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O.C. judge is removed from bench

State investigators say Superior Court jurist filed false travel claim. She plans to appeal.

June 27, 2008|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County judge was ordered removed from office Thursday by state officials who said the former county prosecutor filed false and misleading expense claims for a legal conference in San Diego and then lied when questioned about them.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Kelly MacEachern is the first judge in the county and the 24th in California ordered removed from office since 1960.

The jurist's attorney said MacEachern intended to appeal the split decision by the state Commission on Judicial Performance.

In a 7-3 ruling made public Thursday, the commission concluded that MacEachern "engaged in willful misconduct" in misrepresenting her attendance at the Continuing Judicial Studies Program in summer 2006. The decision was based on findings by three masters appointed by the state Supreme Court to investigate the allegations.

"The lack of integrity manifested by her misconduct, compounded by her lack of candor in response to the commission's investigation and deceitful testimony under oath before the masters compels our conclusion that removal is necessary to protect the public and maintain public trust in the integrity of the judiciary," the commission wrote.

The dissenters favored imposing a severe public censure, taking into consideration that MacEachern had never been in trouble before, maintained an otherwise impeccable reputation, expressed remorse and did not harm any litigants.

"Her conduct in this case, we believe, was an isolated instance of wrongdoing," the dissenters wrote in their opinion. "We feel that this experience has made an indelible impression on a judge who, heretofore, has had a good reputation as an honest, hardworking bench officer."

MacEachern, a former prosecutor in Orange County and Long Beach, was elected to serve on the bench in 2003. She did not return a message left with her clerk at Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach.

Edward P. George, the attorney who represented MacEachern throughout the investigation by the Supreme Court masters, could not be reached for comment. Attorney Paul S. Meyer, who joined the defense team last month to handle arguments before the commission, said the divided ruling warranted an appeal.

The events leading to MacEachern's removal were outlined last year by the judicial commission.

She tried to enroll in two classes during the weeklong San Diego conference, according to the commission. She was accepted into a one-day class and was told the state would directly pay the Hyatt Regency for the night's stay, up to $110.

MacEachern submitted to the Orange County Superior Court a request for education leave for the full week of the program, according to the commission. After that, she tried to enroll in a five-day evidence course but was told that it was full and that she would be put on a waiting list, according to the commission.

Just the same, the commission found, MacEachern stayed at the hotel Sunday through Thursday, paying with her credit card for the three nights that hadn't been authorized. She later submitted a travel claim to county Superior Court seeking reimbursement for those three nights, according to the commission.

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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