The Commission on Judicial Performance was all set today for a disciplinary hearing against Orange County Superior Court Judge Salvador Sarmiento, who is accused of trying to influence a fellow jurist's handling of a traffic ticket for his wife.
But the so-called Panel of Special Masters called off the hearing because a settlement is in the works.
"The commission's decision to accept or reject the proposed disposition will be issued in due course," reads a statement from the commission.
For his alleged intervention in the proceedings concerning a Nov. 18, 2010, citation Santa Ana Police issued his wife for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, Sarmiento is accused of improper action, willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.
Mrs. Sarmiento did not pay the $234 bail or appear in court by a Jan. 19, 2011, deadline, so the matter was sent to the Superior Court collection unit. That's when Judge Sarmiento is accused of approaching traffic Commissioner Carmen Luege to get a $300 civil assessment that had been added to the ticket waived.
When Sarmiento's clerk later checked the status on the ticket and saw that the assessment was still noted, the judge allegedly persuaded Luege to set a trial date. His wife showed up, pleaded guilty and paid the full fine, including the civil assessment.
Sarmiento vehemently denies any wrongdoing, claiming his interactions with his clerk and Luege regarding the ticket were simply to find out the proper procedures one must follow.
"Judge Sarmiento's sole and exclusive motivation was to handle this matter ethically and efficiently as possible," reads the response filed by his attorneys Randall A. Miller and Scott Newman of the Los Angeles law firm Miller LLP.
Of course, you'd think Sarmiento would already know the proper procedures for dealing with tickets, since he was an Orange County Superior Court commissioner from 1997 until he was appointed a judge of the same on Aug. 7, 2003.
In 2009, Sarmiento was named the 22nd president of UC Irvine's Alumni Association. Speaking of UCI, Sarmiento had previously presided over the messy divorce of Newport Coast billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III, the Broadcom co-founder who has made major contributions to the university's engineering and computer science programs and established The Nicholas Prize, which recognizes innovative collaborative research. (The engineering school is named after Broadcom of Irvine's other co-founder, Henry Samueli.)
Nicholas had convinced Sarmiento to keep sealed for three years public records that included everything from divorce allegations of drug abuse and a sex dungeon to simple attorney service notices and the case docket that merely lists documents in the matter.
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Judge James L. Waltz eventually assumed Sarmiento's divorce court duties. Over Nicholas' objections that keeping the records sealed protected the location of his children, Waltz in July 2010 agreed with briefs filed by the Los Angeles Times that argued Sarmiento's order had been both contrary to ordinary procedures and bizarre.