LOS ANGELES — A former judge will plead guilty to federal corruption charges for having a secret sexual relationship with a defendant while presiding over a case against the woman’s husband, prosecutors said Thursday.
Former Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George W. Trammell III was charged Thursday with two felonies that carry up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Trammel signed an agreement to plead guilty to the charges, prosecutors said.
“This individual, entrusted with the most sacred of responsibilities, abused his power and corrupted the administration of justice. This is a crime of the worst kind,” U.S. Attorney Alejandro N. Mayorkas said.
Trammell was charged with two counts of mail fraud for using the U.S. mail in a scheme to defraud the people of California “of their right to his honest services as a judge,” a prosecution statement said.
Trammell, who is now 64 and lives in Florida, was appointed to the Municipal Court bench in 1971 and was elevated to Superior Court on Jan. 31, 1988, working at the Pomona Courthouse until he retired on Jan. 10, 1997.
Trammell will return to California for arraignment and sentencing later, said U.S. attorney’s spokesman Thom Mrozek.
Trammell had previously denied that he had sex with the woman.
Last year, the state Commission on Judicial Performance censured Trammell and barred him from future judicial assignments, the harshest punishment allowed. The commission said removal from office would be justified if he had not resigned.
“Judge Trammell’s misconduct compromised the integrity and independence of the bench and cannot be tolerated,” the commission said. It said Trammell used his office to further the sexual relationship and made rulings in the woman’s favor.
The commission made no finding, however, that Trammell coerced the woman into having sex, as she had claimed. That was contrary to the conclusion of a Superior Court judge who ordered a new trial for the woman’s ex-husband. He ultimately pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced
Trammell was also investigated by county prosecutors, but they declined to charge him. It was a probe by an FBI corruption squad that led to Thursday’s charges and plea agreement.
The investigation stemmed from the 1995 kidnapping prosecution of Ming Ching Jin, his ex-wife, Pifen Lo, and two others. The case involved the alleged abduction of a couple for extortion and robbery.
Lo, who still lived with Jin and their three children, pleaded guilty in January 1996 to lesser charges. Trammel sentenced her to five years probation in April 1996.
Lo testified to the commission that in September 1996, while Jin was awaiting sentencing, Trammell called her into his chambers, kissed her, touched her breast, and told her that if she wanted Jin to get out of jail early, she would have to “pay the price.”
They had sexual intercourse four days later and continued a sexual relationship until January 1997, when the relationship was revealed in a letter from Jin to Lo that was intercepted by jail guards, the commission said. Lo taped four of their telephone calls, saying later she had feared Trammell might return her to jail.
During that period, the commission said, Trammell held hearings in the criminal case without revealing his relationship with Lo, and at one point pretended not to know her name.
He also made rulings that favored Lo, requiring police to return most of the property they had seized from her and easing the terms of her probation, the commission said. He had previously advised her on how to recover her property and arranged appointment of a lawyer for that purpose.