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Longtime judge accused of fixing traffic tickets for friends, minister, co-workers

April 13, 2011 |  6:41 am

A longtime Orange County judge accused of waiving traffic fines for friends, co-workers and even his minister has been ordered to appear before a statewide judicial panel that could recommend his removal from office.

The hearing will examine a series of traffic cases that Judge Richard Stanford, a jurist in Orange County Superior Court since 1998, ended up handling for acquaintances, relatives and others.

At issue is whether Stanford violated ethics rules by first having the traffic citations transferred to his courtroom and then granting special favors such as waiving fines without following proper courtroom rules.

The complaint from the Commission on Judicial Performance formally documents nine allegations of misconduct from 2003 to 2010.

Typical is a case involving Edwin Jay Williams, who the commission says is the pastor of the Fullerton church Stanford’s family attends, and the judge’s friend.

In 2003, Williams was given a traffic ticket for running a red light. The complaint notes that Stanford and Williams discussed the matter. Then, although “the case would not have come before you in the ordinary course of judicial business, you transferred the matter to your department,” the commission wrote.

Judges are barred by ethics rules from hearing cases involving family and friends. Nonetheless, Stanford ordered traffic school and waived all fines except $52 for the school and another small fee, according to the commission. Stanford allegedly handled a speeding ticket given to Williams in 2006 in a similar way.

The commission alleged that Stanford intervened in cases and dismissed traffic fines for a juror serving in his courtroom, several family friends, his son-in-law and his own court clerk.

Stanford declined comment, but his attorney released a statement saying the judge “apologizes for his actions.”

Although “no tickets were dismissed, and only discretionary fines and fees were waived, Judge Stanford now clearly realizes that in these nine traffic infractions in the last 10 years he gave preferential treatment which violated the standards of conduct," according to the statement released by attorney Paul Meyer.

The statement said the judge “wrongly rationalized” that his actions “were saving time for the court and resulted in the same [Department of Motor Vehicle] records as if the people had come to court.”

Despite the admission, a formal hearing will take place this summer, likely by June, said Victoria Henley, director and counsel for the commission, which oversees the conduct of judges statewide.

Henley would not comment on the case other than to note that the commission typically receives around 1,100 judicial complaints each year and of those only two or three typically end up with a formal hearing.

If the commission determines that the allegations are true, Stanford could be censured, publicly admonished, privately disciplined or removed from the bench, Henley said.  She added that the commission cannot file criminal charges, but the Orange County district attorney or the California attorney general could.

Stanford, once a municipal court judge in Orange County, has overseen a number of high-profile cases during his Superior Court tenure. Among them are several child abuse trials and a murder case involving the death of racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife.

In 2005, an appeals court voided a murder conviction handed down in Stanford’s court when it was concluded the veteran judge denied the defendant’s due process during jury instructions.

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-- Kurt Streeter

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