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California judge publicly censured after years of offensive comments
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California judge publicly censured after years of offensive comments

The California Commission on Judicial Performance issued a notice of public censure on Wednesday, resolving disciplinary matters concerning offensive remarks made by California Judge Jeffrey Bennett.

The commission publicly denounced Bennett’s racially and sexually charged comments in a 22-page decision and reprimand order. “Judge Bennett’s misconduct mostly involves saying things no judge should say—comments and remarks that are offensive, undignified, discourteous, dishonest, sexist, profane, and create the appearance of bias and retaliation.”

“Judge Bennett concedes that he committed five acts of prejudicial misconduct and one act of improper action, comprised of 28 allegations of conduct that violated the Code of Judicial Ethics,” the commission said.

The bulk of the decision illustrates the six counts of ethical violations. The commission details Bennett’s comments about “20-year-old smoking hot blonde” women, and “scared little girl[s] in my courtroom.” It documents Bennett using expletives at in-chamber meetings with lawyers, calling a prosecutor “dumb as shit” during a hearing, calling a victim of a domestic violence case a “meth head,” and repeatedly referring to his genitalia.

The decision focuses on Bennett’s comment to a black defendant during a remand hearing. “Judge Bennett asked the defendant a series of questions and the defendant provided what the judge believed to be evasive answers. Judge Bennett then asked the defendant to stop ‘shucking and jiving’.” The commission continues to say that Bennett’s comment “reflect[s] a disregard for the racial overtones of such a remark and manifests insensitivity to individuals appearing in court before him.”

This is not Bennett’s first disciplinary action. In 2015, he received an advisory letter concerning comments towards a criminal defendant during a sentencing hearing: “He’s a dirtbag of the highest order. … What’s kind of burning me up right now is the fact that he was paid more than I’m paid, to sell cars, and then he stole money on top of it. How pathetic is that? You really are a piece of work.”

The commission’s decision represents the formal acceptance of a March 10 Stipulation for Discipline by Consent and Affidavit, signed by Bennett, in which he expressly admitted to the charges. Additionally, it specifies that Bennett waives further review of the matter, including any by the California Supreme Court.

The public censure against Bennett, the strongest sanction that may be imposed short of impeachment, “fulfills the commission’s mandate of protecting the public, enforcing rigorous standards of judicial conduct, and maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system,” the decision said.