for routine items you should be able to take care of. The choice is really yours.
When Bañuelos said she would stop paying rent until Watson made the repairs, the judge threatened to sue her in this September 2003 letter, typed on courthouse stationery:
Incidentally, it will not be a Small Claims Court, as I will have the matter removed to Civil Panel Limited Jurisdiction in order to access such things as interrogatories, depositions, law and motion pleadings including demurrers and summary judgments, and the procedures incident to a jury trial, which I intend to request.
And here's Watson upping the ante in a December 2003 letter he typed (once again on courthouse stationery) after Bañuelos said she was left with no option other than to take him to court:
I repeat, if you sue me in Small Claims Court, I will cross-complain of these amounts and more, assuming the judge does not throw your case out. . . . As a courtesy, let me explain that I do not intend to respond to any further correspondence from you.
In this July 2004 letter, Watson threatened to send the fuzz after Bañuelos' son:
I would also appreciate your cooperation in issuing a subpoena for your son in a manner that would not cause either him or yourself any undue stress such as the sheriff showing up at your home or his school, etc. . . . Please write me and tell me your thoughts on this.
It defies logic that Watson would solicit his tenant's thoughts after previously indicating he wanted no more correspondence from her. But even more jaw dropping is this tirade Watson delivered to Bañuelos when she showed up at his courtroom out of frustration with his policy of forcing her to leave messages with his secretary:
I am sick of you, sick of your letters and sick of your being rude to Kathy. I want you out of here. I'm evicting you. You're out of my property. . . . I don't care about your problem. I want you out. Get out or I'll have you arrested.
Shackles with big ball and chain sold separately.