Judge’s Accusations Against Fellow Judge Denied in Appeals Court

Published in spring 2010 by San Diego News Network (sdnn.com).

A writ [Petition for Writ of Mandate and Prohibition] filed by Judge Deann Salcido was denied Tuesday by the 4th District California Court of Appeals.

Salcido, who will face re-election next month, filed the writ against the San Diego Superior Court and her boss Peter Deddeh, the presiding judge of the court’s east county branch in El Cajon since 2009.

Her lawsuit accused Deddeh and other Superior Court judges of putting plea bargains above public safety and used the case of Chelsea King and Amber DuBois’ killer John Gardner as a prime example.

She decided to file the suit now, she said, “Because Judge Deddeh pushing me to rubber stamp plea bargains is the same judge who sentenced John Gardner on that first case. He should have got a heavier sentence.”

Announced last Friday on the steps of the Hall of Justice downtown, the petition was to order Deddeh and the judges of San Diego County to follow state law for sentencing, which requires, among other things, a minimum 36 months probation and court order to protect the victim of abuse.

The Appellate Court’s decision is proof she had to go public, Salcido said.

“It proves that judges and the court system are not able to police themselves,” she said, adding that the 4th District Court of Appeals is often seen as the San Diego Superior Court’s “rubber stamp.”

Salcido said she has yet to decide if she will appeal to the California Supreme Court.

“I no longer want to be a judge if this is the way the system works,” she said. “If I didn’t speak out until after the election, then people would criticize me for putting election interests first, so I chose to err on the side of public safety.”

“I’m not doing this for a popularity contest. I’m highly unpopular right now.”

Her decision to be so vocal about the subject has alienated judges and attorneys countywide, she said. She expects to be disciplined by the Commission of Judicial Performance and was told she will receive a poor rating from the San Diego County Bar Association. But she says it’s made her popular with people, and encourages people to vote for her if only to tell other judges they can have the courage to do the same.

A year after arriving in East County Superior Court in El Cajon, Salcido co-authored a memo in spring 2007 with Judge Carolyn Caietti and wrote another the following year about what her petition calls other judges’ unwillingness to follow the law.

The threats and intimidation began a few months after Deddeh became presiding judge of the East County courthouse, Salcido said, when he claimed he had to steer cases away from her court room and take other judges off more important cases.

Salcido claimed to be threatened and intimidated by other judges, however Deddeh, the presiding judge of the East County Superior Court since 2009, was the only judge named in the writ.

“When I would bring this up to my colleagues, it would fall on deaf ears,” she said.

Salcido’s suit may be the first time a sitting California judge sued another in this way, said Philip Carrizosa from the Judicial Council of California.

“I’ve been covering the courts since 1979, and my supervisor has been doing the same since 1985, and we could not recall a suit like this,” he said.

Salcido used the writ as an opportunity to champion a victim’s rights in court as well, calling for the court to end its “culture of suspicion of ulterior motives of women in court proceedings.”

“Judges must be taught that whenever victims come to court, they must feel safe to disclose abuse,” Salcido said.

Joyce Murphy agrees wholeheartedly.

Murphy feels the entire San Diego family courts system failed her, including Judge Salcido, who ignored warnings that her ex-husband Henry Parson was dangerous and granted him custody, eventually leading Murphy to kidnap her daughter for about a month in 2003.

“Judge Salcido has never apologized to me. Not even after my ex was sentenced for child molestation,” Murphy said.

Her first reaction to Salcido’s lawsuit was “absolute anger,” and she called Salcido’s writ the “ultimate in hypocrisy.”

“She’s as guilty as she claims they are,” she said.

She would not gain custody of her daughter until six years after the couple’s divorce, when her ex-husband was convicted of molesting three of her daughter’s friends.

Salcido was eventually reassigned from the case, and therapists, Child Protective Services and others also failed to believe her, but Murphy said that Salcido set the tone and made her fight an uphill battle.

Salcido said she accepts blame for the mistake and that she deserves public acknowledgment that the court systems did her wrong. She offered to meet with Murphy last weekend and apologize in person, but Murphy declined her request to meet.

“That’s the thing that gets me. Out of all of the mistakes that a lot of different people have made within the family court system, I’ve never heard anyone apologize to me or my child,” Murphy said.

In the same way she’s accusing her boss, Salcido said, “I similarly have to accept blame for how I handled her case.

“It was in my very first nine months of being a judge, and I had never done family court in my life before becoming a judge. I made a devastating error that caused me to give custody to a man who was later convicted of child molestation, and this wasn’t corrected for at least six years.”

Salcido believes Murphy “deserves an apology and public acknowledgment that the judicial system did her wrong.”

“I offer her the most sincerest of apologies, and it’s not an excuse but the bottom line was I blindly accepted the findings of CPS (Child Protective Services) when they wrote the letter to the court saying that there was no evidence of child molestation,” Salcido said. “And based upon that, combined with the fact that when I went to a more senior judges for advice I was repeatedly told you need to be suspicious of any woman during divorce proceedings claiming domestic violence.”

“She may indeed be remorseful, she may indeed feel her conscience finally, after all this time, but the timing just has suspicion on it,” said Murphy, who said she feels that Salcido asking to apologize now is “absolutely” based on the election.

Salcido and her now ex-husband were also sued for fraud in 2007 by a former employee hurt in a motorcycle accident and failing to pay her medical bills.

The case was eventually dismissed, said Salcido’s lawyer Ken Medel.

Harold Coleman, who is running against Deann Salcido, did not respond to request for comment.

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