SLO judge accused of misconduct

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge John Trice.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge John Trice. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Judge John Trice has been accused of misconduct in a complaint filed with a state judicial oversight commission that has revealed a rift and infighting at San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

On Wednesday, an attorney with a San Diego-based law firm representing Trice issued a statement defending the judge, calling the allegations “shocking.”

Eugene Iredale said that another judge filed a complaint with the California Commission on Judicial Performance, alleging that Trice used his position as a judge to benefit his marital settlement, used inappropriate language in an email to another judge and failed to disclose a longtime friendship with a San Luis Obispo defense attorney.

Trice responded by requesting a formal hearing on the allegations, Iredale said. On Oct. 8, the commission sent Trice a notice listing the allegations and ordered him to respond within 20 days. The document does not identify who made the allegations.

“Frankly, I’m befuddled by the trivial nature of the alleged wrongdoing,” Iredale said.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court administration is barred from commenting on the case, said Court CEO Susan Matherly. A spokesman for the Commission on Judicial Performance did not return requests for comment.

It’s somewhat shocking to see a court that is so dysfunctional and ridden with internal strife.

Eugene Iredale, attorney

The complaint alleges that Trice violated the Code of Judicial Ethics in 2012 when he involved other judges and court staff in aspects of his marriage settlement, allegedly to benefit himself in the amount of his military retirement benefits he owed his ex-wife. Trice is a retired member of the U.S. Air Force.

The complaint also alleges that Trice made inappropriate comments to then-Assistant Presiding Judge Dodie Harman in a May 2013 email after Harman inquired about his whereabouts and asked if he could share the following day’s caseload. Harman is currently finishing her two-year term as presiding judge, an elected position voted upon by the court’s 12 judges.

“I may need to get some help from you and wanted to see if you could help out,” Harman’s email reads, according to the complaint. “I was told you had left for the day so I was just wondering where you were because you did not check with me if we were covered before you left.”

Trice responded: “I don’t appreciate you checking on me — I don’t work for you and never will. I was elected by the citizens of this county, unlike you. I would hope you and your pals upstairs would have better things to do with your time as Superior Court Judges than keeping a journal on another Judge’s comings and goings.”

The email continues: “Pathetic … get a life. I look forward to running against you for (presiding judge). The Court will be a lot better off without you in some position of assumed power. Good luck in the campaign. Have a really nice night.”

“She made it her business to spy on him,” Iredale said of Harman. “He basically just wrote her an email telling her to get a life.”

Judges are expected to vote on Harman’s replacement as presiding judge in January.

The complaint also alleges that in 2013 Trice refused to allow the rotation of a court reporter into his courtroom, allegedly stating he would refuse to take the bench and “order her out of the room in public view” if he did not get the reporter he wanted.

The complaint further alleges that Trice has been a longtime friend of defense attorney and former prosecutor David Hurst, who has regularly appeared before Trice in court. Trice does not disclose their relationship before hearing Hurst’s cases, it reads.

“That was no secret. I’m prepared to call a boatload of witnesses who will say they’ve all known that they’ve been good buddies for many years,” Iredale said. “There’s never been anything that shows that (Trice) has shown (Hurst) any favoritism.”

Iredale said he is preparing a written response to the complaint and will file it with the commission in the coming days.

Iredale said the complaint has exposed a fractured and divisive San Luis Obispo Court where staff and judges have “chosen sides.”

“The issue isn’t whether John Trice wrote an intemperate email. The real issue is we have a court where people have separated into two different teams,” Iredale said. “It’s somewhat shocking to see a court that is so dysfunctional and ridden with internal strife.”

A hearing date for Trice’s review had not yet been scheduled Wednesday.

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