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Dinner Invitation From Judge To Rape Victim

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    J.A.I.L. News Journal Los Angeles - November 19, 2000 ____________________________________________________ Listen to HotSeat4Judges daily on Internet Radio
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 19 9:46 PM

      J.A.I.L. News Journal
      Los Angeles - November 19, 2000
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      Los Angeles Times
      Saturday, November 18, 2000

      Prosecutors Question Dinner Invitation From Judge to Rape Victim

      By JEAN GUCCIONE, Times Staff Writer

           A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who asked a rape victim to dinner after sentencing her attacker to life in prison may have acted unethically, prosecutors have alleged. 
           Judge John D. Harris may have violated judicial ethics when he suggested that the victim meet him at a West Los Angeles restaurant for what she said he described as a date, according to an Oct. 24 letter from Assistant Dist. Atty. Michael Tranbarger.
           "It is our opinion that Judge Harris' conduct may have created an appearance of impropriety and may constitute a violation of" the judicial ethics code, said the letter to Judge Larry P. Fidler, who supervises the criminal courts.
           Judicial rules ban a judge from using the prestige of his office to advance personal interests.
           But Harris' lawyer said Friday that his client did nothing wrong.
           "Judge Harris denies everything--absolutely and adamantly--that there is an impropriety or an ethical violation," said attorney Ed George.
           "I think he was trying to comfort her," George said. "John is a very sensitive judge."
           George added that Harris, 66, has been "happily married" for 31 years and has two grown children. He said the judge suggested a restaurant because his wife was ill.
           Harris has been a judicial officer for more than 25 years but was elevated just last year to the Superior Court, where he is handling his first felony trials.
           Since the allegations were made, Harris has been transferred from the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles to a civil court in Van Nuys. Presiding Judge Victor E. Chavez said the transfer was scheduled for January--at Harris' request--but was accelerated because of Tranbarger's letter.
           Meanwhile, defense lawyer Sean Erenstoft said he will ask the appellate court for a new trial for his client based on Harris' conduct. Harris sentenced rapist Mercedes Porfidio Lopez to two life sentences plus 155 years for multiple counts of rape, oral copulation and attempted murder.
           According to the letter, Harris met in chambers with the victim and the prosecutor, Karla Kerlin, after the case had ended. He complimented the victim, who was identified only as Jane Doe during court proceedings, on her trial testimony and, the letter said, he invited her to join his family for the Jewish High Holy Days.
           In late September the victim called Harris to accept his invitation to the family event, the letter said, but he instead suggested that the two meet alone at a restaurant. "Judge Harris declined Ms. Doe's suggestion that he include his wife and referred to the meeting as a 'date,' " Tranbarger's letter said.
           The victim later told Kerlin that she felt uncomfortable meeting alone with the judge, the letter said, so she called and canceled their dinner plans. Despite her discomfort with the situation, the victim did not want to file a formal complaint at this time, the letter said.
           In the letter, Tranbarger said prosecutors believe that they were obliged to report Harris' private contact with the victim to the court and defense lawyers because it could raise legal issues for the defense.
           It was the second time that prosecutors had learned of Harris' initiating private contact with a sex-crime victim after the case had ended, Tranbarger said.
           In the other case, Harris met with a 17-year-old who had been molested by her uncle for years and "offered to be her grandfather and new family," the letter said. "The young victim felt the judge's remarks helped give her strength."
           Chavez, the presiding judge, said he talked to Harris and concluded that there was no wrongdoing in either case.
           "I believe that Judge Harris acted in good faith to assist these victims, although I think on reflection he might have chosen a different path," Chavez said.

      Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

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