In an unusual public statement, the California Commission on Judicial Performance announced Thursday that it has completed a preliminary investigation of Orange County Municipal Judge Brian R. Carter and has ordered a formal hearing on allegations against him.
Carter was not available for comment.
The three-paragraph statement from the San Francisco-based watchdog commission did not specify the allegations against Carter. But sources have told The Times that both Carter and Municipal Judge Calvin P. Schmidt were being investigated by the commission in connection with allegations that they gave lenient treatment in court to prostitutes in return for sexual favors.
The formal hearing is not open to the public.
"While commission procedures are confidential by law, Rule 902 of the California Rules of Court permits a short announcement when the subject matter is generally known to the public and there is broad public interest," the commission statement read. "It has been reported in the media that Judge Brian R. Carter of the Harbor District Court is the subject of commission proceedings.
"This is to confirm that the Commission on Judicial Performance has ordered formal proceedings concerning Judge Brian R. Carter. Under the rules, the commission cannot confirm or deny that there are any other Harbor Court judges under investigation."
Carter and Schmidt are both veteran judges in Harbor Municipal Court, which serves the cities of Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Irvine. Carter was appointed to the bench in 1982 by then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
The Times reported Tuesday that the commission is also looking into allegations that two other judges on the same court attempted last year to pressure Newport Beach officials into calling off a police investigation into the activities of Carter and Schmidt.
A fifth Harbor Court judge, Susanne S. Shaw, who has been one of the other four judges' chief accusers, is the subject of complaints to the commission for improperly endorsing a political candidate and making remarks from the bench that offended Latino defendants.
Although it was brief, the announcement Thursday indicated that the commission is seriously considering the allegations against Carter by ordering a formal proceeding conducted by three judges who will be appointed by the state Supreme Court.
The commission investigates charges of misconduct by judges and is empowered to recommend disciplinary action to the Supreme Court.
In its 27-year history, the commission has ordered only 80 formal hearings against judges, according to Jack E. Frankel, director and chief counsel for the commission. Only 10 recommendations have been made to remove judges, and some of them retired or resigned before being removed from office.
After a formal hearing is completed, the commission reviews the results and decides whether to take any action. It may privately admonish a judge or make a recommendation to the Supreme Court for public censure or removal.
The Orange County district attorney and the Newport Beach Police Department conducted earlier investigations into allegations against Carter and Schmidt. No criminal charges resulted. Sources said the police and district attorney were unable to persuade witnesses to testify against Carter and Schmidt in court.
Court documents that were recently unsealed revealed that a 24-year-old woman told Fullerton police after her arrest on suspicion of prostitution in 1984 that she had had sexual relations with Carter as payment for a debt. The debt, she said, had been incurred when Schmidt helped her get her driver's license reinstated, according to court documents.
None of the judges in the Harbor Court was willing to discuss the investigation or the allegations against Carter or Schmidt.