A jury on Friday ruled against a Monrovia woman who claimed she was coerced into having sexual encounters with a Los Angeles judge presiding over the criminal trial of her and her husband.
The woman, Pifen Lo, sought up to $20 million from the state of California for infliction of emotional distress--$1 million for each time she said she was forced to have sex with former Superior Court Judge George W. Trammell III. But the Santa Ana jury of six men and six women concluded that their relationship was consensual.
"They were both being used," juror William Price said. "She had her reasons for doing this."
Jurors said they were most swayed by audiotapes that both Lo and Trammell secretly recorded during their encounters. In the tapes, jurors said, Lo sounded aggressive and appeared to be trying to take advantage of the judge in an effort to win leniency for herself and her husband.
While Lo's lawyer characterized the judge as a rapist, jurors said he came off as more sympathetic and that Lo was frequently heard laughing during encounters.
"She was not credible," juror Connie Cura said.
Another juror, who did not give her name, added: "He sounded sweet.... He gave her advice, asked her how she was doing."
The relationship between Lo, 42, and Trammell, 66, began in 1996, shortly after authorities arrested Lo, her husband and their live-in baby-sitter on charges of kidnapping a La Puente couple for ransom. Lo's husband, Ming Ching Jin, faced a potential life sentence in Trammell's courtroom.
Lo claimed that the judge had called her into his chambers, fondled and kissed her and told her that if she wanted her husband to come home early, she would have to "pay the price." Lo claimed she was forced into a four-month affair.
Lo was sentenced to five years' probation by Trammell, over the objections of prosecutors who had sought prison time. She pleaded no contest to charges of child endangerment, counterfeiting and money laundering.
The relationship was discovered when prison officials intercepted letters between Lo and her imprisoned husband.
Trammell pleaded guilty Oct. 4, 2000, to federal mail fraud charges related to his conduct while presiding over the criminal trial of Lo and her husband.
U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz found that Trammell had abused his power as a judge and that Lo was especially vulnerable because she was a defendant in his courtroom.
Trammell began serving a 27-month prison term last August in Texas.
Lo sought civil damages against California, which was Trammell's employer. As the verdict was read Friday, Lo sat rigidly and clutched a bottle of water. After the trial, she refused to speak with reporters.
"Pifen Lo is bitterly disappointed in the result of this case," said her lawyer, Larry Guzin.
"She was terribly taken advantage of by Judge Trammell and will feel the effects of his sexuality against her for the rest of her life."
Michael Hood, the lawyer representing the state, said he believed jurors would see that Lo intended to use the judge and was not his victim.
"At least from what you could hear in the tapes, it seemed to be a very normal relationship," Hood said. "She claimed that the judge's conduct toward her made her feel like a prostitute."
Lo's suit was tried in Orange County because all Los Angeles County judges recused themselves,saying they were friends of Trammell's.
Trammell retired from the bench a day after learning he was under investigation in 1997.