On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by California Court of Appeal Judge Jeffrey Johnson over being removed from the bench, clearing the way for his full removal.
Judge Johnson, who has been on the Appeals Court in the second district since 2009, was accused of sexually harassing 17 women over 15 years in early 2019. Accusers included Court of Appeals judges Elizabeth Grimes and Victoria Gerrard Chaney, as well as other judges, prosecutors, and lawyers. Among the accusations levied against Johnson were unwanted touching, remarks against women, berating and belittling women while on the bench, and poor conduct while intoxicated.
More specific actions, such as groping a fellow judge’s breast and telling others that he wanted to have sex with them, were noted in the testimonies. Many of those who testified noted that the #MeToo movement played a large part in their decision to come forward. The Commission on Judicial Performance summarily charged Johnson with nine counts of misconduct, all of which he denied.
“Justice Johnson remains committed to the process even in the face of irresponsible and unsubstantiated emails sent by a judicial officer to thousands of court personnel containing erroneous information,” said attorney Paul Meyer in 2019.
In 2020, the Commission ordered that he be removed from the bench, a ruling that Johnson immediately appealed to the California Supreme Court. Until Wednesday’s decision by the court, Johnson’s team had expected to get an appeal hearing.
However the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, letting stand the commissions’ removal in a brief order made during a closed meeting on Wednesday.
“Sexual misconduct has no place in the judiciary and is an affront to the dignity of the judicial office,” said the commission last year in their removal decision.
Many legal watchers have said that the Supreme Court’s decision means that Johnson is now likely out for good.
“It took two years, but Justice Johnson finally ran out of shots,” an LA lawyer who asked to remain unnamed told the Globe. “The number of people against him was just overwhelming, and the Supreme Court decided not to hear any more on it. It’s not that often that a judge is removed like this, as the charges have to be pretty substantiated and bad enough to warrant a removal. In this case, they were.”
The removal of Justice Johnson will be the first removal of a higher court justice in California since California Supreme Court Justice Marshall F. McComb was forced to retire in 1977 following his development of dementia.