Promoting and conflating

Approving a stipulation, the California Commission on Judicial Performance publicly censured a judge for, in addition to other misconduct, using his title, court resources, and a study prepared for his court to promote a non-profit organization he had created; involving individuals whose companies did business with the court in the organization; misleading court employees to induce them to participate in a press conference about the organization’s launch; and “prevaricat[ing]” in discussions with other judges about the organization.  In the Matter of Vlavianos, Decision and order (California Commission on Judicial Performance February 8, 2023).

From 2008 until January 2022, the judge presided over his court’s multi-track DUI program.

In July 2021, the judge formed a non-profit organization—the Association of Comprehensive Collaborative and Equitable Supervision and Services—that would sell the “ACCESS Multi-track Court Model” to collaborative courts.  The organization’s website described it as “a new national non-profit organization that provides education and training for high risk, repeat DUI offenders who do not have high treatment needs.”

The judge promoted ACCESS using his judicial title and court resources.

  • ACCESS issued a press release that used the judge’s title and described him as “Chair of ACCESS and California Superior Court Judge Richard A. Vlavianos.”
  • The ACCESS website prominently featured a photo of the judge in his judicial robe and identified him as a judge of the San Joaquin County Superior Court.
  • The website incorporated content from a consultant’s study of the court’s DUI program that the court had paid for. 
  • The judge induced court employees to attend a press conference about the launch of ACCESS during work hours by telling them it was about the results of the study.
  • The judge discussed ACCESS in a TV interview conducted in his chambers.

In promoting the organization, the judge “conflat[ed]” the court’s multi-track DUI program with the “ACCESS Multi-track Court Model.” 

  • Even though ACCESS was not created until 2021, its website stated that the ACCESS program “has been led by the Honorable Richard A. Vlavianos since 2008” and that “5,200 DUI recidivists have participated in ACCESS since 2008, with 80% completing the program successfully.”
  • The website republished data and graphs from the court study under the ACCESS logo and captioned “ACCESS Multi-track Court Model.”

The chief financial officer of ACCESS was the chief software business officer of a company that sells alcohol monitoring software and hardware to courts and agencies, and the judge sought to have his court contract with that company for case management software services.  Further, at the judge’s recommendation, the court ended its existing contract for drug testing and entered into a new contract with a company whose director of marketing was a member of the ACCESS board.

The court’s other judicial officers and staff did not know about the judge’s involvement with ACCESS until December 2021.  In a meeting held after they learned, “Judge Vlavianos was not forthright with his judicial colleagues” and “initially downplayed his involvement in ACCESS, which he described as simply a training program for judges.”  2 days later, he told the presiding judge that the ACCESS website had been taken down and that he had resigned from the board.  The next day, he was removed from his DUI court assignment and prohibited from contact with staff or attorneys involved in the program.

The other misconduct for which the judge was censured was:  (1) failing to fully apprise criminal defendants of their rights, which coerced the defendants into participating in treatment court; (2) making remarks to defendants that created the appearance of bias, failing to safeguard the constitutional right to counsel for an unrepresented defendant, and threatening a deputy public defender with contempt when she objected; (3) exhibiting poor demeanor toward the district attorney; (4) engaging in ex parte communications about and embroiling himself with 2 parole re-entry court defendants and engaging in an ex parte communication with court staff about a criminal defendant; and (5) discussing a represented defendant’s alleged refusal to participate in a program in good faith and the court’s appropriate response without including defense counsel or the deputy district attorney.

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