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Riverside County Judge Censured

State panel reprimands Schwartz for comments he made during a DUI arrest. The commission finds he asked police for preferential treatment.

June 09, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard J. Schwartz was censured Thursday by the state Commission on Judicial Performance for statements he made to police during his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol last year in Pismo Beach.

The director of the commission said censure was the panel's most serious punishment short of being removed from the bench.

Schwartz, 45, can continue to preside over criminal hearings. He is on vacation this week and was unavailable for comment Thursday, his secretary said.

On July 16, 2005, Schwartz had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18% -- more than double the legal limit -- when he was stopped by a Pismo Beach police officer and submitted to a breath test.

The commission found that Schwartz "repeatedly attempted to avoid being arrested ... and to receive preferential treatment because he was a judge," according to an eight-page decision written by commission Chairman Marshall B. Grossman.

The arresting officer reported seeing Schwartz's vehicle swerving.

In taped conversations, Schwartz asked the officer if he could leave his car and return to his hotel room. He told police he had had "a couple glasses of wine," and asked, "Is this really necessary?" after informing the officer that he was a judge.

When told that he was under arrest, Schwartz responded, "You know what this is going to do? This will substantially impair my career."

Police repeatedly told Schwartz that they were required to act fair and unbiased and needed to treat him "like everybody else,"declining his requests to speak to a lieutenant, captain or on-call judge in San Luis Obispo County.

"There is no professional courtesy here anymore," Schwartz said at the police station, where his comments also were recorded. When an officer asked Schwartz to acknowledge he was seeking special treatment, the judge replied, "To some degree, I guess."

The commission found Schwartz had violated Code of Judicial Ethics canons by "failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary" and by "lending prestige of judicial office to advance personal interests."

In censuring Schwartz, but declining to remove him from the Superior Court, the commission cited factors including the judge's absence of prior discipline, his general integrity and the likelihood he would not engage in future misconduct. But the commission said Schwartz's comments to police were "particularly offensive."

The judge reported his arrest two days later to the commission and expressed remorse, according to the decision.

Schwartz pleaded no contest to driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.08% in September and served two days in a San Luis Obispo County jail in early December. He was fined $1,609, placed on three years' probation and completed a first-time offenders' DUI program, a court clerk said Thursday.

Victoria Henley, director of the commission, said the censure "has no influence on the judge's ability to preside, but it will be taken into account if there is subsequent misconduct."

Sharon J. Waters, Riverside County Superior Court presiding judge, did not return messages left at her office Thursday.

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