– Photo: San Diego Superior Court Judge Gary Kreep, shown in this file photo from April 2012, is facing a disciplinary hearing from the state Commission on Judicial Performance. (Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)
The state judicial discipline agency has charged San Diego Superior Court Judge Gary G. Kreep with misconduct stemming from his 2012 campaign win, as well as for a series of remarks he has made while on the bench about women and the racial and ethnic background of others.
The formal charges issued publicly by the Commission on Judicial Performance accuse Kreep of willful misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and improper action.
The commission charges include allegations that Kreep made a string of inappropriate comments to lawyers, litigants and court staff while on the bench, including some aimed at women attorneys with the county Public Defender’s Office and San Diego City Attorney’s Office.
In 2013, for example, the commission said that while Kreep was discussing a prostitution case with a city lawyer, Deputy City Attorney Karolyn Westfall entered the courtroom.
“Speaking of prostitution, here’s Ms. Westfall,” he said.
The commission also said he misrepresented his role in three organizations on his 2012 campaign website and violated judicial rules by engaging in political campaigning for a non-judicial office when he solicited support and money opposing President Barack Obama’s re-election.
Kreep, a conservative lawyer who was a leader in the “birther” movement against Obama before his election to an open seat on the local bench in June 2012, has until Oct. 27 to answer the charges.
The commission said it will hold a formal hearing on the charges, in which testimony and evidence will be presented.
It’s rare for the judicial commission to issue formal proceedings notices to judges. Last year only three such hearings were conducted out of 1,245 complaints filed.
Kreep did not respond to an email request sent to his downtown San Diego courtroom. His lawyer, James R. Murphy of San Diego, also did not respond to a request to comment on the list of charges.
Kreep was a longtime conservative legal activist when he decided to run for judge in February 2012. His past included working on cases challenging same-sex marriage, anti-abortion cases and, most infamously, whether Obama was born a U.S. citizen.
He did not promote that work while running for judge, instead styling himself as an outsider and constitutional law expert.
The charges from the commission say that Kreep’s campaign website falsely said he was the president of the Family Values Coalition and president of two Political Action Committees.
Kreep was also the executive director of the United States Justice Foundation, a Ramona-based organization he founded. The commission charged that in May 2012, when he was a judicial candidate, Kreep signed and sent fundraising letters from the group opposing Obama’s re-election. A second letter “From the Desk of Gary Kreep” was sent in June 2012.
Judicial canons, or ethics rules, prohibit judges and judicial candidates from endorsing or opposing candidates for office. Kreep was also charged with improperly spending $41,796 from his personal bank account on the race and not initially reporting slate mailer expenses, a mistake he later corrected.
Both those campaign violations were also investigated by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which fined Kreep $6,000 in 2015.
The bulk of the complaint deals with Kreep’s actions on the bench. In January 2013, he asked Deputy Public Defender Leticia Hernandez if she was a citizen of Mexico.
When she said she was a U.S. citizen, Kreep replied, “I wasn’t planning on having you deported,” according to an excerpt of the court transcript in the complaint.
In a prostitution case on July 12, 2013, Kreep asked the female defendant during her guilty plea about being a prostitute, and if there was anything he could do “to get you out of the life.”
When the woman spoke about her plans for the future, the commission said Kreep responded, “Are you going to try to get a job at the Bunny Ranch in Nevada?” That referred to a well-known legal brothel in that state.
Those comments and more than a dozen others detailed in the complaint are alleged to have violated rules against judicial decorum, and the comments to and about the women violated rules against sexual harassment.
In September 2013, the City Attorney’s Office boycotted Kreep’s courtroom, a move that led to his transfer to traffic court for a while. At the time, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith did not explain the reason for the action, but some defense lawyers said they believed it was because Kreep did not go along with how they wanted some misdemeanor cases handled.
The commission complaint details that some city lawyers were the subject of Kreep’s commentary, which sheds more light on what may have prompted the boycott.
On the day the boycott went into effect, the commission said, Kreep told a group of public defenders to warn one of their colleagues “that she should ‘watch out, because if they’re coming for me they’re likely coming’ for her also,” the complaint says.
San Diego lawyer Leonard Simon, one of one of more than a dozen people who filed a complaint against San Diego Superior Court Judge Kreep, saying he violated judicial ethics by misrepresenting his qualifications and those of his opponent and violated campaign finance rules in the 2012 election. Simon and the other complainants have yet to hear a response.
Fifty-six years ago, the State of California became the first in the nation to establish an independent judiciary commission. Allegations of judicial misconduct and/or incapacity would be investigated, matched up against standards set forth in the Code of Judicial Ethics, and discipline, where needed, could be meted out.
During an interview on KPBS Evening Edition on June 20, 2012, Kreep responded to this press release by calling the San Diego County Bar Association “bigoted.”
The reality of California’s judicial system is that its 2000 or so judges have closed ranks against outsiders, making oversight difficult.
In San Diego, the ‘situation’ with Judge Kreep has been ‘dealt’ with by coordinating retirements to maximize appointments and minimize open electoral contests. As I wrote in the SDFP’s 2016 election coverage on judicial contests:
The 2012 judicial elections, where birther lawyer Gary Kreep upset Deputy District Attorney Garland Peed, were a national embarrassment. Since that time, “open seat” judicial contests have all but vanished in San Diego…
…Candidates may compete for an open seat caused by retirement or death. In practice, however, open seats due for election are the first to be filled by appointment, allowing the appointee to run as an incumbent. Back in the days before California became essentially a one-party state, some judges (philosophically opposed to the governor in power) would time their retirements in such a manner as to allow for an open seat election.
The state judicial commission typically receives about 1,200 complaints about judges annually, disposing of 90 percent of them without any discipline. Of the 1,245 complaints last year, 41 resulted in some kind of discipline. Of those, 37 were disciplined privately, via a letter of admonishment.
“The Center for Public Integrity gave California an ‘F grade’ on its 2015 report card for judicial accountability,” said Kathleen Russell, the executive director of the Center for Judicial Excellence in a press release.
California’s lack of judicial accountability is renowned, and it weakens the public’s trust in its judges,’ she continued, “so this audit is an important step toward creating a culture of accountability for our state’s nearly 2,000 judges.
- Judge Kreep sues state over pension plan — Dec. 29, 2014
- Kreep’s payback — Feb. 12, 2014
- Woman president — Aug. 31, 2006
- Breaking Story — July 30, 1998
- Notes from Underground — Nov. 25, 1992