SAN DIEGO — Two former Superior Court judges pleaded not guilty to corruption charges Thursday in a gifts-for-favors scandal that has reached the highest levels of the San Diego legal system.
James Malkus and G. Dennis Adams were allowed to voluntarily surrender and go free on $100,000 bond each.
Adams was accompanied to the bond hearing by his wife, Superior Court Judge Barbara Gamer. "My husband is innocent," she told reporters, saying the 18-month investigation that led to the indictment was a "learning experience" that brought them closer as a couple.
Malkus' attorney called the charges "a rehash" of allegations already investigated by the state Commission on Judicial Performance, an investigation that led Malkus to resign and Adams to be ousted by the state Supreme Court.
"These are mistaken or false charges," said Jerry Coughlan, who is representing Malkus. "There is no doubt these people will be acquitted."
Malkus and Adams were indicted on bribery and mail fraud charges Tuesday for allegedly taking gifts and gratuities from trial attorney Patrick Frega, who was also indicted.
Federal prosecutors allege that the two judges, in return, provided Frega with help in his cases, such as meeting with him without opposing counsel present and assisting him in preparing witnesses.
Among other things, Frega is accused of finding a job for Adams' daughter and Malkus' daughter, hiring a ghostwriter to help Adams with a novel about World War II, furnishing an apartment for Adams and helping both of them with the purchase and repair of automobiles.
In one case, Adams presided over a mediation conference at which Frega's clients were offered a $2-million settlement from the other side to avoid trial. A week later Frega allegedly rented a car for Adams' daughter.
Former Judge Michael Greer pleaded guilty March 11 to taking more than $75,000 to help Frega with more than 40 cases. In his plea bargain, he said Adams and Malkus were also taking bribes from Frega, a plaintiffs' attorney known for his zeal in fighting insurance companies and big corporations.
The indictment unsealed Wednesday puts the amount of the gifts and gratuities to Malkus and Adams at about $25,000. The alleged conspiracy between the three judges and Frega lasted nearly a decade, prosecutors said.
In setting bail, Federal Magistrate Roger McKee told Adams that by April 19 he wants to see financial statements proving Adams' assertion that he qualifies for a public defender because he is legally indigent.
Adams and Gamer were married while he was under investigation and signed an agreement keeping their assets separate. Adams has said that a divorce settlement with his first wife left him without funds and that he has had no income since being ousted from the bench.