Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeff Ferguson was slapped by California’s judicial disciplinary agency on Wednesday for "reckless" allegations that were made without evidence against an unsuccessful judge candidate.
When Orange County Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle was running for the seat ultimately retained by Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner, she wrote on Facebook that her opponent “uses his office for sex and yet so many aren't concerned, crazy politics!”
As the Weekly previously reported, the California Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP) censured Steiner for banging ex-Chapman University law school students inside the courtroom, including one who claimed the judge coerced her into having sex with promises of landing her a job in the Orange County District Attorney's office, where he worked before landing on the bench.
But Schatzle calling out Steiner led to his friend Ferguson writing on Facebook, "Karen Shatzle [sic] has sex with defense lawyer whike [sic] shw [sic] is DA on his cases and nobody cares. Interesting politics."
Only members of the North Orange County Bar Association’s Facebook page could view the Schatzle-Ferguson exchange, and the judge deleted the comments after the target of his dart responded that the CJP “would love to know about your blogging.”
Schatzle was prescient because CJP investigators indeed contacted Ferguson, who claimed his allegations against the candidate were based on “commonly known information,” and when asked for proof he submitted the declaration of an attorney.
But that attorney “admitted having no evidence that Ms. Schatzle and the defense attorney were working on opposite sides of cases while involved in an intimate relationship,” wrote the CJP in its admonishment of Ferguson.
“The judge's post was not only potentially injurious to the candidate, but also undermined public respect for the judiciary and the integrity of the electoral process,” concluded the commission, which added Ferguson apologized for writing the Schatzle post, acknowledged it was wrong to do so and “recognized that it fell outside the bounds of professionalism and the decorum expected of bench officer."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The CJP also dinged Ferguson for failing to disclose he was Facebook “friends” with three defense attorneys who appeared in his courtroom, despite a 2010 California Judges Association opinion that advises judges to “unfriend” lawyers with cases before them. After meeting with CJP lawyers, Ferguson unfriended the lawyers.
Ferguson said he agreed with the opinion and dropped his online friendship with the lawyers after the CJP contacted him.
Paul Meyer, Ferguson’s attorney, issued a statement in light of the CJP action that read: “Judge Ferguson’s quick, late-night retort was posted for only a few minutes before he voluntarily removed it. Judge Ferguson again apologizes for his thoughtless comment.”
The term of Ferguson, who was elected in 2014, expires on Jan. 4, 2021. Steiner defeated Schatzle in the June 2016 election. Schatzle told the Orange County Register in May 2016 that running against Steiner resulted in "career suicide," saying she had been relegated to low-level cases. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas denied Schatzle's characterization, saying it showed he was justified in endorsing Steiner's reelection.