San Diego Judge Faces Discipline for TV Try-Out

Kate Moser
The Recorder
September 24, 2010

A San Diego judge has been charged with willful misconduct for allegedly videotaping courtroom proceedings to promote herself for a role on a TV show starring a judge.

The Commission on Judicial Performance cited dozens of remarks Judge DeAnn Salcido made, both on film and off, that suggest she was channeling an off-color Judge Judy.

According to the CJP, Salcido had her bailiff’s husband videotape her on the bench presiding over various matters for about an hour back in 2009.

The notice of formal proceedings against her cites an e-mail message from the judge to an entertainment lawyer saying she had been “setting my more interesting defendants and those with substance abuse issues” for a certain day she suggested would be best for filming.

“Your statements give the appearance that you were scheduling cases based on their possible appeal in a videotape to be used to promote yourself for a television program,” according to the notice , signed by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein, the commission’s vice chairwoman.

Salcido issued a statement Thursday saying she has acknowledged to the commission that she erred in judgment in making “a handful of comments from the bench” but defended her use of humor and “tough love” approach.

“The Commission on Judicial Performance has recently chosen the path of charging and trying me, in large part for my demeanor on the bench — 38 instances out of an estimated 12,000 court appearances assigned to me during the past 18 months,” Salcido said in the statement, issued by her attorney, Heather Rosing of San Diego’s Klinedinst. “While I acknowledge that my style is different than that traditionally expected of judges, I believe that it is an effective way to accomplish the important goals of my service. I truly believe the results speak for themselves.”

Salcido repeatedly got participation from her courtroom audience — once having them say “woo woo woo” after accusing a defendant of being high on marijuana.

When one woman admitted to an alcohol and drug use problem, specifically a penchant for vodka, the judge got laughs from the gallery by referencing the Jamie Foxx song by saying, “Blame it on the a-a-a-a-alcohol.”

She told another defendant “they might like your smile in jail,” and on another occasion, told a man she placed on probation: “What that means is don’t come before the court on another case … ’cause you will definitely be screwed and we don’t offer Vaseline for that.”

In the commission’s broader examination of Salcido’s comments from the bench between April 2009 and April 2010, the judge appears to have also targeted fellow judges, counsel and clerical staff.

She reviewed an order entered by Judge Peter Gallagher in a criminal case and said: “Ah, Judge Gallagher, aka assistant public defender … Is that ridiculous that Judge Gallagher did that. I mean it’s a sex offender case. Yeah, whatever, you know. A DV statute says it’s mandatory but, you know, we’re the judge, we can do what we want. Quote. Justice be damned.”

The commission also accuses Salcido of improperly taking a defendant into custody for direct contempt.

Salcido garnered attention last spring when she sued her fellow judges over their handling of domestic violence cases. She then won re-election to the bench despite a challenge by Harold Coleman Jr., an arbitrator and mediator who was backed by a conservative Chula Vista organization called Better Courts Now.

The judge has until Oct. 7 to answer the commission.