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Two Judges' Gifts to Candidates Violated Judicial Canons

November 16, 1988|GEORGE FRANK and JIM CARLTON | Times Staff Writers

Since 1983, Harbor Municipal Judges Calvin P. Schmidt and Brian R. Carter have given several political candidates money from their own campaign war chests in violation of state judicial canons, campaign finance statements show.

Schmidt has raised more than $80,000 in campaign contributions since 1979 from developers, hotel owners, automobile dealers, bankers and attorneys, even though he has never faced an opponent on Election Day. Rather than keep the money for future elections or give it all away to charities, Schmidt made several campaign contributions of his own with it.

In May, 1986, Schmidt lent $20,000 to then state Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress), who was in a tight race for the State Board of Equalization. Half of the interest-free loan was repaid, but $10,000 of it was forgiven in October, 1986. That forgiven portion was in effect a contribution to Carpenter, now the subject of an ongoing political corruption investigation by the FBI in Sacramento.

Schmidt, according to campaign spending statements, also contributed $500 of his own campaign funds to Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley in 1985. Two years earlier, Schmidt's Cal '80 Committee contributed $750 to the reelection campaign of Bruce Nestande, then a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Until last year, state judicial canons put a limit of $100 on contributions by a judge or a candidate for judicial office to a non-judicial politician's campaign. The canons also put a ceiling of $500 on political contributions by a judge or candidate for judicial office in any single year.

Those limits were raised in 1987 to permit judges to contribute $500 per candidate and a total of $1,000 to political campaigns.

Canon 7 of the California Canons of Judicial Conduct says in part: "Judges and candidates for election to a judicial office should not . . . personally solicit funds for or pay an assessment to a political organization or non-judicial candidate; make contributions to a political party or organization or to a non-judicial candidate in excess of $500 per year per political party or organization or candidate, or in excess of an aggregate of $1,000 per year for all political parties or organizations or candidates."

The state Commission on Judicial Performance has the authority to discipline judges for violating the judicial canons, a system of ethics adopted by the California Judges Assn. Disciplinary action may range from a private reprimand to a recommendation that the state Supreme Court remove the judge from office.

The Commission on Judicial Performance is looking into allegations that both Schmidt and Carter gave favorable treatment to defendants in their courtrooms in return for sexual favors, sources have told The Times.

Last month, in a rare statement by a group that operates in almost total secrecy, the commission announced that it was investigating Carter and had ordered a formal hearing into allegations against him. Among the allegations against Carter is a charge that he gave lenient treatment in court to prostitutes in return for sexual favors, sources have said.

Campaign finance statements show that Carter made two contributions from his own campaign funds to political candidates in 1986, when the limit on individual donations was $100. He gave $200 to state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) and $250 to Carpenter's campaign for the Board of Equalization.

"Each of those donations was a ticket to a political event," Carter said Tuesday. "I was thinking in the terms of the total allowable contributions."

Carter also said it was widely known in 1986 that the limit was about to be increased to $500 per candidate with a maximum of $1,000 per year. And he contended that there is uncertainty about whether the limits apply to transfers of campaign funds.

"It was the subject of confusion at the time," he said. "I'm still not convinced that Canon 7 addresses transfers of money between campaigns. It may mean personal funds."

But Jeremy Fogel, a Superior Court judge in Santa Clara County and past chairman of the association's ethics committee, said the limits apply even if the money comes from a judge's own campaign committee.

"It doesn't make any difference because the judge controls the committee," Fogel said.

Schmidt did not return telephone calls from The Times Tuesday.

Schmidt's campaign committee treasurer, William R. Sammons of San Clemente, said: "I'm not going to comment on anything, except if you want to talk about fishing or hunting or something like that."

According to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Keith Wisot, the current chairman of the California Judges Assn. ethics committee, the limits on contributions are intended "to assure that judges do not become involved in partisan politics. It is to assure the independence of the judiciary."

Wisot said the canon limiting political contributions is in a form recommended by the American Bar Assn. He added that judges are placed under similar restrictions in most other states.

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