Still stumped

Placer County has taken the unprecedented step of withholding all judicial assignments—for a second time—from Superior Court Judge W. Jackson Willoughby as a result of undisclosed new allegations of misconduct.

Last year, the state agency responsible for administering discipline to judges who engage in improper conduct rebuked Willoughby for, among other things, rubbing, staring at, and asking to see his bailiff’s breasts after she had breast implant surgery, as well as making offensive remarks to and about other women employed by the court.

During the investigation of the prior misconduct, Presiding Judge Larry Gaddis barred Willoughby from conducting any court business, but when the state Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP) failed to remove Willoughby from the bench, the county-which, like all counties, is not empowered to fire a judge—was left with no choice but to reassign the judge to judicial purgatory: hearing traffic and small claims matters.

But with the lodging of the latest allegations, his honor won’t be deciding even those cases, pending the outcome of a new investigation by the county and the CJP.

“The local bench judicial officers do not have authority to restrict him in any other way than just not assign him any work and therefore he has no reason to come to work,” explained Placer County Assistant Court Executive Officer Jim Perry, who declined to elaborate on the nature of the allegations. “There were alleged allegations by staff, and based upon those allegations and the fact that there has been some history, the presiding judge temporarily stopped assigning him judicial cases.”

Taxpayers may want to note that, under state law, the judge will continue to draw his annual salary of $133,050, as he did for 20 months during the first investigation, even though he’s not actually working. Perry said the county has never had to refuse to assign cases to a judge to keep him from showing up to work except in the case of Judge Willoughby, now on two separate occasions. And Connie Dove, director of the California Judge’s Association, says she is not aware of any other judge across the state ever having been denied a caseload in order to be kept off the bench.

The CJP previously declined to remove Willoughby from the bench because, it said, the judge had recognized “the wrongfulness of his conduct,” issued a public apology, was publicly humiliated, and had made “contributions to the judicial system.”

Apparently the county has had enough of the judge’s contributions and, after paying out over $100,000 to settle the bailiff’s civil suit after the first incident, has decided to limit its exposure to future liabilities. The action by Placer County will likely turn up the heat on the commission which, as reported in SN&R’s cover story “Stumped,” August 16, has long been criticized by court watchdogs as being too lenient on wayward judges.