On Wednesday, February 8, 2023, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured Richard A. Vlavianos, judge of the San Joaquin County Superior Court. for promoting a California-based non-profit corporation.

The case is entitled “In the Matter Concerning Judge Richard A. Vlavianos” and was brought by the Commission on the Judicial Performance State of California.

The charges cited Code of Judicial Ethics canons 1, 2, 2A, 2B(1), 2B(2), 3A, 3B(8), 3C(1), 3C(2), 4A, 4D(1)(a) which states:

A judge shall participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary is observed

A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities

A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary

A judge shall not allow social or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment, nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that any individual is in a special position to influence the judge

A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office or use the judicial title in any manner to advance the pecuniary or personal interests of the judge or other all judicial duties prescribed by law shall take precedence over all other activities of every judge

A judge shall dispose of all judicial matters fairly, promptly, and efficiently, and manage the courtroom in a manner that provides all litigants the opportunity to have their matters fairly adjudicated in accordance with the law

A judge shall diligently discharge the judge’ s administrative responsibilities impartially, free of conflict of interest, and in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary

A judge shall cooperate with other judges and court officials in the administration of court business

A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extrajudicial activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially, demean the judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties

A judge shall not engage in financial and business dealings that may reasonably be perceived to exploit the judge’s judicial position

On July 2021, Respondent committed misconduct in connection with the formation and promotion of ACCESS. ACCESS is a California non-profit corporation in which the respondent served as the Chair of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer. He used his judicial title, the prestige of office, and court resources to promote ACCESS in subsequent press coverage. The remarks he gave misrepresented the source of funding for ACCESS. Judge Villapudua removed Respondent from his collaborative court assignment and prohibited him from contact with staff or attorneys in the program.

In another filing, the Respondent’s conduct had the effect of coercing defendants into participating in the treatment court.

On July 14, 2021, Judge Vlavianos presided over a misdemeanor DUI arraignment calendar. Judge Vlavianos’s remarks to defendants gave the appearance of bias, prejudgment, and intent to coerce defendants into accepting plea offers and interfered with the right to counsel. He also gave remarks that were discourteous and gave the appearance of bias.

He also engaged in ex-parte communications via email regarding a represented defendant in a criminal case. Judge Vlavianos discussed a represented defendant’s conduct, the defendant’s alleged refusal to participate in the program in good faith, and what might be an appropriate response by the court, without including either defense counsel or the deputy district attorney.

The Commission imposed public censure which is the strongest sanction that may be imposed on a judge short of removal from the bench, because it fulfills the commission’s mandate of protecting the public, enforcing rigorous standards of judicial conduct, and maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system, and it resolves this matter without the delay and expense of further proceedings.

The filing states:

“Judge Vlavianos’s misconduct is seriously at odds with the canons and expected judicial behavior. In determining that a public censure is an appropriate sanction, the commission considered that Judge Vlavianos has a history of service to his community, has served as a judge for 24 years with no prior discipline, and has engaged in demeanor training and found a mentor judge to counsel him on demeanor. Additionally, he acknowledged engaging in multiple acts of misconduct and the imposition of censure as the appropriate sanction”

Judge Vlavianos earned his B.A. from the University of California and his law degree from the McGeorge School of Law. His info can be found here.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.