Judicial Officer’s Request or Receipt of Gratuity – Penal Code Section 94
If a judicial officer is accused of taking any type of compensation or gratuity for performing an official act, prosecutors may seek to punish the jurist under Penal Code Section 93 (felony) or Penal Code Section 94.
Section 94 states that any judicial officer who asks for a gratuity or reward in exchange for doing any official act is guilty of a misdemeanor. The judicial officer is also guilty if the official act is performed for a promise that he will accept a future reward.
Under Section 94, it is also a misdemeanor for a judge to demand or receive any part of the fees earned by court reporters for either transcribing or recording hearings before the judge. Similarly, a court reporter who pays a judge for the privilege of transcribing court proceedings is guilty of a misdemeanor. If convicted of accepting any portion of a court reporter’s fee, a judicial officer must forfeit his or her office.
Pursuant to Penal Code Section 98, anyone convicted under Section 94 will also forfeit their office and be prohibited from holding office in California for life.1
Most allegations of misconduct and corruption will be investigated by the Commission on Judicial Performance.2 Given the lack of reported criminal cases involving Section 94, it appears that most minor allegations of judicial misconduct will be investigated and acted upon by the Commission.3 The California Constitution attempts to limit the appearance of impropriety by prohibiting judicial officers from practicing law while they hold office.4
California law enforcement officials will vigorously investigate the most serious allegations of judicial corruption. Other than punishment, there is little discernible difference between a Section 93 felony allegation and the misdemeanor offense defined by Section 94. If investigators believe that a judge is “on the take” for performing official acts, it is almost guaranteed that investigators will seek felony-level punishment under Section 93. Accordingly, if you are accused of improperly accepting any gift or benefit as a judicial officer, you should seek legal counsel immediately.
Corruption investigations will almost always involve experienced investigators using the most aggressive tools available to them under the law. Investigators may seek search warrants to seized relevant evidence from the judicial officer’s chambers, home, vehicles, email accounts and cell phone records. Investigator will almost certainly consider “sting operations” and other surreptitious methods to gain incriminating admissions from the judicial officer.
(1) Penal Code § 98 (covering all crimes under the Chapter).
(2) Cal. Const., art. VI §§ 8, 18.
(3) Gilbert v. Chiang (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 537, 539.
(4) Cal.Const. Art. 6, § 17.