Marc A. Garcia, who made history in 2007 by becoming the youngest person and the first Latino ever appointed to the Merced Superior Court bench, has resigned his position amid allegations of ethical violations.
Garcia, 46, confirmed his intention to step down this week in an interview with the Merced Sun-Star. Garcia admitted “errors in judgment” leading to his departure.
“I alone am responsible for bringing unwanted and unnecessary negative attention to our judicial system,” Garcia said. “As painful as the experience is for me to come to terms with that, it doesn’t change the fact I accept full responsibility for my decision, and I will pay the price with my judicial career.”
Garcia admitted failing to disclose the payments he received from his former law partners at Merced Defense Associates when he was first appointed to the bench. He did not disclose payments totaling $250,000, money he was owed when he moved from private practice to the bench.
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He also acknowledged failing to disqualify himself or disclose the payments when MDA attorneys appeared in his courtroom from 2009 to 2012.
Garcia said he reached a formal resolution with the judicial commission, agreeing to resign permanently from the bench for not disclosing the payments, but while continuing to deny any allegation he intended to conceal them.
Garcia characterized the nondisclosures as “mistakes,” but said he never attempted to hide the fact he was receiving money from his former law partners. He said not disclosing the payments “created the appearance” of an effort to conceal.
“Perception is just as important as reality in this case,” Garcia said of his decision to resign. “It would’ve been unfair to the courts and the community (to not resign). ... Because of the nature of the situation, there always would’ve been a question potentially in the minds of the people appearing in my court regarding my abilities to do my job effectively.
“That was probably the consideration that was most impactful on my ultimate decision,” Garcia said.
His last official day of employment is Friday, though he has been on vacation from the courts since March when the California Commission on Judicial Performance initiated formal proceedings against him.
Linda Romero-Soles, the court’s chief executive officer, on Thursday said she “didn’t know anything about” Garcia’s departure from the bench.
Garcia stopped short of saying Romero-Soles did know about the resignation, but said she had contacted him about his departure Wednesday.
“There may have been some confusion in that I specifically as part of the stipulation agreed to use the balance of my vacation time to ease the transition and the courts were aware of that because there was a process of verification to confirm exactly how many days I had left,” Garcia said.
“That vacation ends May 15, the date of my resignation, and that is included in the stipulation. (Wednesday) I was contacted by the CEO and confirmed my resignation would indeed become effective May 15.”
Later Thursday, Romero-Soles said she had learned of Garcia’s resignation, but had no comment. She also said the court’s presiding judge, Brian McCabe, “cannot make a statement on this matter.”
“Judge Garcia advised the court late (Thursday) morning he notified the governor he was resigning his position as a superior court judge, effective May 15, 2015,” Romero-Soles said in a text message.
The agreement for Garcia to resign was reached in mid-April, according to documents obtained by the Sun-Star.
Victoria B. Henley, director and chief counsel for the judicial commission, also declined to comment Thursday.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission in April 2014 issued Garcia a formal warning letter regarding the same disclosure issue. The letter said Garcia’s failure to disclose the payments violated the Political Reform Act.
“However, since you amended your (statements of economic interest) to reflect this income immediately after contact from the Enforcement Division, and you do not have an enforcement history, we are closing this matter with a warning,” the FPPC said in its letter.
Romero-Soles said the California Governor’s Office handles all judicial appointments. It was unclear Thursday when and how Garcia’s post would be filled.
Garcia said he intends to stay in Merced County and practice law related to agricultural issues.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482, @MercedCrimeBeat
Full Statement from Marc A. Garcia
“I notified Governor Brown that effective May 15, 2015 I am resigning my position as a Superior Court Judge for Merced County. It is an abrupt end to my career as a judge and one that I never envisioned. However, it is the most sensible and appropriate resolution for me, my family, and the community. When I was first notified by the Commission on Judicial Performance that there were ethical questions concerning actions I had taken regarding my transition from private practice to judge in 2007, I was naturally horrified and confused that in 2014 they somehow had now become of concern to the disciplinary body for judges.
“My ambition was always to be a judge and the long journey for me reached a high point on November 30, 2007, when I was sworn in as the first Latino and youngest judge in Merced County history. It was a tremendous honor and privilege to serve the community in this capacity and I couldn’t be any happier. My transition from attorney to judge was an accelerated one as the Superior Court was under-served at the time and I was eager to serve the community by making every effort to begin work as soon as possible. Too soon. Hindsight is always predictable in its outcome and I was simply too casual and inattentive to what clearly should have been a more thorough and scrutinizing analysis. Particularly with the mechanics and operation of the agreement in the sole business asset I had an interest in prior to becoming a judge. I have maintained at every step of this process that I believe the analysis of the Commission on Judicial Performance was reasonable, more thorough than mine had been in 2007, and ultimately correct in outcome. I took responsibility then and I take full responsibility now for my failure to make the correct decision regarding that issue.
“Furthermore, I take complete and full responsibility for my failure to make the appropriate disclosures on Form 700. I mistakenly believed I fell within an exception to those requirements. I was clearly wrong. The analysis by the Commission on Judicial Performance with regard to that issue is correct as well. The income should have been reported and although I reported that income on my IRS returns I failed to report that income on Form 700. Again, I have maintained at every step of this process that the CJP’s analysis is reasonable, more thorough, and more importantly, correct.
“The issues where I respectfully disagreed with the CJP were very personal and non-negotiable. Those issues have been resolved to my satisfaction and are reflected in the stipulation. I am grateful for the discussions that have taken place between myself and the CJP subsequent to the initiation of formal proceedings and we are in agreement that this is in the best interests of all parties involved.
“I wish to emphasize to the members of the community that I was born, raised, and continue to call home, that I alone am responsible for the decisions I made. I will pay for those errors in judgment with my career as a judge. Many members of the community who are familiar with my situation have asked me why I am resigning my position as judge. The simple answer is that I have agreed as part of the stipulation to resign. But as with most important decisions in life, the decision to resign was more complex and painstaking. It is my personal opinion that a judge tasked with the tremendous responsibility of administering justice should be above scrutiny. In my position, as with many other positions of trust, perception and reality are one and the same. I soon came to realize that my errors in judgment would no longer allow me to be above scrutiny. While these errors in judgment might be treated less severely elsewhere, it is critical that the community have complete and unwavering confidence in the justice system. I fully understand the position of the commission in that regard.
“When my father was diagnosed with Leukemia one month after I was sworn in as judge and passed away just six short months later, it was the first time in my life I had experienced what are commonly known as the five stages of loss and grief. I have experienced the same with the death of my career as a judge. As much as it pains me to have to speak to the community on this occasion, I accept the outcome. During this last 14 months there have been so many good people who have reached out in support of me and my family. I cannot name all of them here but I do wish to acknowledge the strength and support of my wife, two boys, mother, brother and sister, and thank my former staff in Courtroom Three who have supported me throughout this process. I also wish to thank the fine men and women in the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Defense Bar, and Law Enforcement who have appeared before me these past several years. It has been my pleasure and honor to work with all of you.”