Judge Salvador Sarmiento Agrees to Censure in Pact That Keeps Him on OC Bench
The censure if for Sarmiento intervening in his wife's traffic case before an OC court commissioner, which the judicial panel agreed was aberrational and not worthy of removal proceedings.
As the Weekly reported last month, talk of a possible settlement postponed a looming disciplinary hearing by the commission's so-called Panel of Special Masters.
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On Nov. 18, 2010, Santa Ana Police cited Mrs. Sarmiento for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. When she failed to pay the $234 bail or appear in court by a Jan. 19, 2011, deadline, the matter was sent to the Superior Court collection unit.
That's when Judge Sarmiento approached traffic Commissioner Carmen Luege to get a $300 civil assessment that had been added to the ticket waived. When Sarmiento's clerk later checked the status on the ticket and saw that the assessment was still noted, the judge persuaded Luege to set a trial date. His wife showed up, pleaded guilty and paid the full fine, including the civil assessment.
Judge Sarmiento was later accused of improper action, willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute. He initially denied any wrongdoing, claiming his interactions with his clerk and Luege regarding the ticket were simply to find out the proper procedures one must follow.
The panel previously removed Orange Superior Court Judge Richard Stanford for waiving or reducing traffic fines and penalties for several friends and family members. But the commission claims that case was different, because the interventions happened over a five-year period, while Sarmiento is only known to have acted improperly once.
And the commission claims a public censure still represents a "severe sanction" that reflects the seriousness of the judge's misconduct.
"By attempting to influence another judicial officer on behalf of his wife, Judge Sarmiento engaged in serious judicial misconduct which severely damages the reputation of the judiciary," the panel writes. ". . . Judge Sarmiento's conduct makes it more difficult for judges throughout the state to maintain the trust and respect of the public."
Sarmiento was a commissioner from 1997 to 2003, when he became an Orange County Superior Court judge. His handling of Broadcom co-founder and Newport Coast billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III's messy divorce was slammed in 2010 by fellow Judge James L. Waltz, who eventually assumed Sarmiento's divorce court duties, and later a three-judge panel of the Orange County-based state appellate court.
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Sarmiento, the president of UC Irvine's Alumni Association, was faulted for keeping secret many court records embarrassing to Nicholas, who has made major contributions to the university's engineering and computer science programs and established The Nicholas Prize, which recognizes innovative collaborative research.
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