A former Orange County judge accused of releasing suspects at the request of a longtime friend was publicly admonished Tuesday by a state agency for violating ethics codes in several cases near the end of his 20-year term.
The state Commission on Judicial Performance concluded that former West Justice Center jurist Luis A. Cardenas acted improperly by releasing or reducing the bail of six people who were clients of attorney Leonard Basinger or his daughter, Ginger Larson Kelley.
Cardenas could have been censured or barred from serving on state courts. The commission, however, decided on a lighter penalty after ruling that no evidence existed of corruption on Cardenas' part. The commission did conclude that Cardenas' actions made it appear that the attorneys improperly influenced his decisions.
"A public admonishment is necessary to . . . reassure all those in Orange County who were aware of the . . . incidents, as well as the bench and the public, that Judge Cardenas' accommodation of Basinger and Kelley was contrary to the Code of Judicial Ethics," wrote the commission in its decision.
Cardenas, a Huntington Beach resident, was not available for comment Tuesday.
Supporters said the admonishment largely exonerates Cardenas and will probably not affect his career as a private judge.
"I think that this really establishes that [Cardenas] was a very good judge, with very solid credentials who made a couple of errors during an otherwise long and distinguished judicial career," said Jennifer Keller, Cardenas' former attorney.