The help allegedly provided by Greer included deciding discovery motions and settlement conferences, sending cases to judges that Frega requested and even helping to coach witnesses on what to say. As presiding court judge in 1988 and 1989, Greer had the power to direct cases to certain judges.
Greer, who retired in 1993 as the state investigation intensified, could face up to 10 years in prison. But prosecutors made clear that they will recommend to Rafeedie that Greer be sentenced only to probation.
Greer "has expressed a desire to provide substantial cooperation to the government in the investigation and prosecution of others," according to the plea agreement.
Greer, who began law practice in the early 1960s as a young prosecutor in the same Los Angeles federal courthouse where he entered his plea, slipped out of the building Monday via a loading dock. He declined repeated requests for comment.
Through lawyer Brewer, Greer's family issued a statement that said the former judge had "accepted responsibility for a lack of judgment in his dealings with one attorney."
Williams, 49, who owns two San Diego car dealerships, agreed to pay a $250,000 fine and $250,000 to the judicial commission for the cost of its investigation.
Williams also could face 10 years in prison. But, as in Greer's case, prosecutors agreed to request probation in exchange for his cooperation.
Rafeedie set sentencing for both Greer and Williams for Sept. 16.
Documents indicate that the scheme began as early as 1985 and ended in 1992. Greer, in the court documents, said that "Frega admitted to Greer on several occasions that at Adams' request, Frega paid various personal expenses of Adams."
Appointed to the bench in 1977 by Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., Greer had a reputation for legal acumen. He frequently had been lauded for his work on implementing the "fast-track" system for civil litigation, which spread statewide and speeds the time it takes to get a case to trial, and for being an expert on the state's complex sentencing procedures.
"It's a tragedy for him, his family and the courts," said Justice Richard Huffman of the 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego, a friend of Greer for two decades.
"Any time a judge, retired or sitting, pleads guilty to bribery," said retired San Diego appeal court Justice Ed Butler, "it adds to the erosion of confidence in the judiciary by the public--all of which strikes at the heart of the democratic system because it's the court system to which we turn to resolve our conflicts, to govern our lives."
Butler, a longtime friend of Greer, added: "I can't understand what blind spot may have caused him to do this." Greer was Butler's campaign manager when he ran for mayor in 1971 against a young state assemblyman named Pete Wilson.
The admissions "don't at all sound like the man I knew, who was honest and fair to everyone," said Virginia Nelson, a former president of the San Diego County Bar Assn.
At the heart of the scandal is Frega, a former Marine, a ferocious litigator and a martial arts expert.
In 1989, Malkus awarded $3.2 million to Frega's clients after a traffic accident that killed one person and left another paralyzed.
When a reporter did a story about a lawyer who got clients through massive television advertising, Frega wrote to the reporter: "Please accept the sincerest thanks of advocates who believe and strive to practice a noble calling; you have helped us police our profession."
When the investigation was first begun by the state Commission on Judicial Performance, it looked like a case of judges unable to refuse gifts from a friend who tried cases in their courts--not unlike San Diego City Council members who, with some limits, can accept gifts from people with business before them as long as the gifts are disclosed.
Disclosure forms filed by the judges showed Frega gave $1,520 in gifts to Greer over five years, $450 to Malkus in 1985 and $1,400 to Adams from 1987 to 1989. The gifts to Greer, as disclosed on the state-mandated forms, included a golf bag, a sweater, lunches and fruit baskets.
After Greer retired, he admitted failing to disclose a $10,000 loan from Frega. Until recently, Greer and Malkus have worked as private judges for a settlement service.
Greer agreed Monday to immediately relinquish his license to practice law.