Judge who made ‘reckless’ Facebook allegation about prosecutor is admonished

Legal Ethics


A California judge has been publicly admonished for claiming on Facebook that a prosecutor running for a judgeship was in a sexual relationship with a defense lawyer who opposed her in court.

The allegations by Superior Court Judge Jeff Ferguson of Orange County, California, were made with a knowing or reckless disregard for the truth, according to the May 31 admonishment (PDF). Law.com (sub. req.), the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and the Legal Profession Blog have coverage.

Ferguson had supported the prosecutor’s opponent, Judge Scott Steiner, in the election. He made the comment on a Facebook page that could be seen by members of the North Orange County Bar Association.

Ferguson’s comment was a response to an April 2016 Facebook post by the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle. She wrote that Steiner “uses his office for sex and yet many aren’t concerned, crazy politics!” Steiner had been censured in 2014 for having sex with two of his former law students in his chambers.

Ferguson responded: “Karen Shatzle [sic] has sex with defense lawyer whike [sic] shw [sic] is DA on his cases and nobody cares. Interesting politics.” Ferguson removed the post after Schatzle responded to it with a post that said judicial ethics regulators “would love to know about your blogging!” She denies any intimate involvement with the defense lawyer while they were appearing on the same cases.

Steiner won the election.

Ferguson’s lawyer, Paul Meyer, told the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register that Ferguson’s retort was posted quickly, late at night, and was up for only a few minutes before he removed it. “Judge Ferguson again apologizes for his thoughtless comment,” Meyer said.

The admonishment by the California Commission on Judicial Performance also cited Ferguson for being Facebook friends with three lawyers who appeared regularly before him in court. He unfriended the lawyers after the commission contacted him about the matter.

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