Judge John Trice accused of violating a divorce court order

October 29, 2015

By KAREN VELIE

San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge John Trice is accused of failing to abide by a court order to provide part of his military retirement benefits to an ex-wife, according to a notice of formal proceedings from the California Commission on Judicial Performance

Following an investigation, if allegations of serious misconduct are substantiated, a judge facing disciplinary actions is offered a hearing to show cause why discipline should not be imposed. Trice has requested a hearing.

 

Following is the unedited text of the Oct. 23 notice of formal proceedings:

To John A. Trice, a judge of the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court from January 2003 to the present:

Preliminary investigation pursuant to Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance, rules 109 and 111, having been made, the Commission on Judicial Performance has concluded that formal proceedings should be instituted to inquire into the charges specified against you herein.

By the following allegations, you are charged with willful misconduct in office, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, and improper action within the meaning of article VI, section 18 of the California Constitution providing for removal, censure, or public or private admonishment of a judge or former judge, to wit:

COUNT ONE

A. In 1990, you and Dawna Trice divorced after 18 years of marriage. The Marital Settlement Agreement and the Judgment of Dissolution, filed in June 1990, included a provision regarding the division of the community property share of your future military retirement benefits. The judgment provided that the court was to retain jurisdiction over your retirement benefits with the Air Force and that you were to pay to Dawna a share of those benefits “as and when received,” as follows:

The Court specifically retains jurisdiction over Petitioner’s retirement benefits with the United States Air Force and Petitioner is ordered to pay to Respondent her interest in the retirement and pension benefits as and when received on the following formula: Respondent’s interest equals one-half (1/2) times the gross monthly benefits times a fraction, the numerator of which is 3,402 points and the denominator of which is the total number of points accumulated by Petitioner in past and future service in the United States Air Force and/or Reserve duty. Dawna was represented in the dissolution proceeding by attorney Patrick Perry, a family law specialist. After the divorce, Dawna moved to Arizona.

In 2003, you took the bench. In 2004, Patrick Perry was appointed as a commissioner by the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.

In approximately February 2012, you called Commissioner Perry into your chambers as he happened to walk by to discuss the calculation of Dawna’s share of your military retirement benefits. (You were eligible for retirement from the Air Force Reserve in June 2012, when you turned 60.) Retired Judge Roger Picquet, a retired military officer, also was present. You had with you the number of points that was the fraction numerator, or Dawna’s share of your total number of points. Estimates were made of your total points, and the calculation of Dawna’s share was discussed.

You began receiving your military retirement benefits on July 2, 2012. You did not notify Dawna that you had retired from the military or that you were receiving your military pension. You did not pay Dawna her share of your military pension as and when you received the payments. You deposited Dawna’s estimated share into a credit union checking account that was not in her name.

At some point in 2012 after you began receiving your military retirement benefits, you called Commissioner Perry into your chambers as he happened to walk by. No one else was present. You told Commissioner Perry that you had decided or figured out what to do about the military pension. You stated that you had decided to take part of the retirement benefit you were receiving and put it into another account. You told the commissioner, “This way if she asks for it, I’ll have to pay her, and if she doesn’t ask for it and dies before me, I’ll keep it,” or words to that effect. Commissioner Perry responded, “You can’t do that, John.”

You replied with words to the effect of, “Of course I’m not going to do that.”

You did not thereafter notify Dawna that you had retired from the military or that you were receiving your military pension, and you did not pay Dawna her share of your military pension payments. You continued to deposit her estimated share into the credit union checking account.

In mid-April 2014, Dawna learned of your military retirement. In approximately May 2014, you were contacted by attorney Christopher Duenow on behalf of Dawna. In July 2014, you entered into a stipulation addressing the arrears in which you agreed to pay Dawna approximately $19,000, and agreed to certain terms concerning future payments.

Your conduct violated the Code of Judicial Ethics, canons 1, 2, and 2 A.

B. On May 22, 2014, you met with attorney Duenow in your chambers to discuss a resolution to the money you owed Dawna from your military retirement benefits under the Marital Settlement Agreement and the Judgment of Dissolution.

During that meeting, in explaining why you had failed to make pension benefit payments to Dawna once you started to receive them in July 2012, you told Duenow that you had acted upon advice given to you by Commissioner Perry.

This statement about what Commissioner Perry said to you was false. In making this statement, you implied that Commissioner Perry gave you advice contrary to the interests of his former client, and contrary to the Marital Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Dissolution.

On July 21, 2014, you met with Court Executive Officer Susan Matherly in your chambers. You told Matherly that when you retired from the military you had talked to Commissioner Perry about what to do about your pension obligation to your former wife. You told Matherly that you asked Commissioner Perry, words to the effect of, “Do I tell her? Give it to her?”

You told Matherly that Commissioner Perry told you, words to the effect of, “You can put it in trust but can’t cut her a check because you don’t know what the withholdings are,” and that he further told you, words to the effect of, “Don’t spend it, put it in a trust and wait for her to ask for it.” You told Matherly that you had put money aside for your ex-wife and had done what Commissioner Perry had told you to do. The statements you made about what Commissioner Perry said were false. In making these statements, you implied that Commissioner Perry gave you advice contrary to the interests of his former client, and contrary to the Marital Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Dissolution.

You also made statements to others implying that you acted on advice from Commissioner Perry in not notifying Dawna of your military retirement, or paying to her her share of your military pension payments as and when you received them.

Your conduct violated the Code of Judicial Ethics, canons 1, 2, and 2 A.

C. On or before July 15, 2014, you contacted Judge Barry LaBarbera and asked if he would sign a stipulation under which your ex-wife would get money that you owed her. Judge LaBarbera asked if your ex-wife had counsel; you stated that she did. Judge LaBarbera stated that if your ex-wife’s attorney agreed with the stipulation, you should give it to Court Executive Officer Matherly and if she agreed with it he would sign it.

On July 15, 2014, you signed a stipulation addressing the pension benefit arrears and future payments owed to Dawna and also an accompanying qualifying court order. (No. DR 17310.) (You were not represented by counsel in this matter; Dawna was represented by attorney Duenow.) Later that day, you called Duenow’s office and spoke with his paralegal. You told the paralegal that you were concerned about submitting the documents to the court for a judge’s signature and filing, as you thought the judges would start disqualifying themselves to keep from signing the documents. You stated that you had arranged for Judge LaBarbera to sign the documents. You stated that you did not want Duenow’s office to file the documents the regular way, but instead wanted them to submit the documents to Court Executive Officer Matherly, whom you stated was on vacation until Monday (July 21). You stated that you had signed the documents and had sent them to Duenow’s office with a check for Dawna enclosed.

On or about July 21, 2014, you met with Matherly in your chambers. You told Matherly that you had called her on the previous Friday (July 18) because you and Dawna’s attorney were stipulating that Judge LaBarbera would sign the stipulation and accompanying order, and you wanted her to process these documents. You told Matherly that the stipulation and accompanying order would be delivered to her. Matherly received the stipulation and order from Duenow’s firm shortly thereafter, and left them on Judge LaBarbera’s desk for his signature. Judge LaBarbera signed the stipulation and the accompanying order on July 28, 2014. Thereafter, the documents were returned to Matherly and she forwarded them to the head civil clerk for filing. You abused your authority and circumvented the ordinary procedures in submitting the stipulation and order for a judicial officer’s signature.

Your conduct violated the Code of Judicial Ethics, canons 1, 2, 2A, and 2B(2).

COUNT TWO

A. On May 1, 2013, then-Assistant Presiding Judge Dodie Harman sent you an email stating:

I was trying to find you this afternoon to talk about tomorrow’s calendars. I may need to get some help from you and wanted to see if you could help out. 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. If you could let me know where you were and if you are available to help with calendars tomorrow I would appreciate it.
Thanks,
Dodie

That night, you responded with the following email, which you copied to the court executive officer and three judges:

Dear Ms. Assistant Presiding Judge and Criminal Team “Supervising Judge” – As I told you last week, we have Veteran’s Treatment Court meetings every Wednesday until kick-off on June 14th. I can’t help tomorrow. I handled my calendar today, DIO’s morning calendar today, DIOs 2960 calendar today with two court trials and 3 search warrants. Then I went to the Vet’s Hall for the meeting, which turns out – he cancelled, so I talked with the V.A. rep for about an hour and came home. I just got done handling an after hours search warrant and a 20 page Pen Register Request. I’m sure you are just as busy with your physical therapy, workout time and all.

I don’t appreciate you checking on me – 1 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 keep a journal on another Judge’s comings and goings. Pathetic. … get a life. I look forward to running against you for P.J. 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.

My civil attorneys say I should have no more contact with you or [Judge] Tangeman without an impartial witness or reporter present. I plan to take their advice.

Sincerely,
John A. Trice, Judge
San Luis Obispo Superior Court

Your May 1, 2013 email violated the Code of Judicial Ethics, canons 1, 2A, 3B(4), and 3C(2).

B. The San Luis Obispo court has a policy of rotating court reporters periodically. On October 30, 2014, the next court reporter rotation was released. You sent the Operations Director an email stating that you would not work with the court reporter assigned to your department. Court Executive Officer Matherly responded to your email on October 31, stating that rotations should be the same for everybody and reminding you of a discussion about the issue at a recent judges’ meeting.

On October 31, you sent an email to Matherly in which you threatened to not take the bench and to publicly embarrass the court reporter if the rotation was not changed: “She either moves, or the P.J. can move me and my staff. I will not call my calendar on Tuesday with her in the courtroom. I will order her out of the room in public view.” (Following another exchange of emails on October 31- November 1, you stated that you would work with the assigned reporter and apologized to Matherly for any stress you had caused her.)

Your October 31, 2014 email violated the Code of Judicial Ethics, canons 1,2A, 3B(4), 3C(1), and 3C(2).

COUNT THREE

You and criminal defense attorney David Hurst have been close personal friends since approximately the mid-1980’s. Attorney Hurst has regularly appeared before you since you took the bench in 2003. You do not either disqualify yourself or disclose your friendship with attorney Hurst on the record in cases in which he appears.

Your conduct violates the Code of Judicial Ethics, canons 3E(1) and 3E(2).

YOU ARE HEREBY GIVEN NOTICE, pursuant to Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance, rule 118, that formal proceedings have been instituted and shall proceed in accordance with Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance, rules 101-138.

Pursuant to Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance, rules 104(c) and 119, you must file a written answer to the charges against you within twenty (20) days after service of this notice upon you.

The answer shall be filed with the Commission on Judicial Performance, 455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14400, San Francisco, California 94102-3660. The answer shall be verified and shall conform in style to the California Rules of Court, rule 8.204(b). The Notice of Formal Proceedings and answer shall constitute the pleadings. No further pleadings shall be filed and no motion or demurrer shall be filed against any of the pleadings.

This Notice of Formal Proceedings may be amended pursuant to Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance, rule 128(a).

BY ORDER OF THE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE


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Citizen

All I know is that John Trice has an excellent reputation for fairness and efficiency in the courtroom. I would hate to lose him as a judge in our county because of these side issues which have nothing to do with his proven performance in the courtroom over the years.


MaryMalone

You know, it really doesn’t matter what his “reputation” is. What matters is how he performs as a judge.


If he refuses to perform on a Court Order then he is not fit to be a judge. Certainly–after Trice treats a Court Order like it is toilet paper–he can’t expect anyone to whom he issues a Court Order to perform.


achillesheal

How does one who breaks the laws he is sworn to enforce sit in judgement of others? Time to turn in the black robe, son.


Hope the ruse was worth your judgeship and your law license. He’ll hath no fury.


JohnnyBoy

Why isn’t the Commission on Judicial Performance looking at Judge Dodie Harman’s conduct?


She reports Judge Trice for not wanting a certain court reporter in his courtroom, but her hands are not clean on the issue of staff transfers and interpersonal relations.


Judge Harman had a romantic relationship with a Sheriff’s deputy who was serving as a bailiff in the downtown courthouse. At some point, that relationship soured, and she had the deputy transferred to a remote court location. He was barred from the downtown courts.


If Harman can banish a deputy she was involved with from the courthouse, it doesn’t seem reasonable for her to complain that Trice didn’t want a reporter in his court when the reporter had 15 other courtrooms to work in.


Judge Harman should review the legal concept of ‘unclean hands’.


MaryMalone

Two separate issues here.


QUOTING THE ARTICLE: “San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge John Trice is accused of failing to abide by a court order to provide part of his military retirement benefits to an ex-wife, according to a notice of formal proceedings from the California Commission on Judicial Performance.”


You present an illogical red-herring argument.


Whether or not the she should be investigated for her courtroom activities is a completely different issue from her attempts to get the judge (her ex-husband) to fulfill a court order.


JohnnyBoy

Mary, I think you didn’t read the article carefully, or didn’t understand what I said.


1. Judge Harman reported Judge Trice for a variety of things. The issue which I was writing about was Trice’s refusal to allow a certain court reporter into his courtroom. Harman reported Trice because of his conduct vis a vis not allowing the reporter in his court.


2. What I said was that Judge Harmon herself, had unclean hands because she had her boyfriend/bailiff/sheriff’s deputy banished from the entire courthouse after they had a parting of the ways (although they subsequently married).


3. Trice is not the ex-husband of Harman. Duh!


MaryMalone

Again, with the red herrings. Did Judge Harmon fail to perform on a Court Order?


The issue is Trice.


MaryMalone

Your argument fails because you attempt to use a Red Herring fallacy to prop up your argument.


It is like an accused telling a judge he shouldn’t have to suffer a 20-year sentence in prison because Joe Blow got a lesser sentence for the same crime.


When it comes to Trice’s failure to perform on a Court Order, it doesn’t matter what is happening to other judges. What matters is his own performance on the Court Order.


south

I think that Dodie Harmon comes out looking worse than John Trice in this.


MaryMalone

How does Ms. Harmon come out looking worse than her (judge) husband?


HE is the flake who refuses to abide by a COURT ORDER.


If he cannot fulfill a court order against him, then I question whether he should be a judge.


Mitch C

I believe that’s the enforcement of a court order should be up to the former Mrs. Trice. She can file a motion and low and behold there will be a hearing in which both sides gets to argue their respective points. The decision based upon what is presented will serve both parties better than this ex parte trial in the press where neither side is represented. Ms. Harmon is out of line in trying to enforce an order over which she has no jurisdiction while ignoring countless other orders that appear to be not followed. She should stop tilting at windmills and pay attention to issues that are actually before here and leave whatever angst the former Mrs. trice has to proper legal process.


JohnnyBoy

Mary, are you dyslectic? As far as I can tell, Judge Harman does not have to quote you a ” (judge) husband”. She may have a deputy sheriff as a husband or ex-husband though.


MaryMalone

Another red herring. Even if I wore a Carmen Miranda hat, it would not make or break my logical argument.


And another….why does it matter to whom Harman is married…or not?


Is it within Harman’s purview as a judge to address Court Orders which are being refused to fulfill, or not?


Bluebird

In the proceedings Trice comes across as vindictive, petty, arrogant and superior.


JohnnyBoy

Anyone can make an accusation or write an article that makes someone seem vindictive, petty, arrogant and superior. That doesn’t make it true and I suggest the evidence to come, will exonerate Trice.


I have commented before on the issue of the court reporter. Trice may have been the beneficiary of getting the reporter that is a hoarder and has a number of problems. Who would want that reporter. I don’t blame him.


Maybe he didn’t want the reporter that constantly asks for breaks and can’t keep up with the proceedings. Who would want that reporter either.


Ask any lawyer and you will receive the answer that Judge Trice runs an efficient high volume courtroom. He doesn’t need to be dragged down by having an incompetent staff person thrust on him.


MaryMalone

Another red herring.


The issue isn’t what kind of court-room Trice runs. The issue is his failure to perform on a Court Order.


Jorge Estrada

Not to accuse anyone, there is a possibility that Trice just won’t play and the greater problem may be within the players. Yes this is a very incriminating write up.


willieslo

Success, failure or errors of a man are usually affected by a woeman


MaryMalone

Your comment does not justify judge Trice’s refusal to perform on a COURT ORDER.


Why is this malfeasant still on the bench?


Mitch C

This is it? I re-read the article again looking for what I might hav missed. There is nothing here or to quote the latest PC: there is no there. Since this is the Halloween season, this is what equates to our local witch hunt. And by the way, I don’t know John Trice personally and he doesn’t know me.


Mitch C

For those of you gave my comments a thumbs down: what I read the complaint to be is 1 he deferred a payment to his x-wife, I don”t see any complaint from her – if she felt aggrieved she could file a motion and have this private matter handled on the usual way, 2) trice actually has a friend (I sure wish I did) since the legal system is so small I doubt that there is anyone who is not aware of the friendship and if Trice ever played favorites it would soon be known and the disqualifications would be filed so fast that your head would spin. It appears that the local Bar does not feel that their client’s interest is impacted when Trices friend appears on the other side, 3) Trice chooses not to work with a particular reporter, I am sure that various reporters and clerks of court prefer not to work with certain judges and I am sure that the assignment of staff is handled without fanfare and does not become a matter ofublic record. As I said, what is this all about – I see no issue that raises to the level that it has. This is a witch hunt de jour


MaryMalone

Your reply makes zero sense.


Judge Trice is refusing to perform on a COURT ORDER.


Why is he still on the bench?


ToHellinaHandBasket

I like Judge Trice. Sorry he has to go through this fiasco.


Divorce is ugly. Especially in California.


eradicate ignorance

If he would have just followed the court order and given her the money he wouldn’t have to go through count 1. If he wasn’t so unprofessional, he wouldn’t have to go through count 2. Count 3 is probably BS.


MaryMalone

THANK YOU.


MaryMalone

If Judge Trice refused to perform on a court order to pay you money, would you like him so much?


If he can’t perform on a court order, why should he still be on the bench?